Whether you’re keeping a journal or writing as a meditation, it’s the same thing. What’s important is you’re having a relationship with your mind. — Nathalie Goldberg
Back in my twenties, before cell phones, I read voraciously books and magazines, used an address book to store telephone numbers, and occasionally wrote letters to friends using pen and paper. I also kept a diary. I wrote in college-ruled notebooks that I continuously misplaced. The journal was a place where I jotted down dream remnants, documented failed romantic relationships, and discussed my general anxiety about what to do with the rest of my life.
The journal writing lasted for a couple of years. Then nothing for the next 25.
In my late forties, while navigating a rough patch in my marriage, I felt the need to once again memorialize my thoughts and emotions in a journal.
By then I was a father of preschool aged twins, so carving out some quiet time for self-reflection was a luxury I could not afford. You might argue that making the time for self-reflection is not a luxury, but a necessity to lead a balanced life. And you might be right. But at this stage of my life I had neither the discipline or the stamina to change that.
Enter the IoS app Voice Record Pro and Google drive (cue sound effects of a chorus of angels).
I only mention the name of the voice recording app because one of its key features is the ability to upload the audio session with a single click to Google drive. I’m sure other apps do the same thing.
My hour-long commute from Lower Manhattan to Queens was now the perfect time to whip out my phone and create an audio journal entry. In public settings, I usually recorded with earbuds in my ears pretending to have a two-person conversation, not to look too crazy. Mind you, not even the sight of a giant rat dragging an even larger slice of pizza up a staircase will rattle a new Yorker.
You quickly realize that life is generous with these in-between moments: The long solo elevator ride from the fifth floor to the basement’s laundry room; the few minutes at the bottom of the subway station waiting for the downpour to pass; or the time between the nurse leaving you half-naked in the little room and the doctor’s entrance. These all add up.
Another benefit of recording versus writing is a greater sense of privacy. I always felt the existence of a diary was an invitation for a girlfriend, spouse or an inquisitive house guest to pry open the book. And at some level, who could blame them? I’m not saying I myself would pick a lock on a journal or rummage through a sock drawer to read someone else’s private journal, but if I came across a diary left out in the open on the kitchen counter, I might take a quick peek.
The point is, the phone recording felt more private and some of the thoughts I confide in the app I probably would not have written in a journal.
Over the past five years, I’ve made about 200 recordings, ranging from one to ten minutes. The frequency of recordings varied. More in times of stress when the need to let the steam out was more pressing.
The recordings live in a Google folder labeled ‘Tax receipts 2010–2011" for an additional layer of secrecy. I’ve only listened to a few audio snippets, mostly to make sure they were there, preserved for later examination. I’m not sure how long I’ll wait to replay them, or even if I’ll listen to them again. I feel more at ease knowing that there is a trace of the emotions I experienced, a digital witness of those years.
Are there any drawbacks to the audio version of a diary? Sure. There is something powerful in the act of writing, in transferring thoughts to written words. The physicality of the ink and the handwriting is absent in the audio version. At the same time, what is gained is quite unique. A recording of your voice, expressing your thoughts with the full spectrum of emotions. Imagine right now if you had the ability to go back 10, 20 years and listen to a recording yourself as a young person, or a teenager.
Audio journal entries are like a good Pinot noir. They tend to get better with age.
Give it a try and you’ll thank me in 20 years.