Earlier this year I decided to start writing in a journal again. From August 2000 through 2007 I had kept a journal of ideas and responses to different books I had been reading. Around late 2003 my journal writing trailed off, and I cannot honestly say why, as I don’t remember. Fast-forward to late winter 2013 and I decided it was time to start journaling again. Again, this is a journal of ideas, and I have been trying to keep up with it in the midst of looking for work, doing said work, trying to have a life, continuing to read, and barely finding any time to write, or the inspiration to as well. But this time I’m more committed to journaling as a means of expressing my ideas and my own self in language that will be viewed by my eyes only.
After reading Hermione Lee’s seminal biography of Virginia Woolf in January, now that I think of it, I decided to start journaling again. Diary writing was one of Woolf’s major preoccupations; her diary concerns included her home life, her life with her husband, Leonard, her bouts of mental illness and exhaustion, and even issues with the domestic help. Biography, what she called life writing, was of immense interest to Woolf, as she was born in the late Victorian age, during which there was a proliferation of published lives of famous men and women; her own father, Leslie Stephen, was one of the editors of the Dictionary of National Biography. Woolf was increasingly fascinated by the private domestic lives and experiences of women whose names go completely unrecognized today, except for a rare few who would be recognized because they were married to well-known men or were their sisters. Through her own interest in these women’s private worlds, Woolf tried to resuscitate them as human beings who had value and purpose, despite having been virtually unknown to the public because “a woman’s place was in the home” throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
But to engage with my main idea: Diary or journal writing serves a purpose that is private and hence, domestic, because it allows the writer to carve out a space (a physical one that leads to a mental and emotional one) in which he or she can be alone with their self to sort out thoughts and emotions, and express ideas and feelings that are not necessarily respected by family or friends, or the restrictive society in which he or she lives. Journaling allows one’s thoughts to remain hidden from view and unheard, yet the very expression of them in written form combats the oppressive regime that denies the equality of all ideas and strives to silence them, because these ideas can be used to defy and contradict tradition and topple the very fragile base upon which all society and culture rests. Any voice, any language, that interferes with and speaks out against the static, immobile, traditional vision of life grounded in hypocritical morality and the desire to obtain excessive amounts of money and power to steer society, culture, and political bodies in the direction of the elite’s will for their own preservation and benefit is naturally silenced by the governing institutions whose policing power is everywhere and often invisible to us.
But I have begun to rant, and I said I’d try not to. Journaling is, in its own way then, a political act because it inscribes a space, a room of one’s own (to give homage to Woolf), in which ideas can be expressed in a protected environment. What one does with those ideas in the immediate future or further on down the line is up to the writer. In free societies, where men and women have equal, if not similar, rights and where each has the opportunity and privilege to find a private physical space to write in, journaling can be a powerful tool to engage not just with the self on personal terms, for a greater, deeper self-awareness, but also with the self as an individual in a constantly evolving global society, an individual human being responsive to all the major events that occur almost daily at home and abroad. This privacy is something we do not think about, woefully take for granted, and need to think clearly about concerning its implications. This right to privacy is at the heart of the freedom we have that many others across the globe do not share. This right allows us not just to write out our thoughts when they cannot be spoken in a public or wider domestic sphere, creating a self-understanding and a dialogue with ourselves, but also enables us to silently dialogue with those individuals we wish to openly engage in discourse with on questions that are important to the stability of society and culture, the nation, and the international community, including this issue of the right to privacy in all personal matters. Lastly, this right to privacy permits us to write in journals and diaries, giving us the opportunity to find and define our voice as a political tool to utilize in the public sphere to bring about constructive social revolution.