I seem to write three types of journal entries.
- A listing of things I did, or things I have to do — record keeping or logistical planning in some way, e.g. I put together shelving in the basement yesterday. Today I must go to the doctor at 3PM. And so on.
- A specific scene or memory — writing out something that happened, including my inner stream of consciousness chatter, and potentially thinking about what something means, if anything. Or how I feel about this or that.
- Thinking about who I was or what I’m doing in my life — reflecting — and considering alternatives
I often feel that doing #1 is the most “productive”. There’s a rote, get ‘er done feeling to it — just enumerating through tasks, like I’m generating a report for a boss to tell him or her what I’ve been up to for the day or week.
But being productive doesn’t always make me feel good. Neither does thinking about alternatives to my life — that sometimes gears me up, increases anxiety levels — because thinking about alternatives means thinking about changes and changes are a big, scary pain in the ass. Scenes, though — they’re the most fun, but they take absolutely forever to write and if I focus my time there, I won’t have any left for anything else. They say God is in the details, but if all I write are details, the outline of my life risks getting lost in the clutter.
I missed a few entries over the past couple of days. It’s hard to know what to include in my report.
When my therapist says that he wants me to write daily journal entries, I wonder what he has in mind? Does producing lists of things I’ve done or have to do really help me to feel any better about my life? Or am I doing this just to satisfy a request from my therapist — to check the box that says “I’ve done this thing you asked, here you go.”
I would think he would prefer that I write about things that bother me — or how or why they bother me.
For example, my wife got home yesterday late. The library is open until eight most weekdays and she occasionally takes the later shift. When she arrived, I told her my elderly mother stopped over during the day and dropped off a few items. I mentioned my mom complained for a while about my brother Mike who is 48 and living with her. Mike won’t talk to her anymore and does not appear to be looking seriously for a job.
My wife then proceeded to complain for half an hour about the pain in the ass that is my brother. I didn’t stop her. She had a miserable day and is dealing with serious business with her own parents: Her 95 year old dad crapped himself during the day, right as she was leaving his house, after her daily check-in where she makes sure people are taking meds and eating and whatever. Luckily a home-health caretaker was set to arrive thirty minutes later so she was able to alert them that her Dad would need to be cleaned up and didn’t have to do anything herself. I wanted to say things like: You shouldn’t be doing this. No daughter should be cleaning up their Dad’s shit. We need to find a better solution.
Instead I listened to her about my brother. He’s using you and your mom, she said. He’s manipulating you all, playing you. He’s set up shop in your mother’s apartment and he can play video games and watch movies and he gets fed and that’s all he wants. He’s not looking for a job.
I tune her out as much as I can. I know she’s venting about my brother because it’s easier. Easier than thinking about her own parents. The misery of aging. The misery of knowing they’re there at home possibly sitting in their own filth. The misery of feeling powerless and helpless to do anything else about their situation. My brother is an easy target, a safe punching bag for her ire. I don’t care. Once Jennie has run out of things to say, she’ll repeat them until she wears herself out. If I try too hard to change the subject, she’ll notice and become upset. Why can’t you just listen to me? When you try to change the subject like that it’s like you’re not valuing what I’m saying!
I might say in response: Well when you repeat yourself I feel like you’re not valuing my time or my memory — you only have to say something once, I’m not stupid. Not the greatest answer, and one which can quickly turn a conversation into a full-on argument, one complete with personal attacks.
I wake up this morning and we’re eating breakfast and drinking coffee in the kitchen and getting ready to start our respective days and she’s already complaining about my brother again. I tell her please stop, we’ve gone over this. I ask why she’s thinking about it so much — I said honestly I woke up and didn’t think about my family once until she brought it up.
What do you think about instead?
I don’t know. Work? My director wants me to do some technical shit so I’m considering how to implement it. And my knee is bothering me again. And I have to coordinate some stuff related to the solar panel install project.
I have a lot of stuff to coordinate too. I have to see my parents again.
Isn’t the home help going?
Yeah but they can’t do everything.
I hate to see you so stressed out all the time.
Join the club.
I fear my wife is becoming bitter about all of this and I am disgusted with her parents at this point, hate their frailty and their neediness and their constant demands on my wife, but I am also becoming angry with her for acquiescing — I want her back in my life, I want to be happy again, I don’t want 80% of our conversations to be about her shitty parents and my shitty brother, it’s exhausting and negative and the opposite of romantic.
This is not what I want our marriage to be but I don’t know what I can do about it.
My marriages, and the marriages of others I’ve known tells me that when you marry someone – like it or not – you also marry their families. Even if they are estranged from their families and never interact, the reasons for that estrangement still plays a part in the primary marital relationship.
A good list of entry classifications. I laughed when, just as I was thinking “I never write type 1” you said, #1 is the most productive. I’m all about type 2 but I have this odd sense of the order of things. “Can’t write this before that” types of writing blocks. So then I just don’t write anything. Totally agree about scene writing. Fun but so time consuming.
Also, loved this phrase: “a safe punching bag for her ire”