Mar 6, 2010

A Life in Words and Pictures

The first "blog", written long before the advent of the web. This is the first entry of my journal, which I've been keeping for the past 25 years. The date was June 1, 1985, I was eleven years old, and the big event of the day was a trip to camp meeting.

Perhaps you've noticed the tag line underneath the title of my blog: "The Journal: Online since 2006, A life in words and pictures since 1985" and wondered what that's all about. For this week's blog entry, I thought I'd share a little bit about the history of what is probably my single biggest lifetime project. (Well, outside of raising my son, molding young minds as a teacher, and stuff like that). For the past 25 years, since I was 11 years old,I've been writing a daily (more or less) journal. I've just completed my 43rd volume in a series that has captured more than two thirds of my life. This collection of my daily activites, hopes and dreams, thoughts and opinions, prayers and meditations, short stories and sermon notes, to-do schedules and grocery lists is probablly the most valuable physical possession I own. Money can't buy it and it is literally irreplacable. These tattered notebooks are so valuable to me that when we moved to and from and Saipan, I hand-carried all forty-something volumes rather than risk losing them with my suitcase or in the mail. In this blog, I'll look back at the story of the story of my life thus far.

The First Ten Volumes: The Daily Record

The first ten volumes spanning the summer of 1985 to the spring of 1990. As you can see they are quite battered. I should probably start storing them under museum-like conditions or at least airtight plastic bags. I once thought about typing all my old journals out and even started at one point, but the task was just too overwhelming.

I started keeping a journal--not a diary, mind you--a journal. I was convinced only girls kept diaries--in the summer after fifth grade. I'd been inspired by one of my favorite literary characters, Henry Reed. The stories of Henry by Keith Robertson were all written in the form of journal entries. My first notebook was a slim little volume, really not much more than a notepad with rather girlish cover for a boy intent on avoiding any diary-like tropes. I used this book though, because it was what I had on hand at the time. From the beginning, what was in the notebook mattered much more than what the cover looked like, and my guiding principal in purchasing new journals was to spend as little as possible. If I could, I'd spend nothing at all.

Setting the manly tone early with the cover of my first diary--er, I mean--journal.

The journals during this period were probably as interesting to look at as they were to read--perhaps even more so. I liked to draw and the pages of my journals during this period are literally covered in doodles--a kind of literary tattoos. While the artwork was overflowing and flow-of-consciousness, the actual content followed a rigid format. Almost every entry in the first few years began with the words "This morning after breakfast. . ." and each entry contained a precise accounting of everything I did and everything that happened during the day in order. As I got older the commentary on these events increased, but the basic format remained the same. For awhile I even ended the journal with a brief description of the day's weather before my one word sign off--"Journal." During this period I was hyper-vigalant about writing every day, and if I missed a day I felt compelled to recount all that happened on the missed day(s) before I could continue with the current day. My brother Vince was (and is) also keeping a journal as well--he called his VAMJODH, which stood for Vincent Alex Maycock's Journal Of Daily Happenings--and we would compete to see who could go the longest without skipping a day. He usually won.

For the first year or so, Journal entries were pretty dry, but around the beginning of seventh grade, an added dramatic tone--an increase in gripes, detailed accounts of hour-long conversations with certain girls, and complaining about teachers, parents, and siblings--began to filter into my dutiful daily accounts. In other words, adolescence had arrived. For many years, I'd find it almost painful to go back and read those whining, self-righteous entries, but now I've come peace with my adolescent self and don't mind them so much.

A random sampling of my Journal art from October, 1988. Note the idealized self-portrait next to the Journal logo on the left. I was a high school freshman at this time. During my 8th and 9th grade year --the Golden Age of Journal art--virtually every page of my journal was crammed with cartoon art and doodles, often times featuring reoccuring characters like Jim Pop, the superstar celebrity I created, and superhero Captain V, another made-up character. Incidentally, I'd be curious to know how many people can decode my handwriting from this period. It was pretty bad and even I have trouble reading some of the worst scrawls now.

I also experimented briefly with putting pictures in my journal. Above are some cut-outs of some sexy sports cars, and below some just plain sexy. . .

With both the Porsche and Alyssa, I was fan more because I knew I was supposed to be a fan. A guy my age was supposed to love sports cars and find Alyssa Milano unbelievably hot. But while I dutifully followed along, my passion didn't run deep. My starstruck devotion to Tiffany however was embarassingly real (I declined to post any photos with journal pages pasted with her picture, though I promise they do exist.) Fortunately that obsession lasted about as long as her career at the top of the charts.

