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Journaling Through Chaos

By Naomi K. Hegwood
By Javhlan Amgalanbaatar, Crimson Opinion Writer
Javhlan Amgalanbaatar ’23, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Canaday Hall. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.

A long day. A thousand thoughts are burning in my head and the stress of the upcoming week starts overwhelming me. I sit down on my bed, pick my favorite notebook, and start writing. The slow speed of writing allows my intrusive thoughts to gradually queue up to be expressed, and I patiently listen to everything my mind has to say. After a few minutes, my body comes to the present moment, and I allow my feelings and thoughts of that day to be gradually channeled through pen onto paper.

Journaling has long been a way for me to reflect, take moments to myself, or simply calm down. Through expressing what is going on in my life at that specific moment, I am not only able to reflect on the current situation and allow my mind to sort through its thoughts but also to visit my past thoughts and aspirations. Coming to Harvard, I have become even more convinced of the importance of reflection through journaling. But due to the business of campus life, I often found myself too caught up or even too tired to bring myself to journal consistently at school. Quarantine has freed me to once again write and reflect on what the past year brought my way and how it has shaped me. Reading back on the entries I have written in college reminded me of the struggles adjusting to the first semester and the joyful moments spent with friends later on. I reconnected with little pieces of myself found in words written months ago.

As college students, we are going through one of the most shaping and definitive periods of our lives, discovering ourselves and exploring our interests. Yet, with the busy schedule and the endless goals we set for ourselves, we too often move from one destination to the next, constantly chasing the next milestone rather than appreciating the journey that led us here. Journaling is one of many ways through which we can reflect and rediscover our initial aspirations. The present downtime and relative quiet provide an opportunity to pause, look back on the moments that brought us here, and get a clearer picture of what’s ahead.

Now is a unique time to be living through, and journaling could be used as a means of documenting fraught and unique present experiences. Two of my instructors shared George Saunders’ “A Letter to My Students as We Face the Pandemic” with perfect timing; the letter so aptly describes the importance of keeping records right now. Saunders writes, “Fifty years from now, people the age you are now won’t believe this ever happened (or will do the sort of eye-roll we all do when someone tells us something about some crazy thing that happened in 1970.) What will convince that future kid is what you are able to write about this, and what you’re able to write about it will depend on how much sharp attention you are paying now, and what records you keep.”

Although it is true that our days in quarantine are rather uneventful — with the main activities being cooking or Zooming — the thoughts and emotions stirred in response to the new normal are not. As Saunders continues, “all of the drama is happening in private.” The things that should be documented and preserved are the inner struggles evoked by this prolonged pause on our usual lives.

By reflecting and documenting, we free our minds and release our thoughts and emotions. With all the uncertainty around the future and the multitude of feelings that come with quarantine, a page in our journal holds a space for us to just be. Being present with our thoughts and feelings through writing and actually allowing them to be expressed rather than suppressed becomes another way to honor and accept our experiences during these times.

So I encourage anyone who is interested in reflecting, documenting, or taking care of their mental and emotional space to grab a journal and write whatever comes to mind. It does not have to be eloquent or even make sense (nothing is making sense right now), but I promise even a few minutes a day to spend with ourselves will be worth it.

Javhlan Amgalanbaatar ’23, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Canaday Hall. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.

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