In the early years of my marriage, I occasionally wrote in my journal about my struggle with homosexuality. My journal was reflective of much of the rest of my life: keeping a journal was a commandment (of sorts), so I sought with zeal to fulfill that commandment.
Keeping a journal is something that President Spencer W. Kimball, who was president of the Church when I joined, greatly emphasized as a commandment of the Lord. It sprung out of a Mormon tradition to be a “record-keeping people” which finds its origins, in part, in the mythic tradition of the Book of Mormon. The title of this post, for example, comes from 2 Nephi 4:15:
“And upon these [gold plates] I write the things of my soul, and many of the scriptures which are engraven upon the plates of brass. For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.”
Though still taught in the Church, journal writing (like other things taught by President Kimball, such as the importance of gardening and the abominable nature of homosexuality) is not emphasized today the way it was 30 years ago.
My journal was voluminous; I kept it faithfully for over 20 years and it fills several shelves of binders. However, it was, generally speaking, as dry as the paper on which I wrote, devoid of life. I was going through the motions; even though I loved to write, this love was masked and controlled by my overarching desire to “do what is right” and fulfill the commandment, regardless of whether doing so brought joy.
I also always had President Kimball’s admonition in mind to only write things that would be edifying to my descendants when, someday, they would read my magnum opus and find therein inspiration as they faced struggles in their own lives. This of course only encouraged me to be more wooden and stilted in my journal-writing, omitting many thoughts and feelings while coloring what I did record to be suitably appropriate for other eyes to possibly read someday.
As I have written this, I see clearly how journal-writing was a metaphor for much of my adult life after joining the Church. I sought with zeal to fulfill the commandments, regardless of whether doing so brought me joy. Frankly, it never brought me joy.
Of course, I told myself that there truly was “real” joy underneath the layers of unhappiness I only dimly allowed myself to feel. I told myself that if I applied myself with even more fervor to living the “Mormon life,” I would experience the joy and happiness that comes from “living the Plan of Happiness.” If I only persisted in applying myself day in, day out, the mere act of doing so would produce – somewhere, sometime – happiness. Until that happened, I had to exercise faith and “do my duty” (as we men were constantly admonished to do), always living my life for others, for externals, believing that in doing so, my internal self would – in some mysterious and undefinable way – be blessed and benefitted and I would find fulfillment and the ever-elusive purpose of life (according to Nephi): to have [experience] joy.
Which brings to me to the second way that journal writing was a metaphor for my life, i.e., President Kimball’s admonition that we write only those things that could be edifying. Even in recording the things of our soul, we were encouraged to not be in touch with our feelings, with our real selves, but to put up the “Mormon wall” (of which I have written elsewhere) between that whom we should aspire to be and that whom we really are.
Furthermore, we are encouraged to live for the benefit of others; our lives find their truest and most sublime meaning only with reference to what we do for others. There is no value, per se, in merely being, or in our unique individuality. Our purpose is defined in terms of doing for others. And that doing must meet a suitability test.
And so, my dry (mainly dry) journal was really a reflection of and metaphor for my (mainly) dry life. Is it any wonder that no great literature has arisen out of the Mormon tradition? How ironic, since it is founded upon a monumental work of literature, of sorts …
I no longer keep a journal, but what I do do is write a blog. On this blog, I truly do write the “things of my soul.” Will it be for the “profit of my children”? I don’t know; perhaps. It will most definitely (I hope) convey to them, should they ever read it, that their father finally became a real person and set out on a journey for true meaning and authenticity after living most of his adult life as a cardboard cutout; and that he sought – finally – to give expression to his true thoughts and feelings.