Friday, January 16, 2015

Justine's Journal: Progress report

21 weeks have passed since Justine and I began this experiment. For those of you who don’t yet know, we agreed she would write a journal entry weekly (or submit weekly, for sometimes she writes over days) of around 500 words and I would post it on my blog. Justine isn't her real name, but those of us who know her, we know her name! I sometimes think, because she is aware some of us know who really sends in the entries, she holds back on what she shares. It is difficult to be absolutely honest, after all. We don’t like to offend, generally speaking.

We agreed to do this for 52 weeks, a full year, and at the end of it, I am to submit a report, drawing my conclusions. How does one draw conclusion about something like this? Personality, emotion, issues, these are very subjective concepts. This may be much harder than I now believe, for I will in fact be dissecting a friend. It is, as mentioned, difficult to be absolutely honest.

Before I post week 22 tomorrow, I thought I’d attempt to do a report now. Not only is this practice for me, but it’s a way to see if I am able to be honest. It’s also a means to view reactions, not only from others, but specifically from Justine herself. Will what I say influence what comes next for her? Or will she simply cease submissions because it has gone far enough in her opinion? (I don’t think so; Justine keeps her word, always)

I thought to be dispassionate about this, but how can I be? Friendship is important. Tact is therefore imperative, although ‘tact’ should never dodge the real truth. The effort of unravelling every entry for hidden meaning (my original objective) will be time wasted. How can it possibly be fruitful to analyse what was said then in order to find the words now? To discover Justine of the present in her words from the past isn't the way to understanding her. She is no longer that person, we move forward all the time, after all. Although I do acknowledge that we build upon past experiences and use them as tools of change (or not), all I will achieve in analysing her older posts is raking open old wounds. Acknowledging the sense of release she achieved in recording her feelings and then letting it go is by far a better option. Dissecting each post is therefore futile.

What I will do is give you impressions of the whole. Looking at the tone of writing will to some extent also reveal the emotion of the writer. Yes, emotion is already inherent in her shared words, but that is a subjective emotion. The point here is to be more objective.

When this experiment began, Justine was in a lonely place filled with the shadows of oppression. How often didn't we discuss ways of finding the proverbial glimmers of light that would draw her along an ever-widening tunnel until she stepped out from under its influence? We did so on the phone and in person, and I think we learned from each other. Mutual support and understanding goes a long way in easing the burdens. All of us suffer in the shadows. No one stands in the light undimmed. Many of you might question this ‘experiment’. Banging a few words out on weekly basis? How does that possibly help? Can it solve anything, really? I admit, I was of the same opinion, and in fact tried to talk her out of it. Justine, however, was adamant. Once the idea took root, she would not let it go. As she said at the time, whether or not I post it, she intended doing it, if only entries in a book she hides under her pillow. But, she argued, making a commitment to a posting schedule will help me do it, force me into thinking, into writing. A book under a pillow can be ignored, not so? I’ll do it later, we say, when I have time, when I have the energy … and is left undone. She had a point there, and thus I reluctantly agreed. And here we are, 21 weeks in, with 22 due tomorrow.

I did tell her I’ll be doing this progress thing … and I haven’t now heard from her in days. Is she waiting to see what I’ll say? Probably. Funny thing, after a while I thought it’s better to leave this alone, to simply continue with the weekly entries, and then I realised the act of saying I would do it has in fact placed a commitment upon me. I said I would; now I have to. It isn't a matter of a promise (because it wasn't one), it’s a matter of knowing she is waiting for me to say this stuff … as I waited for her weekly journal entries. I think I understand her better now. It may not be about promises, but it feels like it, and therefore thought becomes action.

Let’s address the missing weeks first, the times Justine didn't (or couldn't) submit, before I give you my overall impressions.

Week 9 – This is the week Justine went through trauma due to an idiot who decided to become a stalker. I won’t go into detail here, for it is now past. If you want to know what happened, read Week 10 and Week 11. Suffice to say, none of us can hold her silence against her. It was a difficult time. Also, for those of you interested (sorry, Justine, but let’s play open cards here), the idiot ended up with not one, but two, restraining orders against him, from other women. It’s just a matter of time before he lands up in court (hopefully jail). He has not again bothered Justine.

Week 15 – We had no electricity almost country-wide. In the run up to this week’s entry, we suffered many power failures due to our country’s lack of foresight regarding updating the grid to accommodate the growing number of users. Most of us were too wary to leave our computers connected, in the event of a surge, and not much productive work was done. Although Justine submitted a far longer piece about the Christmas season in Week 16, to make up the lost 500, fact is she also composed one on paper for the Saturday we had no electricity at all. She refuses to tell me what she wrote. I smile, but I also hope she dealt with whatever held her back at the time.

Week 20 – Justine sent the quote about expecting bad things to happen despite good times. We received simply that, for those shadows were a bit lower then. See Week 21 (our pervious entry) to understand the why of it. On this occasion I know Justine did deal with what held her back, and I am so proud of her!


I guess honesty is the best, and most of what I’ll say now I have said to Justine in person over time. It seems to me Justine becomes needlessly busy when life is quiet, as if frenzied action will fill those silent voids. Yes, my friend, I say ‘frenzied’ deliberately, because most of what you suddenly choose to tackle is huge and ends up driving you crazy. Justine has a massive collection of photos, for example, which she decided to throw out of their boxes in order to insert into albums (those images from before the digital area), but they had to be sorted into date order! Now this is all very well, commendable, and the OCD part of all of us would love to be that organised, but it is (and was for Justine) a monumental task. It took weeks and was utterly frustrating for her. But she didn't have to feel other things during that time; she was ‘too busy’. After much soul-searching, she has realised this, and there is a journal entry that addresses it. I’m hoping she understands that the quiet times are the moments that serve to renew us.

Justine feels oppressed when nothing happens around her. She is one of many who prefer continuous action, and when life quietens, she feels lost. Most of this mind-set has to do with her inability to concentrate, I think. She moves from project to project without finishing one before moving on. Those photos? There’s still a box that needs classification. Justine, you use this to explain why you can’t write. Don’t you? I can’t concentrate, you say. And yet Justine’s greatest passion is the act of writing. I believe, once she has a completed novel under her belt, her sense of self-worth will escalate, but no one can force her to it. This is a choice and a decision and an action she simply must master herself. For what it’s worth, my friend, I think these journal entries have started to focus your attention. You were right in more way than one when we started this. I say, go to it. You know I’ll read it!

Because Justine lives alone, she cares much for others and their family issues. This is wonderful, of course, but she has a tendency to read their issues as her life. This has more to do with the need to belong than the need to interfere, of course – not that she interferes! She feels she does, however, and yet her involvement in others’ issues gifts her a sense of belonging. Her advice is often more sound than most, because she is more objective, but she loses that perspective when her advice doesn't work. Justine, it doesn't mean it doesn't work; it’s simply that family dynamics alter swiftly. She has no family, other than her brother, and I am beyond happy that the two of them have reconnected, and yet she feels isolated. Having read her last entry, I think that is about to change, and I am really pleased. Justine’s brother was probably as unhappy in his isolation, and now together they may forge a new path. Go, girl!

Final words: the tone of Justine’s posts has become ever more positive and she is less frenzied now as well. The act of recording obviously helps, and I for one am all for it. We will finish these 52 weeks! I admit, not only has it helped her, but it’s helping me. We are opposites, Justine and I, and still I find myself learning from her insights. Thank you, my friend, and here’s to the next 31 entries!

(Now please phone me, will you?)

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