At some point in time, I started to enjoy reading the journals of writers, directors, and artists. Compared with the work that the artists devoted themselves to, their personal journals come off as a more honest reflection of their creative struggles — similar to that of the back of an embroidery work, raw and chaotic. A few that I read again and again include the diary of Kafka and the work journals of Tsai Ming-liang and Robert Bresson.
Journaling is often raw, constrained, and weary. As the artists completely drain themselves in the creative process, what’s left is often the sentiments of self-loathing and weariness of surroundings. As time goes by, they will once again be driven by tremendous power to embark on another creative journey. It is in their journals that you can read and vicariously experience this interchanging of enthusiasm and exhaustion. In other words, journals are the written record of the traces and costs of creation.
Of course, while the above examples and experiences are unique to those people, there is benefit to be had by everyone that decides to write and record their emotions. As Freud said, humans don’t really forget things. What seems to be forgotten is simply buried deep in the subconscious. Writing, in that sense, is a way for us to rediscover the emotions and events that we once believed to be lost in time, but in fact continue to subtly affect our way of life. Only by objectifying these emotions can we decide how to face them.
Artist Brian Singer from San Francisco is truly fascinated by journals and was eager to find out how he could co-create a journal-writing project with strangers — this is how the idea of 1000 Journals Project came to be.
At the beginning of 2000, Singer began to send 1000 hard-covered journals out into the world; some of the people that received the journals are acquaintances of Singer, while others were complete strangers. Inside each journal, there is a simple note that requests the receiver to create as they wish and then pass the journal on to another person.
The first journal that returned to San Francisco, where Singer is based, is Journal #526. It had travelled through 13 states in the United States, as well as Brazil and Ireland. Some drew beautiful pictures in it while some drunk man in a bar wrote down a list of genuinely sincere life advice. For Journal #1, its first contributor wrote in the journal a letter to his grandfather whom he’s never met. He made a promise to his grandfather that no matter how his life goes, he will make the best of it. He then left Journal #1 at Guam International Airport.
Back in his college days, Singer noticed the writing on the bathroom wall. Though they were mostly obscene, irritating, and depressing, they were, after all, part of a conversation. People show up at the same place at different times, leaving words that can easily be forgotten yet difficult to erase.
Those 1000 journals are like the collective images of people’s souls. In an age of estrangement, journaling helps to calm the egoistic soul.
I’ve been carrying a black soft leather Moleskine journal with me for a long time. It offers a venue to come clean about myself. As Robert Bresson once said, don’t wander, stay where you are, dig, and see what’s inside.
Only by digging deep can you discover true freedom.