Wednesday, February 25, 2009, 7:27 PM

I was looking back over some of my old AOL-J blog posts and came across something that just kicked me in the butt. It was a contest entry (which I didn't win, lol) about why I wanted to journal. Seems like it was just the thing for me to re-read tonight.
July 20, 2005
Why Journal?

Well, it's kind of like playing the lottery, only instead of trying to hit the winning numbers, I hoped to find a friend or two. And I found them, but along the way, I continue to find me, too.

Judith Heartsong’s contest this month asks us to share why we journal, what we've learned about journaling and how it might have changed our life. I knew as soon as I read about the contest that I was going to enter this one because it's a good and important thing she's asking us to consider this month.

When I first began journaling online in August of 2002 (at Blogspot), it was with the idea that someone might happen by my site and read something that resonated ... and that we would become lifelong friends with everything but color and shoe preference in common. I was lonely and depressed and searching for something at the time, although I couldn't have put exactly what it was into words. All I know is that I was looking for something external that would magically fulfill whatever it was that I needed internally. Since I couldn't figure out how to enable comments at Blogspot, my potential Bobsy twin couldn't even make a connection and I got bored with posting thoughts in public that seemed to interest no one. So the first thing I learned about online journaling is that I craved feedback.

I first read about AOL Journals from the main Welcome screen in September of 2003 and jumped in with a bushy tail and bright eyes. Journals made it easy to create one and to link to others. The only problem was that there weren't too many of them and they were difficult to find. But because there wasn't many, that meant there was more opportunity to be seen than I wouldn’t have had in an already-established community. There were no preconceived notions about how I should write my Journal, no close-knit groups of friends to impress or envy, not even any rules that I could see. All I had to do was get the attention of those already there ... and surely one of them would be someone I could relate to, who could also relate to me.

One of my early entries was written with the express purpose of reeling in an online soul mate or two. I called it the Hot Five! and in it, I highlighted five Journalers who'd been in J-Land at least a month longer than I had. My intent was to help foster a sense of community because I'd read about the trouble everyone was having in finding other Journalers and making a connection. Highlighting other Journals was a great way to do this. Maybe we'd all start doing it. Doing this took a bit of time and effort on my part to find the Journal, to read the Journal and see how I could relate to the writer. When each of them responded, I learned how easy and fun it was to say hey, howdy to someone in the Community.

Months later, one of the Journalers I'd befriended in the first Hot Five! entry died and I learned that even though the nature of online friendship may be tenuous, the sudden death of someone I only knew online was still real enough to invade my dreams at night. Until Frank was gone, I hadn't realized how much his lighthearted comments and sometimes probing e-mails had meant to me. I couldn't help wishing that I'd been more responsive to his overtures of friendship when I'd had the chance.

Over the next year, AOL Journals grew significantly. It seemed to happen overnight. Suddenly the few handfuls of Journalers turned into groups here and there. People began writing about favoritism, contest-rigging and cliques. The feeling of intimate camaraderie was lost. I began second guessing what I wrote, to feel guilty about the friends I'd made, to wonder if I'd hurt or offended anyone along the way. That's when I learned that being lucky enough to belong to a close-knit group of friends stings sometimes.

I was busy settling into my AOL-J niche when I got the chance to go on a Caribbean cruise with another Journaler. It was just crazy enough that I thought I should I do it. Besides, what was life worth living for if I didn't take a chance now and then? I was terrified because I was afraid to travel alone, to navigate an airport alone, but I so wanted to be a brave risk-taker. Fear is a killer. Fear kept me from doing so many things I really wanted to do. But here I was in J-Land with the chance to do something about those fears. So I took a breath, met those fears head-on and one of my first online friendships blossomed into a real life friendship. I remember feeling the first pangs of worry that my fun online persona wouldn't live up to the quiet girl in real life, but my cruise friend turned out to be just as human as I was. She was more [angry, intelligent, scared, strong, weak, wacky, beautiful] than just the side she might choose to show in her Journal. Just as I am, just as we all are.

Sometimes it frustrated me how open I could be with an online friend, yet be guarded in real life. Why was I so willing to bare all in an e-mail or in my Journal, but not able to say the same words aloud? But there it was and there I was ... back to the original reason for a public Journal. Friends. Understanding. A sense of belonging. All in the form of safe electronic communication. It didn't matter how many miles separated us from each other because online communication creates an easy intimacy where distance doesn’t matter. Not that I'm saying it can't be a bit rough at times to continue that kind of comfort in a real life setting, because sometimes it is difficult.

But before I got to the point of meeting someone in real life, there was the sounding off part, the need to share my thoughts in a way that made sense to someone else reading. Being able to do that was liberating and helped me to understand who I was (at the time) in a way that I wouldn't have otherwise if someone hadn’t first asked a question and made me think. Kind of like how I’m doing with this entry.

I learned how real online friendships can be when my marriage was ending. The friends I'd made online, the same friends some people in my real life tried to discount, came through for me in ways I'll never forget. I don't know what I did or do to deserve this kind of friendship, but I must have done something right.

It's corny to write, but AOL Journals has been very good to me. It wasn't just dumb luck, though, because I deliberately took a lot of risks in the last two years. Yes, it all happened kind of unexpectedly, but that's the really great part about all of this. Who knows who I'll meet next year, or where I'll be this time next year? All of what I've gained and lost happened because of me and who I am, but also because of a journal I write called Unhinged. Sometimes it’s scary posting this kind of personal stuff, but if I hadn't ever taken the chance to do it, I’d probably still be back in Indiana doing the same old, same old. I never could have predicted this ... who I am today, what I've done, or how surprised I am about what I'm learning now because I chose to enter a contest and write this entry.

Someday next year, I'll read back through the entries I've written today. I do it all the time now. Which tells me that who I was really looking for the day I began this Journal wasn't others, but me. I'm the one who goes back over my old entries to laugh, cry and remember how things used to be. The friends I've made and the things I've learned along the way just happen to be the sour cream frosting on my devil's food cake of life.
Uh, yeah. Kind of wild how life turns out, huh?


10 Did the Unhingey Jiggy Engage in Unhingenosity
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