Guest post by author Lynn L. Shattuck
Photo by Noémi Macavei-Katócz on Unsplash
Throughout my 20s and early 30s, I journaled every morning. While I’d journaled on and off since childhood, I became more disciplined after reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Cameron suggests that all creatives benefit from writing three longhand pages first thing in the morning. Journaling became my primary tool for containing and excavating my mind’s chatter— all the thoughts that clutter our consciousness when left to thump around, unspoken. Morning pages—often scrawled out while sipping instant coffee and smoking a cigarette— proved to be an anchor during my tumultuous 20s.
My journaling practice screeched to a halt when I became a mom. Basic self-care tasks like showering were suddenly at a premium, and journaling seemed like a luxurious ritual from a distant past. Beyond the standard reshuffling of priorities that parenthood brings, there was a new consideration when it came to my diaries—the knowledge that when I died, my children would be faced with boxes upon boxes of their mother’s innermost thoughts, a mashup of mundane complaints sprinkled with personal details they’d likely prefer not to know.
While my journaling practice evaporated, ideas for essays began pecking at me. And while I failed almost instantly at maintaining baby books for my kids, I kept a different type of record of their young lives. I don’t remember exactly how it became a tradition, but each year, for my kids’ birthdays, I write them a birthday letter.
In the hectic season of midlife that I’m in, life feels like it’s unfolding at a quicker pace than I can process. Sitting down to write these annual letters to my children allows me a chance to slow down and reflect. To consider the highlights, the lowlights, the milestones and the mundane. It’s interesting to see which events come immediately to me, and which ones I’ve all but forgotten until I flip through my photos on my phone to jog my memory.
Recently, I started using writing in another way to intentionally savor moments. While most days are stuffed to the gills with work and orthodontist appointments and laundry, life also presents these small, shimmering moments that I’d likely forget if I didn’t capture them. Those moments when we step out of the trance of daily life and suddenly see the sacredness: the morning my teenage son asked me to wash his hair in the kitchen sink and it felt like a sacrament, or the time when my daughter and I danced on the lawn to Taylor Swift songs in the rain. These gems don’t occur every day, but when they do, I try to write them down.
A few years ago, when my dad was dying, I again turned to words. I took frantic notes for my parents in the hospital, scribbling furiously to keep up with the firehose of information from oncologists and pulmonologists. I began journaling again to cope with the fear and grief.
As a young writer, words helped me make sense of the world. As a middle-aged writer, I’m acutely aware of how much time can erode the details of a scene. That’s why I also jotted down details about the print of my dad’s hospital Johnnie and the jokes he cracked about a particular nurse’s sponge bath technique. At the time, I couldn’t have known we’d only have days left with my dad. I’m grateful that the writer in me recognized the importance of what was unfolding and took notes when the daughter part was overwhelmed and heartbroken.
Writing is so versatile. It can be an art form that moves us and makes us feel less alone, but it’s also a way to process and document our lives. I’ve always leaned on words, and I love how the forms have shifted and morphed to accommodate the seasons of life.
How have you used writing to meet different phases of your life?
— BACCA guest writer Lynn Shattuck grew up in a Southeast Alaskan rainforest and is now a Maine-based writer. She’s a columnist at Elephant Journal, where she writes about grief, parenting and wellness. Her essays have been featured in Human Parts, Al Jazeera, P.S. I Love You,The Fix, Vice, Fabric and Mind Body Green.