Creating a Shared Journal
When Eldonna Edwards Bouton remarried and moved across the country to California six years ago, she wanted to maintain a close connection with her youngest daughter, Maggie, then 17, who chose to stay behind with her father in Michigan. The two women started e-mailing every few days, sharing the ordinary details of their lives as well as their deeper emotions and memories.
Because she also wanted to keep a lasting reminder of this important time in their relationship, Bouton printed their e-mails and saved them in a special notebook. Now that Maggie is grown and has two young children of her own, Bouton looks forward to sharing the journal with her daughter.
"She often asked me about things from my childhood and told me things (about her life) that I'd missed 'when my back was turned,'" says Bouton, a writer who lives in San Luis Obispo, California. "Our exchanges were often a door through which we would not have walked in 'real time' conversation. I wanted to capture the beauty of those exchanges, because I knew as time passed, I would forget."
Keeping a journal is typically a solitary affair. Like a diary, it is a record of a person's most intimate thoughts, feelings, and imaginings. It can chronicle a short journey or an important life passage, such as a baby's first year or the year a loved one moved away from home.
But a journal also can be a way of bringing people together, especially when it is created and shared among family members or dear friends. It can be as private as the intimate secrets passed between mother and daughter. Or it can become the impetus for a special event or homecoming celebration, such as a reunion of old college friends.
Often, a collaborative journal becomes a sort of shared history, told from various points of view, says Nancy K. Barry, an English professor at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, who teaches a summer workshop on journaling for women. She recalls one student, a mother and teacher, who decided to place a notebook in the kitchen where family members could jot down their thoughts and experiences. "There were two rules: No mean-spirited comments about people in the family. And no whining," Barry says.
Predictably, some members wrote more often than others. The woman's teenage son seemed particularly resistant to the idea. But one night the woman came down to the kitchen and found her son engrossed in the journal. Though he refused to write in it himself, he was intensely interested in what others had to say.
"We think of journals as being supremely personal, but they don't necessarily have to be," Barry explains. "There's a collective energy that comes from people reading entries from other people and commenting on them. You see an event from a different perspective.
"By doing a collaborative journal, you're creating something that is greater than the sum of the individual pieces people might write on their own."
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