The "Journals+Journeys" series features
Vagabroad diarists sharing their journey with journaling--
for your inspiration.
Jessica Hite is a thirty year old poet/writer/lover of all things literary from Pennsylvania. She’s been writing since the young age of twelve years old as a way to explore her identity and purpose. Her work focuses on the exploration and examination of the interior life of Black women, and she draws inspiration from other Black women within the literary and art communities. Her work has been featured in Permission to Write, SYLA Journal, Peach Mag, and Genre: Urban Arts. She currently resides in Georgia and is working on an untitled book of poetry.
What was your introduction to journaling? Why did you decide to keep going with it?
Journaling for me began around the age of 11 or 12. I was a shy child and didn’t really talk much to others. So, journaling was a way for me to express my thoughts and feelings without feeling judged, or being teased by those around me. Journaling was a safe space for me during my adolescence, and it has remained that. Around the age of 18 or so, I stopped journaling. I would try to pick it up back up throughout my early/mid 20s but it never stuck. It wasn’t until I ordered my first journal from Vagabroad in 2017 that I started to journal again as an adult. I realized the importance of documenting myself, and I finally understood that my journal could be a place to have a conversation with myself and not just be a linear chronology of what happened in the day to day.
Has your motivation for journaling changed over the years?
Journaling began as a purely emotional release for me when I was younger. Now, I want to know myself and my emotions/thoughts better while understanding the world around me and how it is impacting my life. I also want to leave something behind to say, ‘I was here’.
Is there a greater reason for you to keep a journal beyond just documenting your day to day life?
When I journal it’s about having a conversation with myself. I reflect on my creativity, my use of language, how I’ve remained stagnant or grown. It’s about documenting the world me through my gaze, commenting on the current social and cultural climates, and what that means through my perspective. It’s also about leaving something behind for the future. It’s hard to know if my words will ever reach anyone else, but I do write for future generations so that they know I was here and that different ways of life existed and can continue to exist.
Based on your experience with the journal and personal writing, how do you define “journaling”?
For me, journaling is documentation, the telling of a narrative that features myself. With journaling I am keeping a record of my life, and the world around me as things are happening. It’s like Nina Simone said about artists, in that they must reflect the times—and I believe it is the same for teastained women, we must reflect the times for future generations and our future selves.
Where is your favorite place to write?
I love to write in my bed. It’s my sanctuary of sorts. I can decompress and really focus on what I want to say, what needs to be said. It’s the space where I feel the most safe, and open to reflection and really reckoning with myself and my life.
You’re a self-proclaimed bibliophile. Talk about that.
Books have always been a refuge for me. They showed me different ways of life—of living, of thinking, that I didn’t see around me or have access to. They were how I learned that I could be something else, that I could shape my life to reflect what I truly wanted and not what I was told to want. My relationship with books has grown and changed as I’ve gotten older. Now, I also read to learn and reflect on language, to understand how narratives are used (in the service or disservice of certain groups). It is also important to me, as a reader, that I read stories about Black people written by Black authors. It is important that we tell our own stories. Reading such books encourages me to document myself so that my story, my life, will be told with my own words and voice. Collecting books is really collecting history in a way when you’re a Black woman. I have reference for certain things, I have narratives available to me that shows me that my existence is powerful and meaningful. That’s important to me.
Why is reading important to the teastained woman’s narrative?
For one, you get access to other women’s stories, as told and written by them. That sort of pulls the curtain back to show that your journaling has purpose, it has power, and that there is no right or wrong way to tell your story. I’ve read so many stories by Black women about Black life, and that’s reminded me to keep writing. It’s shown me that I’ve got something important to say, and that it shouldn’t be silenced because of a fear that it might not be “good enough” or appeal to certain people.
Your IG book reviews/commentaries are quite lovely. I notice you comment on writers’ styles frequently. For those unfamiliar, can you describe the power of writing style?
For me, writing style is similar to the tone of someone’s voice or an accent, it all lends itself to the power of the story. Of course, when you talk about writing style sometimes people think that only means “proper” use of sentence structure, syntax, and grammar, but it’s more than that. Those things are important, but not paramount in my mind. The style of someone’s writing controls the flow of a story, of a sentence, of a scene/dialogue. It can help you settle in easier, understand better, and cause you to become immersed in the story—and that has nothing to really do with “proper” writing since great writers like Zora Neale Hurston wrote almost exclusively in dialect and it only made her writing style more powerful. So, writing style is just someone’s voice made clearer on paper.
Ok, can we talk about this really quick? Because one of the PRIME reasons many teastained women have told me they can’t keep a journal is because they “can’t write” or because they don’t like the sound of their voice on paper. Some say they write like children etc. Western society has done a number on us… Can you speak to those reading this interview who think their written voice sounds “uneducated”? Can you speak to the VALUE of writing exactly how we sound/treasuring the quirky nuances in our writings?
