In most religions, there is a "do" list, and a "don't do" list.  The Mormon church is no different.  The "don't do" list includes things like murder, stealing, sex, coffee, drinking, dating before the age of 16, etc.  The "do" list is, by comparison, infinitely more vast: pray, read your scriptures, pay tithing, fast regularly, attend the temple, attend church, serve others, create a food storage, etc. 

One of the "do" items that shows up the most often, but doesn't usually get paid much attention, is the oft-repeated exhortation to keep a journal.  I remember being taught over and over again throughout my formative years that keeping a journal was very important. The "why" was often framed in very grandiose tones centered around leaving a legacy to those who come after you, and as a means by which you could bear your testimony of the gospel to the generations yet to come.  It was often said that the journals of the church leaders offered us much insight into their struggles and personal trials. Pretty heady and important stuff. 
 
I got my first journal when I turned 8 years old.  It's was a very small, white book.  I'm pretty sure that it is sitting in a plastic tote in my parent's garage, with about 90% of the pages blank.
 
My second journal, I purchased (or received…I don't remember) right before I left on a mission.  It was a beautiful, full-sized, hard-cover book, bound in brown leather, and with my name embossed on the cover.  It had a bright yellow ribbon connected to the spine to help me keep my place.  I think that one is sitting in a plastic tote in my storage closet, with about 95% of the pages empty.
 
Back around the end of my college career, my therapist at the time decided that it would behoove me to start keeping a journal of the exercises we were doing as part of some cognitive therapy.  (It was part of that whole "cure the gay" thing I did back then.) I didn't want to keep that information in my nice, fancy-bound journal, so instead I went out and bought a cheap journal/notebook from Barnes and Noble. It was a red, wire-bound book, about the size of a large paperback, with a pastoral scene printed on the front cover and an Irish proverb superimposed on the top.  I mainly got it because, with the wire binding, the journal would lay flat, unlike my bound journals.  It was sitting on the bookshelf in my living room, with about 90% of the pages empty.
 
See, I always have the best of intentions when it comes to journaling. My upbringing taught me to believe that journaling was a way to leave a record of your life and times behind you when you passed away.  It was a record of your personal spirituality and growth–an instruction manual and map by which your progeny could be led to a better life and salvation.  The only problem with that is that it places a great deal of pressure on the act of keeping a journal.  You're always writing with an audience in mind. You end up censoring yourself, and editing your writing while you're doing it. It just taints the entire process for me.  It's one of the reasons why I start journaling, and then stop three entries later.
 
Right before Christmas, I was asked by my mother to run to Pike Place Market to get a Christmas gift for my dad.  At Pike Place, there is a gentleman named Barry, who sells hand-turned wooden pens and pencils.  He uses only the best wood, and he's a true craftsman.  My dad loves fine writing utensils, and bought one of Barry's pens on his first trip to Seattle back in 2007.  Since then, every time one of my parents come to visit me, and we stop by Pike Place, we always pay a visit to Barry.  Mom wanted to get dad a pen for Christmas, so I went to Pike Place and purchased a beautiful walnut fountain pen.  It really was gorgeous.  And I lusted after it.
 
Since then, Barry's pens had been on my mind.  So, after tap class a few weeks ago, I finally broke down and went to visit Barry on my own behalf.  That is where I purchased this:
 
 
This stunning little piece of hardware is my very first fountain pen.  I stood before the dozens of pens, and was drawn to the wood of this pen. Those who know me would be unsurprised to find that I just happened to be drawn to the single most expensive pen that Barry sells. They don't have price tags on each pen, so there was no way I could have known that up front. It's just the one that caught my eye.  The pen is made from Amboyna Burl from Thailand.  This wood was once used in the dashboards of Bentleys and Rolls Royces, from what I have been told.
 
Buying a fountain pen for me really was a stupid financial move.  The pen ended up being around $80, which isn't a lot, but I NEVER use pens to write.  I type everything.  I can type a blistering 90 words per minute when I get on a roll.  Writing by hand is painfully slow by comparison.  I don't even use a pen to take notes; I have an iPad for that.  The only thing I use a pen for is to sign the checks that I send out once a quarter for Open Book Audio.  Pretty silly to spent $80 on a pen I would use once every three months.  But when i get a wild hair to buy something like this, it's usually just better that I buy it and get it over with.  Otherwise I'll be obsessing over it for a long time, and when I finally crack, I will end up buying three of them instead of one.
 
