A College Career in Journals

My senior year of high school, I carried a moleskine notebook with me at all times. I was slowly (and painfully) detaching myself from high school, and I didn’t speak much that year– everything went into the book. It was sort of a compulsion, really: I had this tiny, meticulous handwriting, and I wrote in complete, cohesive sentences, often in essay-style. I copied down every quote that was meaningful to me, every conversation I overheard, nearly every unique thought that passed through my mind. And I neatly pasted in every receipt, ticket stub, every scrap of paper that I came across. My doodles were always photo-realistic, never imaginative. Looking back on it now, I see that year as a process of collecting the disparate scraps of myself before leaving for college.

So then, the turning point: I went to see a film with my dad, and my bag was stolen from under my seat. With my journal in it.

…and I learned the very important lesson, that you should always keep yourself whole enough to survive a stolen book.


I think my mistake was trying to make it honest and beautiful at the same time. I remember writing down horribly secret things that I had never spoken or written before: mortified, and brutally protective of the book afterwards. That honesty was necessary, but I had to set a lot of very restrictive boundaries for writing at the time: I only wrote in pencil, because I didn’t want to see any crossed-out mistakes. I would erase and re-erase until I had accurately articulated the feeling, event or thought that I wanted to convey. If I forgot to paste a ticket stub in, I felt furious– like something was missing and the book was incomplete. And I never allowed myself to go back and read my earlier writing.

After that book was stolen, I didn’t journal for my entire first year at college. It was too painful, and I was exhausted. I didn’t have the energy to put my life together so compactly again.

As it turns out, that painful transition was a Seriously Great Thing. For the first time in my life, I really embraced the place that I was in (which is to say, college). I explored it. I introduced myself to people, I put myself out there, I took risks. I cut my hair off. I got straight A’s, fell in love, twice, and began to see myself better, and more clearly. Basically, I put my energy into my life instead.

Back to the Book

But let’s face it, I’m a creative writing major: I need some paper in my life. I transferred schools, feeling infinitely grateful to my first college and peaceful about leaving it. This time, when I returned to the habit of writing things down, I began using a pen. Which meant I crossed things out, a lot, and my handwriting was larger and looser. I also discovered how inferior moleskine paper is.

And this time, I tried to be okay with leaving things out. I sought a balance between living my life, and distilling it onto paper. I reconnected with the art of writing itself, received my first fountain pen from my dad, and began to think more critically about the environmental impact of being a writer…

I can’t say that my three years of living at Kenyon were more meaningful than my first year at Hollins. But I can say that (slowly and consciously) I began to integrate writing into my life in a healthy way– a way that I could see playing into my future and my profession.

And shucks, it does feel nice to look at that stack of notebooks and know that my tumultuous, rewarding college career is messily contained within it.


8 Responses to “A College Career in Journals”

  1. 1 Morgan June 23, 2010 at 2:34 am

    I always tried keeping track of my life within a journal. I now have loads of books with only the first few pages filled out.

  2. 2 Cole June 23, 2010 at 10:27 pm

    Ahh, yes, Unfinished Journal Syndrome. I had that until… well, until my senior year of high school, actually. I always wrote one excellent entry, and then felt like I had marred the perfection of the journal– like I had set a high standard for journaling, that I could never meet again.

    Have you tried not dating your journals? That really helped me to just write, and to keep writing in the same book, no matter how long a gap of time had passed, no matter whether it was a profound thought or an incomplete fragment..

  3. 3 Vivian June 29, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    Hey Abby! This is Vivian Cherng from Socy of Privilege (that seems so long ago.. right?) I do lots of blog reading and was led to yours through kenyonalumni.blogspot I’ve always loved and appreciated your passion (not sure if I ever had the chance to let you know that) and am glad that you have a blog! I’m excited to see what you accomplish after Kenyon and will be keeping myself updated :).

    Also just this past year I’ve really gotten into journals, pens, etc and was excited to read this entry.

  4. 4 Cole June 29, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    Oh hey Vivs! If you’re getting into pens and journaling you should def check out my “pen and ink” page, though I need to update it with recent entries.. Also, Kenyon alumni has a blog? Am I on it…? Eep!

  5. 5 Vivian June 30, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    Hellooo 🙂 and I definitely will check that out when I find time!

    No, it’s not Kenyon’s blog… I believe it’s just a Kenyon alumni who blogs about other Kenyon alumni. Here’s a link to your mention:


  6. 6 Jocelyne Bonilla November 26, 2010 at 1:45 am

    Hi there! I’m definitely commenting on a slightly old post but I thought… whatever! I just liked this blog that much. 🙂

    I totally relate to your love for writing. I’m also pretty shy and express myself mostly through my journal entries. I’ve been journaling since my freshman year in high school… and I’m a senior now!

    I came across this blog because I’m applying to Kenyon and thought I could find a few interesting blogs about it. Glad I did!

  7. 7 Cole November 26, 2010 at 1:55 am

    @Jocelyne – I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog! And best of luck with college applications. Feel free to email me if you have any questions about Kenyon; I’m happy to answer them 🙂

  8. 8 Kanika January 12, 2011 at 11:24 am

    Hey I came across Kenyon College related info. check this out: http://bit.ly/erfzui

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