The idea that there is only one proper way to write or speak is nothing but a means to discredit those who might fall outside of certain a class structure. It keeps people from writing their truth, and keeps us from exploring everything we could be. Language is always evolving and changing, and no one way of speaking/writing is better than the other. So, I say to women who don’t think they can write or that they sound childish: who, or what, made you think that in the first place? We must investigate and then dismantle the power structures that would keep us silent. When you speak to someone in day to day life, they understand you, yes? So why should that change on paper? Don’t write for the comfort or understanding of the masses, write for yourself and know that there is value in your vocabulary.
Would you ever write a book?
I started working a book of poetry last year, but I couldn’t say when it will be complete and I’m perfectly fine with that. It’s easy to want to rush something like this, but I feel that I need to take my time and really explore what I want to say with this work. It’s a part of my story, of my narrative, and I’ve got to take care with it.
Do you think diarists can also form their own writing styles? In your opinion, how can they help to bring this to the surface?
We certainly can form our own writing styles. In fact, journaling can make that clearer, if someone is a writer or uses writing in other ways outside of journaling. There are ways that we talk to ourselves, about ourselves, and everything else. If we really pay attention to the way we arrange words and sentences, what we choose to say or not say, and how it is framed are all ways to pull a writing style to the surface. Someone may talk about the day to day in a certain way, perhaps more broadly, while social issues are written about more in depth; or vice versa. Again, a writing style is just our voices made clearer on the page.
Coming from the place of being an avid reader, what are ways you believe diarists can make their journal entries more illustrative for their future generations? What would you say they can do to make entries responsible reading material for their descendants?
Honesty. There is nothing more responsible and illustrative than honesty. Even if it is hard and painful and ugly, honesty brings a work alive for a reader. I’d rather have simple language filled with honesty than flowery prose that dances around an issue or moment. That’s what I’ve loved about a lot of my favorite books, how honest the writers were in the telling of the story, even if it wasn’t pretty. If we approach journaling with complete honesty than we are doing a great service to future generations by giving them the complete story.
Could you share a couple journaling “prompts” that may help teastained women be more HONEST with their journal entries?
Check your language. How you write about yourself and to yourself is important. The world around us can be damaging enough, we don’t need to add onto that. Check the interior mirror. What I mean by that is...are you acknowledging the ways in which you might be mentally tricking yourself and trying to cover up something that needs to be addressed? I’ve done it before myself. I tell myself I’m progressing because I’m writing about XYZ, when really I need to be addressing ABC.
What are some of impactful books you’ve read?
I recently read a memoir titled Heavy by Kiese Laymon, and it was a beautiful, painful, and honest exploration of Black life in southern America. The author completely laid bare a lot of trauma that Black families tend to sweep under the rug in order, and he did so in order to heal and try to move forward with his life. Reading Heavy reminded me again that it is important to write, to journal. That there is healing in reckoning with ourselves and our lives so that the past won’t keep a hold on us and prevent us from continuing forward.
Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde is also another book that’s had a profound impact on me and my writing. Her essay, “Poetry Is Not a Luxury” truly changed the way I think of poetry, and its purpose in my writing and life. I’d always seen poetry as something extremely formal and structured, and something mostly written by dead white people about things that had no real meaning in my own life. However, Audre Lorde spoke of poetry as a “revelatory distillation”, something that is here for us to use as a part of our narrative and that we can move beyond the typical forms of the genre and those that have been canonized. It can serve as a place of healing, of creative exploration, and I’ve carried that with me since reading that essay.
There are those who would say they prefer the phone notes section or even social media as a way of processing/documenting themselves. Do you think we can attain “healing and reckoning” by documenting ourselves digitally/on social media? Why is physical writing especially imperative for our generation?
There is just something very grounding about physical writing that can’t be achieved digitally—and I say that from experience since there were years I tried digital journals. When you have to sit and physically write out every single word of what you’re thinking and feeling, there’s a greater impact and connection with yourself. Of course the digital can aid in the physical journey because if I don’t have time to sit down and physically write (like I want), I’ll jot something down in my notes section or voice record, and then I’ll expand on it later in my journal. Digital means of documentation are connected to oversharing and distraction. So much comes through to us on our phones and computers that we’re bound to lose track of our thoughts and forget we were writing. Also, we’re tempted to share every nugget of wisdom or revelation online and certain things are just for ourselves and we can’t always discern that if we’re always using the digital to document.
Talk about reading a book and writing a book. Do you think the former inspires the latter?