This is the inside cover of one of my longest-running volumes, #10 which ran for more than a year. Look closely and you'll see the logo for "Radical Surf", the fake surfing brand I created, a couple images of Jim Pop, Surfman (another superhero I made up), a Corvette logo, a glorified depiction of what I expected to look like when I was, say. . .my age now, and the initials of the girl I was infatuated with when I began the journal and the name (repeatedly) of the girl I was infatuated with at the end of the journal. Unfortunately, I spent most of my junior high and high school years obsessed with one girl or another. When one finally faded away, another would rise to take her place.

Vol. 11 through 20 and 1/3: The Drama Years

From 1990 to 1994, my journals drifted away from the rigid "this-is-what-I-did-today" format to a more interesting, more creatively written approach. The Journal became less about what I did and more about how I felt. Many pages were devoted to girls--usually one girl in particular whichever one was the be-all and end-all of the moment. There was a lot introspection and self-analysis which became more insightful , more honest, and more mature as I entered college. The ugliest period of this era was probably my senior year in high school when I went through a time of pretty intense depression. Entries during this time were self-pitying and often histrionic featuring pages of angry scrawl, much cursing, occasional maudlin song lyrics, and a new addition--bad poetry. These entries are still uncomfortable for me to read today, not only because they were overwrought and weepy, but because they often weren't even totally honest. Throughout high school I'd developed a bad habit of letting "girl-of-the-moment" read my journal and even when the entries weren't thinly cloaked messages to the girl, the integrity of the entries was often subtly compromised. While I proclaimed to be wearing my heart on my sleeve, I was actually subconsciously editing what I wrote. I wasn't writing for me, I was writing for her--writing what I wanted her to hear.

Fortunately the worst of that ended with graduation, and by the time I began my freshman year at Andrews University, while I continued to declare my undying love to the next "it" girl, the declarations were for my eyes only and more subdued--a whisper to myself rather than an anguished shout to the world.

As unrestrained as I was during this time, it shouldn't come as surprise that I was also quite prolific. During the height of my dramatic excesses I barreled through Vol. 13, 14, 15, and 16 all in the space of about eight months.

The Drama Years are the only journals where you'll see actual portraits of the author. The 11th volume, above is the only edition that features my picture on the cover.

Vol. 17 had a photo on the inside of the front cover, taken in the fall of 1992 just before I started college. On the opposing page. . ..

. . .the lyrics to "Here I Go Again" by those eloquent wordsmiths, Whitesnake. In the annals of great verse about the journey of life who can forget: "Well, I don't knoow where I'm goin', but I sure know where I've been. Hangin' on the promises and the songs of yesterday, well I know what it meeeeans to walk along a lonely street of dreammmms [insert muscular guitar chords here]. . . .and here I go again on my owwwwn. Walkin' down the only road I've ever knooooown." Classic. (As a further aside: While putting this blog together I thought to link to a video of the song. After watching it, I changed my mind. It has to be the most ridiculous nonsense I've ever seen. Look it up on youtube and I dare you to try to watch it with a straight face. I don't know if I could have ever taken that song seriously back then had I seen the corny mess of the music video.)

. . .Anyway. . .

Vol. 20 and a third AKA the Black Journal. I've only lost one journal in the past 25 years, Vol. 20, which I believe got left in the parking lot of Home Depot in Altamonte Springs, Florida. I'd just begun the volume so I didn't lose too much, The greatest loss was that it included the second half of the account of my best friend J Carlos' and I's epic road trip to New Orleans in the summer of 1993. I really hated to lose that. At any rate the next volume was titled 20 and a One Third in honor of the missing third of a volume.

Volume 21 through 36: The Devotionals

Fifteen volumes covering about 11 years from 1994 to 2005. Regular entries were no longer the norm. Considering that most entries were devotional in nature, this is a sad testament to the lifelong to maintian a consistent devotional practice.

The next era began in the spring of 1994 and continued, really, up through today. While I've made an arbitary distinction between this group and the final one, the style of the journal is the same throughout. The Devotional era marked the end of any regular journaling on a daily basis. Accounts of mundane daily events were out, dramatic expositions on my love life were fewer and further apart and all but disappeared with the arrival of the love of my life. In truth, much of my reasons for writing evaporated when Barbara came into my life. More than once I'd sit down to write and realize that I'd already told her everything on my mind and heart, and I didn't feel like rehashing it again. For years, the Journal had been my refuge, my place to vent. Now much of that venting took place to Babs. The Journal might have died out altogether in the mid-to-late nineties, if it hadn't developed a new use--that of devotional and prayer journal.

