Writer urges people to keep journals in times of joy and pain

For 41 years, Janet Ruth Falon has kept a journal, writing about her spirituality, Jewish faith, and both painful and joyful experiences. Now, 19-plus volumes later, Falon has written a book about journaling itself, which she says is the “way to shake everything up inside.” In “The Jewish Journaling Book” (Jewish Lights, 2004), Falon debunks some journaling myths (you don’t have to write everyday) and encourages people to create their own journals, unique to their individual tastes.

Speaking to an intimate group at the Penn Bookstore on Sept. 13, Falon said that journaling helped her come to terms with her faith, especially during a time of crisis. “I started to have my faith shaken,” she said. “I decided I would try to use the journal to work my way back.”

Her strong connection to her faith led her to explore the historical and spiritual Jewish connection to journaling. Falon discovered that the Kabbalists in the 11th century kept journals of altered states. During the Holocaust, too, journals such as “The Diary of Anne Frank” provided an important record of that time.

Falon, a writing teacher in the College of General Studies for 20 years and a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Times, emphasized to the audience that “the journal is about content, not about style.”

In her book she defines a journal as a record of experiences, observations, thoughts, ideas and reflections that can include graphic expression and tangible mementos. Some people include recipes, or Playbills in their journals. Falon’s father—who was “never introspective,” she said—kept a book of haiku about his life. “It doesn’t have to be a little book called ‘My Diary’ that you write in every day.” Instead, it can be a book—from a spiral notebook to a hardcover volume—that you write in during times of joy and misery. “You can do something meaningful in five minutes if you have to.”
Falon gave the audience two writing exercises that involved making lists—a technique guaranteed to shift a case of writer’s block. When you’re stuck, “write about the process as well as the product,” Falon said. “For me, it makes journaling not only very rich, but also very immediate.”

Originally published on September 23, 2004