Reading can certainly inspire writing. It shows you all the different ways that there is to tell a story, and perhaps how not to tell a story. However, there can be dangerous aspect to it, in that you might find yourself emulating the style of a writer you like or a book you love. It’s fine to draw inspiration but it’s also important to remember your own voice as well.
What is the importance of reading in relationship to journaling?
When you read and journal, you can fully understand the power of words, of writing your own story. You also see that there is no right way to use language, or way to write about something. That is why I read diversely, you get a multitude of approaches to telling a story and different points of view. You see that there is room for you and what you have to say.
Why do you believe we have an inclination, an urge to document ourselves? Where does that come from and why should we follow it?
We all want something that says, “I was here”. I also think that writing is a way to analyze ourselves without involving a third party. It’s a conversation to have with oneself. To write in a journal is to get to know yourself, and I believe that is an important thing. We walk around thinking we know who we are but most times that’s based on interactions with someone else or the world at large. If we document ourselves in writing, in a journal, there is no one to influence the conversation and we can truly begin to see who we are and why. So, in the end, it all comes down to self-discovery and leaving a legacy behind.
I did an IGTV video about the importance of teastained women keeping their pithy, substantive stories to themselves and not promulgating them in this Western culture. Have you encountered having to weed out your words between “to be published” and “just for me and mine”?
Last year I had a moment where I began to think about my intentions in sharing my writing online. Was I doing it to be “popular” and “known”? Or was I trying to make a statement with my words, to cultivate art? And I realized that I wanted my work to be meaningful, and that not everything I wrote needed to be shared publicly. I’ve since stopped sharing my poetry online because the culture of social media doesn’t allow for true appreciation of it and what I’m trying to say. I want more control on how my work is received and by who. Still, I don’t regret it since I’ve learned something from the experience. I also believe that we do need more discernment in what we share and don’t. Some things should remain private or among a small, trusted group.
If you stopped journaling today what do you think would be different about your lifestyle, processing, etc.?
I wouldn’t be able to recognize myself if I stopped journaling. Even these past few months of dealing with my dry spell have caused me to realize the importance of documenting myself and what happens to and around me. I’d be leaving so much on the table if I didn’t journal. The practice of reflecting through words is so ingrained in my spirit, and I am able to learn about myself, to reflect on certain actions and periods of my life. It’s also allowed me to better understand generational trauma and be able to move past it when I write. Without journaling I’d just be moving through life, letting it happen to me, and become a stranger to myself.
Have you ever had a “dry spell” where you don’t want to write? Talk about this. .
I feel like I’m too acquainted with dry spells. They’ve haunted me since I decided that writing in any form was my ‘thing’. I’m currently trying to work my way out of one, but they tend to happen when I have a lot of strong emotions going on and I don’t want to deal with them. If I don’t write then I don’t have to confront what is bothering me and get to the root of the issue. I realize that I’m hindering myself by doing this, which is why I’m trying to work through it and tell myself that it is okay to process these feelings and not bury them. There is no hiding when I journal or write a poem, the work (writing) demands that I show up with nothing but complete honesty and vulnerability and that is hard for me sometimes.
Have you ever finished a journal? Can you describe the feeling?
My first finished journal was my first Vagabroad journal and it felt so satisfying because I saw the fruits of my efforts to document myself. I knew that at any time I had something to look back on, something physical that represented me and what I’d been through while writing in that particular journal. I had a written history. No matter what happened, that part of myself and life were documented and no one can take that from me.
What would you say to a fellow teastained woman who does not see value in keeping a journal or thinks she’s too busy to make time for it?
How will you know everything you’ve survived and conquered if you don’t write it down? How will you realize patterns, be they positive or negative, and change course if needed if you do not document yourself? I say to my sisters that their lives are worthy of writing down. You are truly able to see yourself and all the wonders of life around you when you document everything. Even if you can only spare a few minutes every day or night, write. It will be your legacy, and you will have proof that you were here. Your life will be in your own words, and no one will be able to twist them to tell another story. Write. write. write. Your life itself is valuable, so honor it by keeping track of it. Do not let the world steal your legacy by convincing you that you are too busy or what you experience isn’t worth documenting. You are always worth it.
What’s the futurism to keeping a journal?
Journaling is a blueprint, a map, for my future self. If I document myself, things that happen to me and around me, then I can stop the cycle of learning the same thing over and over again—I will be able to recognize patterns and things that do not serve me, my growth, or my life. It also allows me to look toward the future and manifest what I want my life and legacy to be. I believe that there is real power in writing things down and speaking it into being.
What does Journey Soulfully mean to you?
It means honoring myself and this journey of life that I’m on it. Even when there are times that are painful and full of disappointment, I’ll continue pouring into myself and documenting everything that happens because one day it might serve the future generations.