In any case, I had this fancy new pen (which, incidentally, exploded on the very first day I started carrying it around, and ruined a pair of jeans) and no place to use it.  While all of this was going on, I was also doing some research on another problem that had plagued me most of my life: an inability to sleep well.
 
I have always been a light sleeper.  Rather than setting an alarm to wake me up every morning for early morning seminary, my mom or dad would set their own alarm and then come wake me up, so as not to wake up my brother, with whom I shared a room.  (Fat chance of that…you LITERALLY couldn't wake him up by dragging him down the stairs in a sleeping bag.  I know. We tried.) Even during my teenage years, when people are supposed to sleep a lot, I would sleep so lightly that the sound of my parents walking down the hallway would awaken me, and I would be sitting up in bed by the time they came to wake me up.  I have never slept well.
 
These last few years, it's gotten really bad.  I'm fairly certain it's a combination of my terrible diet, my natural tendency toward light sleep, the fact that I've got an 85 pound dog jumping on and off my bed during the night, and my own propensity let my mind start wandering in vicious cycles of self-doubt, angst, and woe-is-me-isms at the end of the day.
 
Doing some research, I have learned that some of the things you should do to improve your sleep include:
  • Turning off the lights (especially flourescent and daylight-balanced bulbs) toward the end of the day.
  • Try not to eat after 7 or 8 in the evening.
  • Don't read in bed (and some say don't read at all right before bed…gets the mind all wound up.)
  • Turn off all computer monitors, televisions screens, and other electronic devices about 30 minutes before bed.
That last one was the one that vexed me the most.  30 minutes with no screens or electronics?  What the hell was I supposed to do for 30 minutes without that stuff on, in the dark, without reading or eating?  Meditate?  P'shaw.  Like that's going to happen.  So, I figured that every night at 11:30, the computers, televisions, iPads, and phones go off. The lights get turned down, and I would spent 15-30 minutes writing in my journal. With my fancy new pen.
 
First, I set up a little writing desk in my bedroom that had been sitting, unused, in my studio.  I pulled one of my dining room chairs in there, and put a family picture and a little writing lamp on the desk, and that's it.  Then, I pulled out my red, wire-bound journal (I really hate it when my journals don't lay flat), and started writing.
 
Y'all: It has changed my life.
 
It has been two weeks since I started this little experiment.  I have not missed a single night, although there have been a couple of nights where I just put a bulleted list of all the things I did during the day.  Other times, I just let my mind wander, and have a pretty good conversation with myself.  Ocassionally, I relate stories from the day.  I have even posted a recipe or two, or put in little snippets of lyrics that I've been working on.  I didn't try to write with an audience in mind.  I don't care what I write, because I don't care if anyone ever sees it.  I'm use it as a brain dump for the day, to empty my mind of the hustle and bustle.  And the slow, methodical act of writing out longhand actually seems to slow down my heart rate, keeps my mind from racing, and sets a slow, deliberate tone to the last 30 minutes of the day.  Then, when I'm done, brush my teeth, and change into my bedclothes (AKA the emperor's new clothes). Then I go to sleep. Almost immediately. And I sleep through the night. And I wake up refreshed.  It's amazing.
 
It's only been two weeks, but already, I am finding myself drawn back to the entries I make each day.  I remember things I had forgotten, or end up playing some strange association game where one item reminds me of another.  It gives me perspective.
 
You know, when you think of great leaders, whether they be political, religious, or otherwise, who kept journals, it's easy to assume that each and every entry was a work of art, filled with brilliant prose which bespeaks their greatness.  But in reality, the likelihood is that the great majority of their entries are just as dull and monotonous as mine.  The beautiful writing and brilliant insights can't come through, though, if you never write anything down.  
 
I have to say, I have really taken to keeping a journal.  It has been a wonderful experience for me.  My little red journal is just about full.  Give me another week or two, I think.  Then I'm going to have to move on to a new journal.  Maybe I can find a slightly nicer journal that will lay flat as well.  I have already had to stock up on ink.  I managed to speed through the first ink cartridge in just over two weeks for all my writing.  And I'm sleeping better than I have since I was a child.
 
Plus, I now have an excuse to use my fancy new pen.