The "Journals+Journeys" series features
Vagabroad diarists sharing their journey with journaling--
for your inspiration.
Giselle Buchanan is a Jamaican American poet, multidisciplinary artist and writer from the Bronx, NY. As an artist deeply involved in her community, she has worked extensively with women, incarcerated men on Rikers Island and children in East Harlem, the Bronx, and Brooklyn. Additionally, she has facilitated workshops for various organizations and universities, including the Bronx Museum, MoCADA Museum, Harlem Textile Works, New York Writers Coalition, and Tufts University. She has read poems in bookstores and ballrooms, like Hammerstein Ballroom, the Apollo Theater, the Chicago Theater, Housing Works Bookstore, New York University, and more. She has published writings in the literary magazine, Hanging Loose and her poems have been featured on media outlets like MSG network and Nickelodeon. She was featured on xoNecole.com as one of 5 Black Women Artists You Need To Know. She currently resides in Brooklyn, NY.
At what point in your life did you start journaling? Why?
I’ve journaled all my life. My mother was never the cuddly, “You can tell me anything, honey” type of person, at least not in the ways I am or felt I needed at the time. Despite that, she did always encourage me to write what I needed to say. She gave me complete ownership over my internal landscape. I feel it was her way of saying, “Your words and feelings matter, even if capitalism and colonization make it so that my energy is stretched so thin, I can’t be the container I’d like to be for them.” I never felt restricted in my notebook. I never felt like my privacy would be invaded. It was how I made sense of all the things I was feeling.
What’s your journaling style (bullet, essay, stream-of-conscious…)?
I prefer the stream of conscious method. Whatever needs to come up, will. I try not to control it too much. As a person who identifies as a writer, so much of what I write is intended for consumption. Though you try not to write for the reader, it’s difficult not to keep the reader in mind. Journaling is just for me.
Do you have a “format” to your journal entries?
I am a classic girl. I start with the date on the top right hand corner and follow with Dear Journal on the next line.
Why do you believe we have an inclination, an urge to document ourselves? Where does that come from and why should we follow it?
I think we document because we want to understand. This could get really existential, but it’s such a strange thing to have a body. A mind that thinks. It’s so complicated to be a descendent. To be creating a personal history while carrying on a collective one. It’s strange to feel isolated, to feel joy, to feel anything. How these feelings can shift within you, even in a day. Then you add in other people who also come with histories and feelings. It’s a lot. We document to catch hold of and examine the mystery of being alive.
You wrote a zine a couple years back that has had considerable impact on the lives of many women. Can you discuss the connection if any between keeping a journal and preparing to write a book/any other sort of published writing such as a zine? Can you make a distinction between preparing to write a book and drafting the book itself.
Well, I didn’t write it all at once, really. The zine was more of a collage. A collection of some old work in one semi-cohesive place. I had a bunch of things I wrote or made and no one had seen them. Some things got rejected for publication by literary magazines. Some I had outgrown, but still felt the potency. I felt like I was this artist, but no one really knew what I made. I felt like I just needed proof out in the world with my name on it that I made these things at some point in time. I feel like my aesthetic voice has changed and there is a lot that would be different if I was making it now, but I still think it’s an important thing for people to have bits and pieces of what I’ve made until they can get a real, polished project.
In making the zine, it didn’t feel like keeping a journal as much as it reminded me of my sketchbooks from high school. An amalgamation of things that shouldn’t really make sense together, but since there is one voice as the unifying force, they somehow do. I guess my journal is like that as well. There is a collection of voices, oftentimes disparate, sharing the same space. Asking for the same kind of attention.
Do you think that all teastained women have a book inside of them? If so how can they tap into it and bring it to the forefront, especially if they are busy with work, children, school maybe…?
I think everyone on this earth has novels in them. It’s a matter of whether or not you feel writing them is your way to share your story. Some people truly don’t feel compelled to write, but oftentimes- especially for people of color- I know it is systematic. Very rarely do I believe someone when they say, “I’m not a writer.” I have come into contact with so many people, women especially, whose words I read and know clearly there are stories, volumes, there. They will often tell me after I mention this that being a writer is their secret dream.
I think space is made for you when you make the space. It’s a relationship. You have to allow your stories to trust you. I have broken trust with mine so many times. I still have moments. Consistent writing time seems to be the only way to heal it. Whether it’s 3 pages every morning, like Julia Cameron suggests in The Artist’s Way, or stealing time when you have it. I’ve written so many good things on a train ride home.
