I’m hearing a good number of people upon reflecting on all the extra free time they have while staying home during the pandemic. A few seem to be accomplishing a lot, but at least as many of them are a bit ashamedly saying that they are accomplishing less.

I’m still writing but I have come to realize that as the weeks crawl by that I am writing less. Let me amend that: I am writing less for the world.

I write on 9 different sites and I keep a calendar of those posts so that I remember to keep them updated and so that I don’t post too much on any one day. For most of 2019, I averaged 12 posts per week. At a glance, I can see that I have been decreasing that number for the past two months. But the writing that has increased is my personal writing in my journals.


“In the journal, I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.” —Susan Sontag

I wrote here recently about things being solved by walking (solvitur ambulando)   and I guess I think of those journals as a way that things might be solved by writing (solvitur scriptures?).

I’m not alone in my journaling. I saw an article about people doing gratitude exercises in order to avoid negative thought spirals, anxiety and depression.

Gratitude journaling is one of those practices. Journals can be daily but just have to be regular enough to keep your focus. A gratitude journal focuses on the good in your life and is a record of the things you appreciate which is most difficult to write and most important to write on days when you can’t find the light.

I haven’t gone fully gratitude in my journaling. In fact, I started a new journal in January and by March I was using a section of it as a timeline of the pandemic.  My journals have always been a record to aid my memory. I record the joy and the pain, the big events and the small moments I’m afraid I will forget.

I’m rarely at a loss for something to write, but if you need inspiration there are people who offer that too.

I discovered that Suleika Jaouad had started a 100-day project called The Isolation Journals. She emails a daily prompt at 5 a.m. I always read them though I don’t always write based on them.

In the updates, Suleika lists some quotes about journaling and diaries.

“It is an odd idea for someone like me to keep a diary; not only because I have never done so before, but because it seems to me that neither I—nor for that matter anyone else—will be interested in the unbosomings of a thirteen-year-old school girl.” —Anne Frank

“The diary is an art form just as much as the novel or the play. The diary simply requires a greater canvas; it is a chronological tapestry which, in its ensemble, or at whatever point it is abandoned, reveals a form and language as exacting as other literary forms.” —Henry Miller

“The diary taught me that it is in the moments of emotional crisis that human beings reveal themselves most accurately. I learned to choose the heightened moments because they are the moments of revelation.” —Anaïs Nin

I have decades of journals, but I have never kept a diary. I don’t record every day and a diary always seemed to me to be about more emotional things than what I write in my journals.

“If you read someone else’s diary, you get what you deserve.”  ― David Sedaris

The day 55 prompt was meta: “Write a journal entry about why you journal. Are there certain stories or forms you gravitate toward? People or places you prefer to leave out? Do you imagine anyone reading your entries? Do you notice a difference between journaling with prompts and without? As a private practice or one you share with others?”

My answers are complicated.

My regular journaling habit has not changed much in isolation, other than recording the news of the pandemic changes.


I have a garden journal to record my plantings, blooms, harvests, the seasons, first buds, frosts, pests, diseases, care, and cultivation tips. That journal is pandemic-free.

I have a travel journal with my trips and family vacations with dates, places, hotel rooms, restaurants, weather, attractions, and fellow travelers. This journal is sheltering at home. I had put post-it notes in it with some notes on two vacations we had booked for 2020 (France and St. John) that have been postponed until 2021.

I have kept several dream journals to record dreams that I actually remember upon waking. Reading that journal is very strange. I rarely recall even writing about the dream weeks later. It’s almost like someone else wrote down those dreams. I haven’t had any isolation or virus dreams that I have recalled, but I have heard that others (particularly children) have been having odd dreams.

I have a ledger book where I keep many lists: the best films I saw each year, book read, records of my sleep patterns, medications, herbs and vitamins I have tried, medical records, poetry submissions, and many other smaller pieces of my life. I have always been a listmaker.

“For any writer who wants to keep a journal, be alive to everything, not just to what you’re feeling, but also to your pets, to flowers, to what you’re reading.”  ― May Sarton

I have image journals that began as collages made of things that interested me. They covered periods of my life – college, work, marriage, parenthood – and in the past decade they have been recorded month to month. Pages contain photos, advertising, ticket stubs, newspaper headlines, patterns, scenes, maps and anything that reflects on the month.

I know that I record all of this to aid my own memory, but I have always known that part of me believes I am recording all of it for others. I don’t know who they will be or when they will read those words but I know they are listening when I write.

film collage
One of my collages of film stills from my undergraduate days shows what I was watching – including a French cinema course.

4 Reasons Why I Dislike and Like Lists


I am a list maker. In fact, I make way too many lists. I have multiple TO DO lists of things that I need to do around the house, out in the garden, things I want to blog about, even lists of movies and TV shows that I want to watch.

Though I still make lists on paper, I keep lots of lists on my phone these days: things to buy at the store, restaurants to try in various cities, donations for taxes, sights to see and more. I even have a list of lines or ideas for poems that (embarrassingly) has 300+ items.

Obviously, I like lists. But I also dislike them. For example, that Things To Do Around the House list is a constant reminder of things I have NOT done. There are items on that list that have been there for several years (paint the garage door, caulk and paint the foundation, replace the bathroom window trim, and clean out the basement and garage. (Luckily, I don’t have an attic.) Even the lists of unread books, unwatched movies and places to visit – which are things I enjoy doing – are a reminder of things NOT done.

I also dislike lists that are opinions. The end of the year and January are full of “Best of” lists. They rarely agree with each other. Every critic and person with a blog has the best: films, books, TV shows, foods, websites, beaches, vacation spots, cities…  Pick a category and there is a list for it. I was told that blog posts and articles that start with a number get more views. (Hence this post’s title – let’s see if it works.)

There are some very official lists that are attached to awards. In aggregate, the Golden Globes, Oscars, SAG and New York and Los Angeles Film Critics lists should give you a pretty good sampling of movies to watch. The same goes for some book awards – although the list of best-selling books or biggest moneymaking films generally tells me things to avoid.

So why do I like lists?  Those annoying “best” lists can guide you to some things you might have missed. If five critics all put a book on their best list and it wins the Pulitzer, Booker or some other big award, it’s probably worth checking out.

My personal lists are actually useful because I do forget things more these days. Those shopping lists (food store, Home Depot, clothing) are necessary reminders fo those rare times when I venture into a store or more likely are searching online.  The garden things I never did last spring or summer are still there for this spring and summer. I have started putting some lists on my phone/computer calendar so that they repeat at intervals and send me notifications and emails.