The "Journals+Journeys" series features
Vagabroad diarists sharing their journey with journaling--
for your inspiration.
Nkem (pronounced like ‘chem’), is a twenty-something goddess
just trying to make the most of life.
She is an overseas educator fascinated by all things language,
self, and interpersonal human relationships.
She also loves to dance and have an ongoing love affair with her baby, chocolate.
Her ultimate goal in life is to help people help themselves,
and she is loving the journey as the destination.
At what point in your life did you start journaling? Why?
I’ve been journaling since Password Journals came into existence when I was around 8 or so. Then, though, it wasn’t about me expressing my feelings or coming to any sort of discovery within myself; it was to subconsciously meet the goals of the marketing team behind the toy. That started me liking the idea of journaling but not really appreciating the value of it. From my pre-teens to late teens, journaling stood as a chronology mechanism for me to talk about what was happening in my life at a given time. I was highly creative then as well, so I’d also use my journals for impromptu art projects and fashion designs. It was in my very early twenties that I began journaling through the many life transitions that happen for most people during that period - leaving college, entering the workforce, making a life of your own, etc. I was happy to have built up a structure for individual journal entries, but definitely needed to work on the content and being more vulnerable with myself. That brings me to where I am today!
Yours and my journaling style chronology has a vague congruence (and OMG I remember password journals!!!). That’s very hopeful, thinking that teastained women all over may have the same urge to document themselves in similar ways along their life journeys.What were some mental decisions you made to push your journal’s content towards more vulnerability? Where did you make it a point to make that change? What’s your journaling style today?
It wasn’t so much a mental decision I made to become more vulnerable with myself via writing as it was a specific situation that tested my self-esteem. I was physically alone at the time and had already had the structure of journal writing at the ready; all I had to do was write how I was feeling. It was hard to get myself to a point where I could actually write with honesty and authenticity about what I was feeling about the situation/myself, but it was that very resistance that pointed out to me that I had to let something go. I’ve been an introspective person for some time, and journaling has only heightened that, but I’ve been able to determine when I need a release or when I just want to express my thoughts through written word. That’s what I do today; my journaling style changes as do the tides in my life.
What date did you start your Vagabroad Journal(s)?
I started my Vagabroad Journal during Summer 2017.
How frequently do you journal?
Some weeks, it’s daily; some months it’s weekly; sometimes I go a month or two without
touching my journal. I find that I tend to do that either if things are going so well,
or if I have far too much on my mind. It indicates space for me to journal and reflect
more deeply on what’s making me happy or stressed during those moments.
I usually can’t stand gaps in my journaling but this year I’ve had more than I care to admit to myself.
But I’ve come to recognise my journaling rhythm and not fear it; my memory also serves me well
and I have trained it to recall all it collects between entries. In your opinion, is there a difference in quality
between “in the moment” versus “in retrospect” journal entries?
I don’t think that there’s a difference in quality between ‘in the moment’ and ‘in retrospect’ journal entries. The idea of quality when it comes to something as personal as journal entries begs the question “against whose standard?”. In my opinion, you should write when you want and need to - and if you feel that you want and need to create a structure for yourself to build up momentum to journal more avidly, then do so, if not, then be more free with it.
You live abroad!! So dope!!! What impact has relocation/travel had on your journaling?
In the past year, I just physically had a lot more time to journal because of the structure of my job. Things are different this year structure-wise, not allowing me as much time, but there still exists this element of being an ‘other’ that causes me to be keenly observant of my environments and how I do or don’t fit in. That gives me a lot to write about and think about.
Have you noticed any change in how you write since moving overseas?
Since I moved away from the US in 2017 I have been writing consistently, so I can’t say I’ve seen any drastic changes - more like minor changes, perhaps. The language I use is more clear and authoritative. It comes from me understanding that my moving abroad is not a temporary decision, though I may not permanently live abroad. I’m not on an exchange semester where what happens overseas stays overseas and I don’t carry my experiences with me. I, in fact, do carry my experiences with me. That acknowledgement has given me peace and confidence moving through the world lately, and that confidence certainly shows up when I’m writing.
What do you mean that you carry your experiences with you? Is this something you’ve found to be a healthy state of being?
The phrase ‘carrying your experiences with you’ seems pretty intuitive - you are a sum of your experiences or what you choose to internalize and self-identify with. I can be either a healthy state of being or unhealthy, or have no health attribution at all. I think it depends on who you are and how you process your experiences.
What’s proven to be most inspiring to you about your new surroundings? What’s taught you the greatest lessons about yourself?