Some people give themselves a prompt, a time limit, a word count. Writing in community can also be a powerful jumpstart. There is no getting around it, though.
To access the stories, you have to do the work of writing-- even through the periods when you don’t find what you’re putting down very interesting. You have to rid yourself of all of that to get to the good stuff, in the same way a miner has to sift through gravel to unearth precious metals.
You’ve already written a zine...would you ever write a book?
I plan to write many across genres- from Poetry to YA Fiction. It’s not a matter of would, but when. Publicly calling in agents, editors, and contracts for 2019 and beyond *crystal ball emoji*
That’s such good advice, Giselle!! Thank you for sharing. In your opinion, what are some things we can do through our journaling practices that will get us closer to finding that “good stuff”?
You get to that good stuff in many ways. If we regard what we have within as precious, we will be more inclined to take the time required to dig. The only thing to depend on is the consistent showing up . I have books and books full of scribbles I don’t find to be very good. When you find that one thing though- the sentence, the paragraph, an entire composition- it clears the path a little to the next good thing. Also, it might be counter intuitive to say, but don’t take it too seriously. This is important as well. A lot of it won’t be good when you’re beginning to hone in on your voice.
When looking to optimize your journaling practice, something that works for me is changing my setting. I’m impacted strongly by my environment. My favorite place to write is outside. Gardens, parks, outdoor cafes. Something about that expansiveness expands me. It gives me more sifting room. Another thing that works to enrich the journaling practice is to have new experiences. When you are filled with/reminded of the wonderment in life, you are driven to the page in a different way. Oftentimes our eyes are fatigued with familiarity. In order to keep good journaling practices, you have to always be looking with fresh eyes. The last tip is to read. So many people don’t read and expect to be able to write. It doesn’t really work that way. I am a poet, but I read everything. From picture books to science fiction novels. I find the resonant voices and they help me excavate my own.
We’ve spoken about your writing, but have you ever had a “dry spell” where you don’t want to write? Talk about this.
It does happen every so often. I find it’s not so much that I don’t want to write, it’s that I haven’t made the space for myself I require to get writing done. This usually happens when I’m busier than usual or depleting my reserves more than I am replenishing them. I usually do something nourishing or find a good book to read in these times.
Can you speak to that woman who may not want to keep a journal because she feels it will be invaded? I’ve heard so many women say this is their primary reason for not documenting themselves!
To women who feel that they cannot document themselves because of this fear of your deepest thoughts being invaded: I think after a while, you have to decide what is most important to you. Your growth or your fear. I’ve kept a journal my entire life and if I let my fear of someone invading my privacy keep me from expressing myself in this way, I would be a much less developed person than the one I am. I really didn’t have anywhere else to go. In my experience, I’ve taken my journals everywhere with me and I have only lost one. And to my knowledge, if anyone has read it, they have never betrayed that space by spreading it. I think journals inherently create a feeling of reverence. The invasion is often that of curiosity if there is one at all. A person’s desire to understand a part of you often withheld. Also, honestly, most people don’t like to read if that helps haha.
Why is journaling powerful?
It is said that we contain multitudes, and journaling allows you to face your multiplicity. I know my inner child and my old sage. I know the voice of the divine within me. They show their faces in my journal. They let me know what they need, but also what is required.
Has your motivation for journaling changed over the years?
My motivation for Journaling has changed a little bit, but hasn’t deviated too far from where it began. I still journal to record and get a sense of my feelings, but now, I also leave a lot of room to be surprised. Sometimes things come through that are unexpected, and it’s difficult to allow that to happen when you are only focused on the 5 specific things you stored away that you’d like to explore.
I love it when I get confronted with an unexpected tangent in journaling. I think that’s when my realest voice starts holding the pen. How do you think other women can get to that headspace? What needs to be protected? What needs to be invested in? How can they prepare to have that spiritually, emotionally, narratorially productive journaling experience?
