My Personal Notations from “A Mere Journalist” by Aristides [Joseph Epstein] in The American Scholar (Winter 1985/86).

“Off and on for more than twenty years, I have been keeping a journal.  One expects a famous writer to keep a journal,” wrote Aristides, the pen name for Joseph P Epstein, editor of The American Scholar, 1975-1997. 

“The first function of a young writer’s journal: a place to grouse, a place to dramatize one’s condition in prose, and a place to bemoan the fact that, once again, this time in the instance of oneself, the world in its ignorance is failing to recognize another genius.”

“In my [current] journal…I have done my best to cease complaining and have taken as my motto the lines from the beer commercial that runs ‘I guess it doesn’t get much better than this.’”

“…to feature introspection and self-analysis…even in a journal has its limits.”

“Who needs this?…I suppose I alone do.  Something in me impels me to record much I have thought, or experienced, or read, or heard.”

“I find keeping a journal quickens life; it provides the double pleasure of first living life and then savoring it through the formation of sentences about it.”

Graphomania: a writer’s disease “taking the form of simply being unable to put down the pen (the authorly equivalent to logorrhea).  ‘Advanced’ stage takes the form of needing to write down everything because anything that hasn’t been written down isn’t quite real.”

“The graphomaniac’s slogan is ‘no ink, no life.’”

“I must confess that I do not write in my journal every day.  But when I do write something in my journal, I feel rather more complete…  Not that journal writing elevates me–it doesn’t, usually…”

“I do feel upon having made an entry in my journal as if I have done my duty, completed, in effect, an act of intellectual hygiene.”

“I do not often look into my journals; yet whenever I do, I am impressed by how much experience has slipped through the net of my memory.”

“I suspect that anyone who keeps a journal has to be something of a Copernican–he [or she] really must believe that the world revolves around himself [or herself].”

“Everything I have written is these journals is true–or at least as true as I could make it at the time I wrote it.  Lying, as such, is not, I believe, a question in my journal.”

“I try, when writing in my journal, to keep in mind the twin truths that I am someone of the greatest importance to myself and that I am also ultimately insignificant.  (This is not always so easily accomplished.)”

“Sometimes I am astonished at the items that find their way into this journal of mine.”

“I [once] wrote that John Wayne had become part of the furniture of [my] one’s life.  The first half of one’s life, it strikes me, one fills up one’s rooms with such furniture; the second half, one watches this furniture, piece by piece, being removed.”

“My journal has served as a running inventory of my days, and I am pleased to have kept it.”

“Though we must live life forward, ‘Life can only be understood backward,’ wrote Kierkegaard.  Yet a journal does provide backward understanding…a great aid in replaying segments of past experience, in running over important and even trivial events, in recollecting moods and moments otherwise lost to memory.”

“A journal is a simple device for blowing off steam, privately settling scores, clarifying thoughts, giving way to vanities, rectifying hypocrisies, and generally leaving an impression and record of your days.”

“When you are through with it, [and] when the time has come to leave this…earth, you can even pass the damn thing along to your yet unborn great-grandchildren.”




  1. Thank you for the positive response.

  2. I have been able to work with some early-grade teachers to convince them to be followers of the journal method. And to share with their own students.

  3. The power of journaling transcends generations, cultures, and schools of thought. James, this retelling of the power behind a journal is so exciting. I have always felt there is much to learn from writing in a journal and have begun the process of having my children journal. I want them to remember what they are feeling, wanting, and learning in their young lives. This post is a wonderful reminder of the great things that come from jotting down our thoughts, fears, and lessons learned.

  4. Thanks for posting this! Coincidentally, I have been reading straight through my journals written since 1993.I can attest to the truths expressed here by Epstein. I delighted in the shock of recognition with each one. Next time I am somewhere with access to JSTOR, I will read the entire essay. We quit taking AS when they fired Epstein. I intend to keep recording the “running inventory of my days,” and I wish I could convince my children to do the same, knowing how wonderful it would be to have documented my younger days. However, they are too busy living life to ruminate on it I’m afraid. It is amazing, as Epstein points out, how much drains from memory as the years go by. Thanks again, James. I enjoy your posts, and this one really hit home.

    • WOW! You are like that one student at the end a terrible semester who comes to say, “You’re the best professor I’ve ever had.” Sometimes when I write I find myself humming from 1776: “Is anybody there?” All that time I have spent with AM and Epstein (just receiving two more of his books of essays), and someone–YOU–says, “Amen to that!” Well, Mary, Amen to that! You have no idea of how much YOU HAVE MADE MY DAY!

      • I thought I had replied to this but evidently not. I know what you mean. Paradoxically, blogging seems to be a solitary affair. But know that you are appreciated and keep on keeping on.

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