I’m not the type of musician who writes songs that refer to real people or events in my life by name. But I think the practice of journaling has given me the capability of observing and reflecting on my life, to feel things, and find ways to convey what’s in my head to others.
So far I’ve written ten journals, maybe three thousand pages of writing. I started when I was about eight. It wasn’t constant, but I remember when I would have babysitters, I wouldn’t want to talk to them and I would be like, “I actually have some homework to do…” I would write to myself about what was going on, and how I didn’t like the babysitter.
My earliest entries were written on ripped out pieces of paper, but from about fifth grade onward I became an avid journal writer. My first “real” journal from that period was in a book about an inch thick, hard-covered, with college-ruled lined paper. It is really hilarious to read it because I put in smiley faces and OMGs, hearts, and so many explanation points!!! My handwriting is also really silly and I don’t spell anything correctly. But it is funny to look back and see what I thought at that time. For example, I remember reading something about feeling like I wouldn’t live to see what middle school would be like. Even though it wasn’t far off, it was just so unimaginable to me.
Back then I could also be very formal. I had to begin with the date at the top, in the upper right hand corner, and the entries would always begin, “Dear Diary…” And I’d make myself write to the bottom of the page, and then I’d sign off, “Yours Truly,” with my signature. Then it went from “Dear Diary” to “Dear Journal,” maybe because I thought that was more mature… Now I just write the date at the top, and I don’t sign off with my name. I’d like to say I became less self-conscious over time, but when I look back and read my journals, I notice that as I’m writing I’m often questioning why I’m journaling, why I have this urge to keep documenting my life in this way. To this day I still come back to that question. Maybe that’s why I keep writing: to discover the answer.
In addition to writing journals, I’m also an avid reader of other people’s journals. Susan Sontag’s journals have affected me the most. They’re amazing! It feels almost wrong to be reading them because they were published posthumously. But she had been journaling her whole life, and everyone knew about it even though no one acknowledged it. She never shared anything about them, but apparently on her deathbed she said to her son, “You know where the journals are.” She didn’t explain what that meant, but he read them and decided that they should be published. Since Sontag didn’t explicitly consent, reading them feels almost naughty to me. It also makes me wonder if the need for privacy goes away when we’re no longer living. I don’t know but it’s an interesting question.
Would I ever want my journals to be published? Well, I think it’s easier to say yes if I’m thinking about the early ones, like from the fifth grade. I mean no one would really care or be hurt by what ten-year-old me thought of them. But I’d never want to publish something I wrote yesterday, or even three years ago. When you’re talking about people in your current life, being so public with your thoughts is going to change your private relationships. Also, I worry a little that something I thought was so profound at the time may turn out later to be so cheesy. [Laughs]
What I write in my journals is a personal record of the events in my life, and my reactions to them. There is nothing cloaked in mystery. It’s just me being honest with myself, working through stuff. My journals mean so much to me that I carry around the most current ones with me in my bag.
I’m actually at a crossroads right now because the last three years of my journaling life were stolen while we were on tour in Chicago. I had two books in my backpack, each hundreds of pages. We parked the car on a residential street and went to have lunch. We were gone for only a half hour, in the middle of the day, but when we came back, we saw that passenger side window had been smashed. Three backpacks including mine were gone.
I lost my passport, my laptop, and other expensive things, but the real loss was my journals, which are irreplaceable. It breaks my heart to think they were probably tossed into a dumpster somewhere along with the remains of the backpacks.
My first thought was: Should I go back and try to recapture what I can remember about the events I had written about? Or was the action of journaling at that time what matters, not the act of preserving what I had written?
A week later, while in Toronto, I bought a blank journal and started writing again. I decided to begin in the present, and the first entry opens sadly, with me reflecting on the loss I experienced. I keep my new journal with me at all times. I’ve also referred to the practice of journaling in my music. Songwriting and journaling have both helped me to express myself through words, but in songwriting I’m consciously writing with others in mind. When I’m journaling, I’m exploring meaning for myself.
Wanted/Needed/Loved: Musicians and the Stuff They Can’t Live Without is an illustrated column where musicians share the stories behind meaningful objects. As told to Allyson McCabe and illustrated by Esme Blegvad.
21-year-old Lucy Dacus’s debut album No Burden was released earlier this year on EggHunt Records, and it quickly made several “best releases of 2016 so far” lists, including SPIN and Paste. She was signed to Matador, which has re-issued that album as Dacus tours with a new album now in the works. Dacus has drawn critical accolades for the warmth and wit of her music. Pitchfork also raves: “She has a voice we haven’t quite heard before—a twangy alto that sounds light and limber despite its depth—and a unique talent for encapsulating the emotional truth of a moment in impressionistic lyrics that feel effortless.”