In the spring of 1994 I discovered Dwight Nelson's book A New Way to Pray which promoted prayer journaling as part one's devotional practice and Bible reading. I started using this method of prayer/Bible reading in my journal and it quickly became the dominant entry in the decade or so that followed. While the spiritual rewards for this type of journaling were considerable, I find now that I wish I'd found more time to write and reflect on the rest of my life during those years. My watershed year in Chuuk for example is caught only in brief glimpses and snippets between pages of devotional meditations. All those years in Saipan? They're recorded only in bits and pieces. It's good to know I was plugged into God but still these entries don't provide quite the "you-are-there" memories that the entries from my childhood and adolescence do.

The Journal served other uses during this time as well. It became a catchall for lists of things to do, schedules, budgets, future plans. There are pages of names and situations--lists of people I was praying for. As much as it was private diary of my secret thoughts, it was also a utilitarian notebook, propped up on the grocery cart as I wandered the aisles--my shopping list across the page from my latest prayer to God. Those lists as much as anything elses in the books from this era tell volumes about my life at the time.

Vol. 22 was the first of two volumes written entirely during my time as a student missionary in Chuuk. For this volume, I wrote the Chuukese words that loosely translate as "Journal" on the front cover.

Vol. 24 was written in a notebook belonging to one of my former students in Chuuk. So Young Cho, a precious half-Chuukese, half-Korean girl in my fifth grade class, turned her Bible notebook in at the end of the school year and as a tribute to her and her classmates, I wrote my journal in the rest of the empty pages. And so the first pages of this volume contain her childish thoughts on the various Bible assignments I'd given, and the remaining 3/4 of the book are my account of my last days in Chuuk, my summer abroad in Europe, and my return to Andrews University to continue my education. It also includes this:

If you can make out the words, you'll read some of my first thoughts on a lovely young woman I'd met in October of 1995, Her name was Barbara.

There were several big milestones recorded in this era, and perhaps the biggest was the day I got married, Sunday, July 27, 1997. The actual entry is just a sentence or two surrounded by lists, but it was recorded and, as you can be see by the big "2" and "1", highly anticipated. I'd been counting down the days for months. That reminds me of something neat, Babs and I did that year. Starting with Psalms 150, we counted down the days till our wedding, reading a Psalm a day, ending with Psalms 1 the day of our wedding. (I don't remember what we did on Day 119!).

Vol 37 through 43: The Bound Editions

After years of cheap notebooks, I finally made the switch to bound journals. It wasn't really an intentional switch. Of the seven volumes you see here, five were gifts from people who knew I was a regular journaler. I bought volumes 40 and 42 at a store in South Korea. I also got in the habit of stuffing cards, letters, and other keepsakes between the pages of the journals when I'd completed a volume. This explains all the papers sticking out of the books you see above.

My journaling style changed very little during this most recent journaling era. The journals looked a little sharper on the outside, but the inside was pretty much unchanged. Occasionally, I'd write longer, more intropsective and literary entries, usually when traveling. My trips to Thailand, South Korea, Japan, and other places were chronicled in page after page of thoughtfully written prose. Easily some of my most interesting and readable journal entries in years.

Perhaps the biggest change to happen during this time period was that the Journal made the same move most other print media have made. The Journal went online, in the form of this blog in the spring of 2006. The Journal Online is quite a different creature from the old-media version. It is carefully assembled, almost always postive in tone, and rarely very personal--very few secrets are revealed in the Journal Online. The few entries that are perhaps more unguarded include my "65 Most Influential People" series and this particular entry I'm writing now. In a sense, with the Journal's online presence, I've come full circle. After all much of the Journal Online has been a detailed account of what I'm doing and when I did it, and sometimes, even a weather report! And because my pen-and-paper journal hasn't had that on a regular basis for quite sometime, the Journal Online complements the offline version quite nicely I think.

A hard copy of one of the early entries of the Journal Online, stuffed among the pages of one of my pen and paper journals.

No. 43, the most recent volume. The final entry of this edition was this past Thursday, March 4, 2010.

Vol. 43 contains the account of Elijah's birth and even includes (on the right page in pencil) every one of his mom's contractions!

In the exhausting, hectic weeks after our son was born, the Journal became a record of bowel movements and diaper changes.