Some people don’t know how to get to that true voice. The voice beyond, which is the one I referred to earlier as my wise sage. It is the voice that comes without forcing. This is really esoteric, but I do consider myself a mystic. I do believe that writing has the potential to get you in contact with the divine in a real way. This happens in the state that scientists now refer to as flow. I think people can enter flow state in the writing practice by consistently doing stream of conscious exercise. This is writing without thinking. Write whatever comes to your mind. 3 pages. 5 pages. Often. It’s really laborious work. You have to allow the mind to empty out the worries and concerns. After those things are dealt with, something deeper peeks through. I guess my writing practice now is actually a constant search for that voice. It’s elusive. Sometimes I access it easily. Sometimes it takes me days. This is why the consistency is important. You’re learning how to trust yourself with that voice. You’re fortifying your neuropathways to it by accessing it, or attempting, every day.
What’s on your journaling playlist?
Lovers Live - Sade (but honestly, any Sade album)
Ptah the El Daoud - Alice Coltrane
Be Free - Moonchild
Frank - Amy Winehouse
Better In Tune With The Infinite - Jay Electronica
Breathe - Telepopmusik
Into Orbit - Alex Isley
If Only - Raveena
Listen to Giselle’s Writing Playlist here!
If you stopped journaling today what do you think would be different about your lifestyle, processing, etc.?
When I go too long without journaling, my mind feels crowded. I tend to spill in other, less productive ways. Journaling creates more room for me in my life, so I don’t actually want to know myself without it. When you translate what you are experiencing from your head to the page, you’re responsible for yourself in a different kind of way.
SAY THAT, HONEY CHILD!!!! I want for so many of us to make a connection to this accountability. What do you think is the consequence of a generation of teastained women who allow themselves to go unwritten? What happens if our daughters don’t know anything about journaling as more than just journaling--what then?
The younger girls now, I’m not really sure what they think about journaling as a whole, but in my experience, most of the students I work with in schools, they’re not all that interested in writing. I think this makes for an entire generation of people living an unexamined life. Living on autopilot instead of actually scratching, sorting, getting specific. Getting to the source of things. It’s very numb, a lot of this living. When you write, you feel the extent of it, but then you also let it out of you.
Do you think there are ways that we shift the “responsibility of self” as you described to something/someone else? How does that manifest in our lives?
People think not dealing with things keeps them practical? I’m not sure what they think. But I can say that you will release it all. In one way or another. I think the way you want to do it is the one that causes as little harm as possible to all involved. You’re gonna explode eventually and people call it cancer, people call it rage, people call it depression. But the root word of depress comes from a latin word which means to push down. What happens to a clogged drain? I write and I have my bouts of depression still. I know there are lies I am telling myself. Deeper truths I am avoiding. What of people who don’t speak any truths at all?
What’s your favourite writing utensil?
I’m an absolute nerd when it comes to stuff like this. Few things make me as happy as a good pen. I love fine tip ink. I also love to write in color. It depends on the paper in the notebook I’m using at the time. My go-tos are Stabilo Fine liners, Pilot Precise V5 rolling ball pen EXTRA FINE and the Uni-ball Vision Waterproof in the color Majestic Purple. I’ve also been bringing back early 2000’s Giselle with sparkly gel pens (when I facilitate workshops, those are my tools of choice for participants. I always provide materials. Fun things to write/create with get you out of your head and onto the page, which is the point).
What are the qualities you look for in a new journal?
I love substantial sheets that won’t bleed. My journal should have a generous number of pages, or else I go through them too quickly. I like art that resonates, or a plain, nondescript cover. I prefer them to be unlined; it makes me feel free. Each season of my life calls for a very distinct kind of journal, and the one that feels right for the time is always clear.
Do you read through old journals? How does perusing through old entries impact you?
I enjoy witnessing the shift in my inner voice. I would say that most of my early journals were not very substantial. My journals from high school and earlier embarrass me. Sometimes I read entries and I’m like GIRL. But also, growth. They chronicled what I did in school and who I had a crush on. Things I feared. I get to meet my iterations of self as a different person. Once, I had some old middle school friends over and we read through my thoughts from that time. We were all doubled over crying with laughter. I was really hilarious. I think when you get older, you lose your contact with that version of yourself and so it creates a strain in the ability to relate to people in that phase of life. Which is why sometimes kids might look at their parents and say, “You just don’t get it.” Really, they forgot themselves. Reading them back helps you remember. It makes you a less fractured being.
What does “Journey Soulfully” mean to you?
Journeying soulfully is sustaining presence and a deep listening. Centering the heart and your inner wisdom. It’s a willingness to excavate the truth and/or beauty from a path while you walk it.