When I first sat down to write my column I was so excited. During my three semesters of editing for the Phoenix I wasn’t able to write opinions pieces due to a rule in the Phoenix’s editorial policies. So after three semesters I was finally able to write an opinions piece. Finally I would be able to share all my wonderful ideas of how to improve the campus and the world. But when I started to think of topics on which I could write, I couldn’t think of any. I tried to think back to everything that I had felt strongly about the last few years and couldn’t find anything substantial.
After a week of this, I thought I had come up with the most brilliant idea. I would write about how our opinions don’t matter. I would explain to this campus of activists that we are all nobodies and it is time we recognize it.
After about a week of feeling smug with myself for coming up with this brilliant idea, I realized how stupid it really was. 1) It is the most obviously hypocritical thing anyone could write.If we are all nobodies and nobody’s opinion matters, why should my opinion that nobody’s opinion matters matter? 2) I didn’t actually believe it. Sure, sometimes I may feel defeated and small and think that nothing anyone does will ever be good enough to change things, but most of the time I see the merits of having educated conversations and developing our opinions.
After dismissing and defeating my own idea I went back to trying to find another idea, but I was still stumped. I was confused. I feel like I’ve had lots of interesting conversations that are relevant to Swarthmore’s campus, so why couldn’t I think of a writing topic?
Then I realized that it was because I never wrote any of my ideas down and consequently most of my opinions aren’t very flushed out. Most come in the forms of internal rants I have as I walk back to my dorm at night or conversations I have at Sharples.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized how important writing is. It is easy to spew a half-throught-out opinion in a conversation, but when you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) you are forced to think through it. You see the flaws in your own argument and begin to fill in the holes.
Whether you are scribbling down an outline for a paper or writing an informal journal, the process of writing forces one to go one step further. Maybe you will realize that you have no rational reason for hating that one person you just don’t like or come up with a brilliant idea for your next paper. Writing is a slower process than speaking or thinking, and slowing down your thought process can help make your thoughts more complete and well-rounded.
I am abroad in Stockholm this semester, and if you have ever been abroad or talked to someone who has, you know that the number one advice you will get is to journal. Everyone says how amazing of an experience study abroad is and how important it is to write it all down. For example, before orientation for my program, we read a few chapters of “Writing About Culture” that explored the relationship between journaling and culture shock. The book repeated the importance of journaling. In addition to the reading, I have also spent the last several months listening to my mother and my grandparents remind me about how important it is to keep a journal abroad. As much as I want to roll my eyes at this advice, I see where they are coming from.
I have been in Stockholm for about a month now and have actually taken the advice of keeping a journal. Every day (or at least when I remember to) I quickly write what I did and how I felt. Just in the past three weeks I have seen the advantages of keeping a journal. Writing about what I do on a day-to-day basis will mean that I can look back and see what I did and what I enjoyed. Writing about when I felt sad or homesick forced me to think about what made me feel better. Unsurprisingly, I have yet to master the journaling process. I still forget to do it a lot, and when I do remember to journal, I mostly focus on my own personal experiences and not what is happening around me. I hope to expand my journaling to write about things that I am passionate about. Maybe I could take one of those late night internal rants and turn it into a journal entry. I want to push myself to go beyond my initial impressions or feelings and think hard about why I feel the way I do. This goal can be applied to more personal things such as why I had a good or bad day or bigger things like why I think repealing the individual mandate is a terrible idea.
Journaling is something I have started mostly so I can remember my study abroad experience, but after only a few weeks of journaling I hope that this is a habit that can continue once I return home. Study abroad is a great time to start a journal, but writing things down, in whatever method you think is best, is something that anyone can do at any time to push yourself to be better.