One day a few years ago I had a brilliant idea. Tired of writing in a disjointed disorganized journal arranged in rough chronologic order but lacking connections between events and missing a basic overview of myself, I decided to revamp the way (or at least one of the ways) I write about my life. This new method involved a piece of software many of us use quite often – MediaWiki.
MediaWiki is the engine that runs Wikipedia. It’s free for download and you can run it on a web server (if you have one, for example Metalectricity) or locally if you have an AMP (Apache, MySQL, and PHP) environment (also free for download, just Google around and you’ll find it). I’m using MAMP on this computer because I primarily use Mac OS X. The name of my MediaWiki journal is LifeSite.
I decided to use MediaWiki to organize my life originally because I thought it would be cool to have my own Wikipedia page, but also because this software really helps with organization. Rather than just write down what happens to me chronologically, I can organize it with other categories as well. I can categorize events into celebrations, family gathering, shows, sporting events, and concerts. I can organize people I know into family, friends, co-workers, teachers, acquaintances, and Church leaders. Best of all, each of these subjects can be interlinked throughout the wiki, allowing potential viewers to find out more about a subject I mention in passing without me having to explain it over again or refer them to an earlier page or alternate work.
It’s true that the narrative style of traditional journals may work better for describing events and life experiences because of the ease in adding emotion and feeling. I would still recommend keeping these journals alongside a wiki should you ever choose to adopt this method of record keeping. I hope to do the same, however often I write in my journal (which, as of late, is unfortunately not very much).
At any rate, I would recommend starting or keeping a journal of your life regardless of how you do so. In addition to the traditional notebook and pen you can use, consider typing in a word processor, starting a blog, using a wiki, recording sound or video logs, taking and organizing pictures, or any other method you choose. I rather enjoy making a record of my life. I especially thank myself when I look through old journals and see what my life was like and how my perceptions have changed. For example, in one of my journals years ago I wrote something along the lines of “When I grow up, I want to be a computer programmer and an animator.” Unbeknownst to my younger self, I ended up as a Computer Science: Animation major (after of course a small bout of Animation BFA). Realizing your dreams, even if you didn’t know you had them, is very satisfying.
Journals also help your friends, relatives, and especially close family. It is quite likely that you are far more valuable than you perceive yourself to be. There are many people who would love to find out more about your life, especially if you are no longer available to tell them. Even if you are, writing down your experiences certainly helps you remember the truth more accurately.
So. Keep a journal. Use MediaWiki if you like. You’ll thank yourself in years to come.