The Next Chapter: Still Unwritten

At the beginning of this year I resolved to begin a new chapter in the Journal, a new era. I wanted to start writing every day again. This time instead of a boring rectiation of events or pages of self-indulgent navel-gazing, I wanted to write a snapshot of that day, cutting straight to the events or things on my mind that were defining that particular moment of my life. The entries could be as short as a paragraph, or even a few sentences, but they would provide a quick look at my life right at that moment.

So far, I'm off to a spotty start. My record in January wasn't too bad, but February was all but forgotten. The problem is that I'm so much out of the habit of writing regularly, that most of the time when I didn't write these past two months, it wasn't because I didn't "feel like it" or was "lazy." I just simply forgot. But I'm not giving up and I intend that Vol. 44 will be the start of yet another era in my life in words and pictures.

The new Journal. I've actually had this book for several years now. I'd gotten several journal books as gifts in a short space of time a few years ago and I've been workimg my way through them. This is the last one, and when I'm done I'll probably have to go out and buy a journal for the first time in years.

"The rest is still unwritten. . ."

The Journal logo

Like some sort of corporate entity, The Journal has always had a logo. When I first started writing I felt the need to seperate each day with more than just the date, and so the Journal logo was born. It's purpose was to more definitely seperate each day's entry. Herewith, a brief photo history of the evolution of the Journal logo.

The first logo was misspelled, and was small, centered over each page. The one element of the logo that never left was the double lines underneat the word Journal.

In 1986, I got the spelling right. I also moved to an all-caps font in the title. In the date, I started writing out the complete year and added the location where I was writing.

In 1988, the logo expanded from one end of the page to the other, a look that would last for more than a decade.

Sometime in my 10th volume, I started adding the volume number to the logo--another element that still remains today. During this period I was often fond of adding festive touches to the logo during the holidays.

For awhile in late high school, I tried writing the logo in varying fonts from day to day. Some of my most interesting logos come from this period. Even if the entries themselve were pretty weepy, at least the logos were cool!

In 1999, I decided I was a grown-up now and needed a more subudued logo. I reduced the logo size, put the date and location next to it instead of underneath it for a cleaner, more understated look.


Anonymous said...

Awesome entry Seany! Love you!

Aunty Dawn

The Beachcomber said...

Those volumes are pretty awesome, Sean. I was actually waiting to see your actual journals posted about here. I was right to think that they'd sooner or later make an appearance and that they are just plain amazing. Alyssa Milano = priceless! Haha!

Mai said...

It took me a while to get through the whole entry, but I totally loved reading it!!! It was cool to "watch" you grow up into the person you are now..... and seeing the Bound Editions brought back so many great memories of you always having them on hand in Saipan. It was neat to read about your first feelings about Barbara, too!

I think it's kinda inspired me to start writing more - little snapshots of my days...... I feel like the rich moments I experience and the deep thoughts I think are being lost because they are not being shared in any way with anyone..... so I should write them down!

Thanks for sharing! :)

LOQuent said...

Very interesting read. I started journals but never got pass the first couple of pages.

Brooke said...

Hi; found this site while searching for a new blank book to keep my journal in. Funny that. I am the same age as you, started keeping a journal only 3 months before you, and reading your last blog post is like reading the story of my journal-keeping. I have 27 bound books but in college and here and there afterwards, I kept it in Word docs, so I might have 43 or more if I'd used books the whole time. My journals are my prized possession. Anyway, I feel ya. Take care.

Conni said...

I am so in awe of you. Your journals are wonderful. I love how full they are! Thanks for uploading them and letting us see them. :)

Anony said...

I have been writing since I was a little girl, having moved to America at a young age and not knowing the language. Documenting my daily life in writing helped me pick up the language quickly, and has always been a standby for friendships.

I read about you on the Notebook Stories Blog and your page here is fascinating. I love having a peek in other people's notebooks!

Thanks for sharing

oceanfullofbottles said...

Hi Sean

I came across your post on notebooks again, love the photos, seeing the past on paper.

I'm back to blogging :)

oceanfullofbottles said...

Hi Sean

I came across your post on Notebook Stories again, love the photos of your past scribbled on paper.

I'm back to blogging :)

Gina J said...

What a great read. I've been an on/off journaller since my teens and have picked it up again in recent years. Your post here has definitely inspired me to keep going with writing more regularly. I imagine looking back to my youth when I'm old and grey will me like watching a film about my life. What a treasure!
Thanks for sharing :)