This past summer I crossed a notable milestone: 15 years of consecutive daily journal entries. When it comes to family history work, daily scripture study, or maintaining a charitable relationship with my fellow man as I navigate the sprawling Utah highway system, my record is spotty. But at least that record is well-documented.
Last spring I pulled out the journal I used during my mission to Chicago, and over a couple of weeks I read its 100 pages chronologically, re-living those early idealistic days in the MTC, the shock to the system that was Kankakee, Illinois in December, and the summer I spent riding a bike around south Chicago in 1997.
It wasn't the first time I'd re-read those pages, or any of the other pages I'd filled in the time since. But it was the first time I'd read them front to back, and when I finished, I decided to continue the effort. So I pulled out my next volume, started after I returned home, the volume that brought me back to college and dating and eventually into the world of the LDS singles ward. It was also the volume that started my daily streak in June of 1998. It was amusing, enlightening, and sobering to read my thoughts and feelings through that period, as the joy of reunion with longtime friends and family was offset with the gradual realization that everything I'd been told about the myth of the Returned Missionary was just so much chin music. When I recorded the first of those consecutive entries, I was on a trip to Island Park with my friend Mike, shortly removed from another year of study at the University of Utah, and still reeling from a date that left me twitterpated, like so many used to do back then.
I never sat down and decided to record daily journal entries from that moment on; I just kind of did. One entry led to another, then another, and eventually I couldn't sleep until I knew I had written something down for the day, even if it was just a quick line of sarcasm that hinted at a day I had no desire to recount at the time. Writing in my journal was like brushing my teeth or saying prayers at night. I just did it. And because I did it, I now have fifteen years' worth of history to back up my foggy memory. The BS I finished at the U, and the MS I picked up in Logan four years later. All the jobs I loved and all the jobs I hated, working only because I was desperate to pay my rent. My longstanding love-hate relationship with the University 32nd Ward, love because of all the good times, and hate because the ward kept having them without me. All those dates...those many, many dates.
Last week I finally made it to the present, as I read about another new semester and another show at the Ed Kenley Amphitheater. Thirteen volumes of history returned to my closet, and nothing but unwritten pages lay ahead of me. Like I said, I'd read it all before, in small chunks, here or there. But reading it as a saga, as an epic, I recognized a few new twists:
1. My handwriting is getting worse. A lot worse.
2. My youthful idealism is now...tempered. As I left the MTC for the mission field, I had decided my course in life would be to serve faithfully, then return home and transfer to BYU so I could teach at the MTC. I would get married within six months and start a family right away. I didn't even know what my major was going to be, and I didn't care. I guess you could say that things change.
3. Sometimes I didn't write about things that I clearly remember happening, almost as if I were trying to hide things from future readers. The fall after I finished my BS at the University of Utah, I got myself into an embarrassing predicament that led to me getting recruited by the financial planning equivalent of Amway while strolling the BYU campus in Provo at 8pm one night. That trip is never mentioned in text.
4. Sometimes I can see myself trying to put a positive spin on things I was writing about, even if I was miserable in the middle of them. Like the time I went to the midnight showing of "Transformers 2," or all the times I saw "Phantom Menace" in the summer of '99. I knew they were bad when I saw them; I just didn't want to admit it.
5. Often times the best things were happening hand-in-hand with the worst things. The year after finishing grad school was one of the most difficult stretches I've ever encountered from a professional standpoint, but my calling in Sunday School led to a series of lessons I remember fondly. A nightmare of a dating saga in late 2001 was mirrored by a dream team of an Elders Quorum presidency made up of some of my best longtime friends. A physically and spiritually draining first semester of grad school kicked off ten years' worth of English composition classes that have provided many of the most rewarding experiences of my professional career.
Whenever I've talked with friends or family about my journal-keeping habit, I'll often get a response that suggests they, too, have tried to record faithfully, but have been discouraged and embarrassed by the results. I can definitely relate. Having read fifteen years worth of success and failure over the last few months, there are plenty of things I've done and plenty more that I've written that should probably never see the light of day. But I don't regret writing them, or experiencing them.
OK, check that: I've got a couple of pre-mission spiral notebooks that feature some adolescent rants I may choose to burn someday. I may not have been born in Chicago, but I definitely grew up in Chicago. And I've got a few thousand pages to prove it.