On Journaling: Writing Letters

In February I mentioned daily journaling in an essay I wrote about job stress for the Pastry Box. A couple of you asked me to write more about how I journal, so this post is for you. 

I can identify a few different techniques I turn to for journaling and I'll make a post about each of them. The first is letter writing. Writing letters -- to myself or to others -- has been helpful for me in working through emotions or stress about specific situations. I can say things in a letter that no one will ever read but me and that I might never say to an actual person. Sometimes the letter serves as a rehearsal for a real-life conversation I need to have. I wrote my former boss a journal-letter before giving notice as my last job, for example. 

A note on journal-letters and real letters: audience matters. While letters in my journal do sometimes inspire me to write mailed letters, I don't just rip pages out of my journal and stuff them in an envelope. I write the letter fresh. I phrase things differently when writing for me versus writing for someone else. In my experience, most people are surprised and touched to receive a handwritten letter. 

Examples are always helpful, so here's a journal-letter I wrote to the former owner of my new house, written as we started making our first significant changes to it. 

Dear [former owner],

I walk through our garden several times a week to get a sense of what spring is bringing. Thank you for so clearly labeling the azaleas and dogwood trees but leaving some surprises, too. I know a hydrangea and a rhododendron when I see them, but it took some research to name the dwarf lily of the valley shrub. I also see three or four sproutings of what I thought would be daffodils, but maybe aren't. If they are, ours seem to be the town's very latest bloomers.

I never cared about birds until the juncos came to the birdbath you left. I can see the bath from the sofa -- our sofa is in the same place yours was, but we are going to move it to the other side of the den and when we do so, I may need to move the birdbath too. Thanks to that, and the hummingbird feeder and tray feeder you left, I've become quite the amateur birder. I even figured out why you had the suet feeder zip-tied and chained to the fence. The damn squirrels.

This is my first home that is mine. We started painting rooms and part of me feels so guilty making any changes to a house you so clearly loved. I don't know if this makes sense, but I feel a responsibility to you and to this house. One of the reasons we wanted to buy it was how homey it felt, how like our grandmothers' houses, and I don't want our changes to take away that feeling. I was looking this week at photos of the homes we didn't buy and I felt so lucky that you sold us this house. It feels like us.

I've honestly never paid much attention to spring. I'm a fall person. But I keep walking through the garden you left. The hydrangeas that looked like a bunch of dead sticks poking out of the ground now have little green leaves. One rhododendron bud is open just enough that I can see it will be pink. The azaleas, also formerly just sticks in the ground, have small red buds. A tree that I can't yet name is covered in red buds and I can't wait to see what blooms.

But the marigolds in front are long dead and I hope you won't mind that we're taking them out. We also put in three blueberry bushes where that barrel fountain used to be. Taking out the fountain was quite a project. Who knew a homemade fountain could be engineered so sturdily.  

We're trying to make you and the house proud. When you drive by I don't want you to feel like we're messing it all up. I imagine you'll feel a little wistful, but I hope you also feel mostly proud that "the kids" (as our realtor always referred to us) are keeping up okay.

Also, how the hell do you turn on that cute little street lamp? We've tried every switch we can find.