I had to miss the opportunity last month to enter Judith Heartsong’s Artsy Essay Contest. I could not let this month’s contest pass me by. The challenge this month is to write an essay on the topic "Why I Keep A Journal."
Here now are my thoughts on why I keep a journal:
I was a silent reader for several months before joining this community as a participant. I now have an opportunity to reflect on what brought me here in the first place and, now that I am here, why I stay.
If you were to look at my profile, you would discover I have been an AOL member since 2002. That is not entirely accurate. I joined AOL in 1998. I signed on and instantly liked the service and the opportunity to meet new people. I found chat rooms that I would visit and I noodled around the Internet playing games here and surfing there.
By nature I am a social creature and had no problem meeting people and striking up electronic friendships. I also found out the down side to this form of communication. People were not always who they said they were. No matter what chat room you were in, people were searching for cyber sex or boyfriends or long term relationships. I couldn’t go online without someone Instant Messaging me almost, well, instantly. It was almost impossible to do any research or get any real work done online.
I changed jobs and was without a computer in 2000, so I terminated my account with AOL. Two years later, I had a computer and signed up again with AOL. This time I changed my screen name and went about using the service in a much different way than before. I stayed out of chat rooms and discouraged Instant Messaging. After some time, I became bored and wanted to communicate with other people again, but not via chat rooms. I didn’t want to have a pen pal, and I got tired of aimlessly roaming around Hometown looking at pictures of people I did not and would not know. I tried the message boards for a bit but that did nothing for me.
One day, I went to the Journals Homepage. I had heard about blogging. I wondered, "What is that all about?" I wondered if I would feel like a Peeping Tom reading other people’s journals. I mean, journals were just electronic diaries, right? I took the plunge. I clicked on a journal.
My forays into Journal Land were short at first. Not finding anything I really wanted to read, I almost gave up. Then, I found a photo journal by this lady named Jersey Girl, http://journals.aol.com/cneinhorn/WonderGirl/. These were stunning images, but at that time she did not post very often. I had no idea what an alert was, so, everyday I would go to her journal and see the same pictures.
One morning, I looked around the page and saw the "Other Journals" section. I clicked on one of these and was instantly taken to another journal. Not a photo journal, but an interesting one none the same. Was that okay? I wondered. Is this like spying or stalking I thought? I slowly went down her entire Other Journals list and added almost every journal to my Favorite Places sidebar.
I started reading these journals regularly and trying out the Other Journals listed in each of these journals. Oh my gosh! I had discovered a community out there. These people knew of each other and commented to each as though they were friends.
I established a list of favorites of my own that I visited every day for months. I never commented. I was too scared I might not be welcomed. I kept reading and came to know these people. I learned of their lives, their likes and dislikes, stories about their pasts and their future aspirations. But, they did not know me and I dared not leave a comment.
This all changed one morning when I read Judith Heartsong. Judi made a reference to "lurkers." LURKERS? I don’t know about you, but that made me sound a little seedy, I thought. I sent Judi an Email and included a scan of a newspaper article on bloggers and the Internet and estimations of the masses of silent readers that read these blogs.
What I got back was a pleasant surprise. Judi sent me an email explaining how the term lurkers came to be, but acknowledging that it might not sound so good. She switched to the term "silent readers" in her entry. I was floored. Then Judi started encouraging me to "come out to play." In other words, start writing, start commenting, start something, for goodness sake, LOL!
At the same time this was happening, I got brave enough to send an email to another one of my very favorites, BlondepennieRae's "A Pennies Worth" http://journals.aol.com/blondepennierae/APenniesWorth. Pennie has a talent for weaving stories like no other that I have read. Pennie should write a book, but that’s an argument for another post. Pennie sent me a very nice answer to my email and, like Judi, encouraged me to start my own journal.
I still felt I didn’t have the drive to do regular posts in a daily journal. I had never kept a dairy in my life. Pennie showed me that my journal could be anything I wanted it to be and I could post as often or as little as I wanted to. I was still insecure so I asked her if she and John would accept a sample of something I wrote to evaluate. She agreed and I wrote her a short story about some friends and I exploring the countryside during summer break when I was in grade school. (Yes, I still have a copy of it, no, it’s never made it into my journal).
She wrote back and said she loved it and that I should go ahead and start a journal. I think she would have said that no matter what I had sent to her, LOL, but I believed her because I wanted to believe.
I realized then that I really wanted to be a part of this community. I liked the people I met and I wanted them to know me and like me, too. I also wanted some venue to put down stories about my careers and recreations that my grandson, Trenton could read as he got older. You know, leave a little something of me to enjoy after I’m gone sort of thing.
Well, I started "Docklines…" My Journal. You’ll have to laugh with me over this, but it took an entire day to sit here and learn how to put it together the way I wanted it. Nothing seemed easy. Posting pictures seemed impossible, but, thanks to Pam of "Just One Girl's Head noise" and John Scalzi of "By The Way" I was able to print out instructions on how to do pictures, add graphics, insert links, etc. It still took time, but I could do it! My first entry debuted with no fewer than 55 hits on the hit counter. That translates to me going to and from my journal 55 times that first day while I tried to learn how to put in the graphics and pictures. But, I did it!
Next came the transformation. In me! Now that I had my own journal, I felt like I had a ticket for the ride. I started commenting. Boy, did I start commenting. I wondered later why I was ever shy of commenting in the first place. I met people I had only read about. People commented in my journal, too.
About that same time, another change came over me. I now wanted to share so much with my new friends. I started carrying my camera around everywhere. I started taking it to work. I started shooting pictures of things I would never have thought about before. A whole new door opened up. No wonder so many people enjoy doing photo journals. It’s fun to shoot PICS and have someone to share them with. Much better than stuffing them in an album that only gets opened twice a year.
Then my schedule changed. I could not post as often as I wanted to due to commitments and time constraints. I must admit I felt a little pressure. Remember earlier that Pennie taught me that I could to whatever I wanted with my journal? I lost that for a little while, but my J-land friends were quick to let me know I was going through a learning process that most of them went through themselves. I finally realized that it IS MY journal.
I can post or not post. I can add pictures or just type. I can go long times between posts or post two or three times a day. I realized I am now part of that community I longed to belong to. My friends will be here tomorrow if I have to sleep in today. If I go on a trip they will pray for my safe return and welcome me home when I get back. If I am feeling ill my friends will try and cheer me up and pray for a cure. If I am lonely I will get email. If I don’t feel like socializing, they will give me space. If I share a PIC or story with them they tell me they appreciate it. This is the only community I have ever belonged to that I felt like the friendship offered is unconditional. My J-Land friends don’t care what I look like. They could care less if I am skinny or fat. It doesn’t matter what kind of clothes I wear. Nope, this community will accept me any way.
The essence of this community lies in the hearts and minds of each individual that joins. If you have a kind heart and a gentle spirit you have found friends. If you are up for a fiery debate, it is available in our community. If you or a loved one of yours needs prayers or support you may find it here. If you would like to visit new places through the eyes of those who have been there, the journey is waiting for you in J-Land. If you like to be silly or read silly things, come on over to J-Land, we have it! Do you like prose and poetry? Come on in! Need a new recipe? Don’t look any further! How about arts and crafts? Our community is full of masters and teachers! Do you need advice? Oh, boy! Do we have advice! Looking to buy something that’s hard to find in your area? Just mention it here in J-Land and you’ll be steered in the right direction.
I keep a journal in AOL J-land because I have found a group of people I am proud to proclaim that I am one of. Happy Birthday, AOL J-Land! May we celebrate many more together!