Subterranean Chronicles Part 4: Transformation through Journaling

My experience with journaling began in second grade when my teacher compelled us to keep a journal that she would check. In this way, I was initiated into the art of writing nonfiction as I perceived it.

When I was a sophomore in college, my mother gave me this beautiful journal with these pages woven into the book. It was a Christmas gift, and I hardly used it. But at her behest, a little at a time, I began to explore myself through journal entries. This situation was different than in school because I was not forced to journal and I began to learn the art of reflection on paper.

a journal and fountain pen

The following Christmas, my mother gave me the book The Right to Write by Julia Cameron. This was my first real introduction to non-academic writing. The author recommended that one wake up each day and force oneself to write three pages of anything.

Sporadically, I tried this exercise and came up with some interesting results. One byproduct was that I began doing a different kind of journaling. Instead of it being a reflection of my daily thoughts, I found myself doing different things such as revisiting memories long buried in my past and also making observations about the world around me as I wrote. 

Journaling Can Be Transformative

As I got deeper into these observations, I started to realize that my ability to see a wider variety of what was around me. The habit was transforming, how I saw the world, and how I recorded my interpretation of it. Additionally, something else began to happen. Whereas before it was a serious chore to write down three pages, the task started to get easier and easier.

Eventually, after doing this exercise (admittedly it was sporadic) over the course of a few years, I would find myself feeling compelled to sit and write and sometimes in these sessions I wouldn’t stop at three pages at times being able to produce three or four times as many pages in a single sitting.

a man journaling

Looking back on it, something was shifting in me. This change over the course of years also transformed my writing when I went beyond journaling and attempted to write personal essays, short fiction, and eventually a novel.

Although I rarely get up and do the three pages as I once did, journaling is something that I have continued even though I do great volumes of other kinds of writing now. I still journal on a weekly basis.

Here is an example of the kind of progression that I found in my entries over the course of several years:


The New Year is the dawn of a new era.  After some prompting by my mother I have decided to begin writing a journal.  My New Year is blackened by the passing of my friend Jay Masset.  I feel great sorrow for his family and loved ones; early death is the greatest of tragedies on this earth.  I feel guilty about not attending his funeral, but I will be there in spirit.  Life is a funny thing.  I attended my first New Year’s party at home since high school at St. Bonaventure with Dom and Goose. 

New Year's Celebration

I got into another fight (the second in the last few weeks), which seems to be a recurring theme in my life.  When I came home with a swollen face and black eyes my mother was horrified. Went to Cincinnati to see the family and all are well except that grandmother seems a little weaker.  It is a shame when older people begin to slow down.  Well, this was okay for my first crack at journal writing.


I feel that the world was created without a slot for me.  Many times in my life I have felt strange and alone.  I never dreamed of being a doctor, lawyer, or fireman.  I have felt like an outsider, alone, senseless, thoughtless at times I have felt numb, mute, gelded.  As a child and adolescent I was tormented, ostracized by my peers for talking funny, acting funny and thinking differently.  I was fat and thought I was ugly.  I was an only child in the shadows of my parents’ battles and their eventual divorce.  

I have always been aware that I was different.  I have wandered through differently.  I don’t like cars.  I don’t want a picket fence, two dogs and a minivan.  I have always waited more to be out there floating in the world, living with free will day by day.  I want to create my own story not to be unencumbered in someone else’s vision. 

The world is a giant orb filled with possibilities.  I’ve only been shown part of it.  I want to be free to go out and explore for myself the possibilities.  We all play these roles.  I have been a son, lover, cousin, and teammate but what is truly me?  Am I the stranger?  How do I know I exist?   Writing?  How can I connect to the giant thing six billion people  in 27,000 miles around.  A world of many things, many people… Where am I? 


We are at our final destination, Rio de Janeiro.  The streets are a carnival: people holding cases of beer, running through several lanes of traffic to sell candy bars, little girls juggling tennis balls with their charcoal faces strained in deep concentration and black braids waving their hands in the air.  Men with grease stained white shirts, juggling oranges.  

The best part of Rio is the cafes, little holes in the walls selling fried stuffed balls of warm delicious grease.  The haggard men sitting at plastic tables with red plastic chairs placed off the curb in the street, they have six small glasses strewn around while they share out of a liter of beer and watch soccer on a flickering nineteen inch television.  

The city explodes with each eagerly anticipated goal.  The futbol games in the sand at Copacabana beach are fluid beauty.  Men run up and down the field with bright smiles, cheerleaders with thick thighs twirling, pom-poms in hand.  It is a sport without aggressive fanfare or contracts as inflated as egos.  The men in the sand play for love.  There is a live percussion band playing an African flavored beat.  The women cheerleaders in skimpy multicolored bathing suits bounce freely at the whim of the beat.

Journaling in South America

I now say goodbye to South America.  The Carnival, the flair, its vibrancy has been an intoxicating dreamlike reality.  It is a place where one is free to have fun and it is wholesome to get lost in emotion.  How better is the world seen than through the journey?  I will now and forever leave a piece of who I am down here but it has given so much with which to walk into the future.

These kinds of revelations took me years to understand. But it was upon revisiting some of this writing that I got the idea for Subterranean Mixtape because I found the idea of being able to see the progression interesting. I realized that I had the material to make, in my humble opinion, a compelling reading experience.