Okay, so most recently (before moving to the UAE) I was living in South Korea and working as an elementary school teacher. The most inspiring thing was the children. They were liberated, compassionate, idiosyncratic, clever, fearless, and vulnerable. I recognized that as something I was missing within myself and in my surroundings with the adults in my life. Nowadays, I work with first year university students primarily, and I sense some of those same attributes - but I can see them fading as they tend to do with the transition into proper adulthood. Coming down from the high of children and their authenticity, I guess my lens to experiencing human genuineness has been smudge-free. It’s allowed me to view myself and other humans with a little bit of cushion, understanding that we’re all just trying to make it out here and underneath what we present is that carefree, authentic self.
I love how you’ve made your student dynamics an “object lesson”. Do you find that such similes/metaphors/allegories play a key role in your processing your journey?
Perhaps they play a key role, though I haven’t thought about it like that. I can say, though, that I pick up on trends easily and can just as simply describe my thoughts on people’s behaviors and how they relate to me. I guess that’s how I process my journey, so to speak.
Because I’m in love with public journaling...can you share your favorite journaling location in Dubai? Where do you like to write?
I can’t share my favorite journaling location in Dubai, but I have publicly journaled in mostly any airport or airplane I’ve been in where my journal was accessible. Of note, I journaled at a pub in Hong Kong in the Lan Kwai Fong district. It’s a party district at night, and I had done an exchange semester there four years prior. I was moved to be back there journaling while sipping a cappuccino. The weather was great too, which helped the ambiance. I also remember journaling at a park in Florence, Italy early in the morning with some free time. What started as a journal entry turned into a sketching session and drew in a few interested park dwellers, one of whom was also an artist. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that.
Can you give suggestions for traveling and maintaining some sort of journaling momentum?
I think an easy way of creating momentum for anything is to build a routine around it in your life. So maybe you’ve generally got more time in the mornings than you to in the evenings; try to journal for five minutes a day in those times. In this case, it doesn’t differ that much from a stationary lifestyle. If you’re moving frequently from place to place, make a point to journal one or two full pages specifically on your first impressions upon arriving at the given locations. That’s just an idea. So, I think giving yourself simple prompts for expressing yourself through journaling is a surefire way to come up with some authentic material about your life at any stage and in any area.
On your blog you wrote on how journaling helps you with “solutionizing” your life. (I love that word, btw). Can you explain to a reader how journaling can lead her to “solutions” for her journey?
Perhaps it’s because I am a solution-oriented person, but I’ve come to realize, through looking at old journal entries, that all the answers or guidance I needed regarding a specific topic were within me. I didn’t need to bring the problem to anyone else (though sometimes that is the more appropriate thing to do); I just needed to sit with it and release all the thoughts and emotions I had surrounding the problem. It’s also a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe I can solve my own problems, therefore every notion surrounding my issues become a solution towards my issues.
I completely agree. What would you say to the teastained woman who doesn’t believe in herself this way--like maybe she focuses on venting and conversation first, then journaling the runoff? What sort of “prompt(s)” would you give her to start solutionizing her life before seeking feedback for what may already be inside of her?
There’s a lot of value in expressing thoughts, no matter what state they’re in. Also, there is no rush when it comes to self-development, or healing; isn’t the point for it to be sustained? That’s my thought anyway. If someone needs a while to just expel her thoughts until she feels comfortable, she should do that. Maybe later on she could come back and look at the journal entry as an outsider, and give that person some solutions. This objectivity is often what we lack in helping ourselves, so maybe an exercise like that would help.
In that same blog post you said “I was resisting myself so hard - I just did not want to come out with how I felt!” I think so many of us struggle with this! It’s not always easy sitting with ourselves and our feelings, seeing the truth written in our own handwriting. What would you say to someone seeking to push past this fear and deal head-on with the grief and intensity of coming to grips with themselves on paper without running away?
Hmm. That’s a good question, and not an easy one to answer. I think that even before the physical act of putting pen to paper to excrete those feelings, we have to prepare our minds to accept that what we might think and write about ourselves, our lives, our dreams/goals/insecurities will not always be flattering. We have to acknowledge that there are parts of us that are just totally misaligned with who we want to be… and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that because we’re on a continuous and concurrent journey of self-acceptance and self-improvement. From this point, I think it would be a lot easier to both write honestly, and re-read what was written with an open mind and heart for ourselves.
What does “Journey Soulfully” mean to you?
To me, journeying soulfully means journeying without inhibitions. It means journeying with the soul as your compass.