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Oliver Sacks: Why I Write Journals

Two days ago, on July 9, Maria Popova of Brain Pickings wrote an impassioned introduction to her post:

“As you might know, my heart holds immense love and respect for Dr. Oliver Sacks, one of the most luminous minds and exuberant spirits of our time. As you might also know, he is dying. Today is his eighty-second birthday – his last. To celebrate this bittersweet occasion, I decided to honor Dr. Sacks by dusting off one of his earliest works, which speaks to his remarkable personhood more vibrantly than any other, and writing this piece, into which I’ve poured more love than into any other since Brain Pickings began nine years ago.”

I know of Oliver Sacks because of his book, Oaxaca Journal, where he writes of his adventures on a trip to Oaxaca in Mexico to explore ferns with his botanical friends. I love ferns and journaling, which is why I was drawn to the book.

For this post, I too, would like to honor  neurologist and writer,  Dr. Oliver Sacks by featuring some quotes on journaling from his book, Oaxaca Journal, and a few paragraphs from the article he wrote about his terminal cancer.

“It was the sense of such an atmosphere that drew me to the American Fern Society in the first place, and that incited me to go with them on their fern-tour to Oaxaca early in 2000.

And it was the wish to explore this atmosphere which, in part, incited me to keep a journal there. There was much else, of course: my introduction to a people, a country, a culture, a history of which I knew almost nothing – this was wonderful, an adventure in itself – and the fact that all journeys incite me to keep journals. Indeed, I have been keeping them since the age of fourteen, and in the year and a half since my visit to Oaxaca, I have been in Greenland and Cuba, fossil hunting in Australia, and looking at a strange neurological condition in Guadaloupe – all of these travels have generated journals too.”

“None of these journals has any pretensions to comprehensiveness or authority; they are light, fragmentary, impressionistic, and, above all, personal.”

“Why do I keep journals? I do not know. Perhaps primarily to clarify my thoughts, to organize my impressions into a sort of narrative or story, and to do this in “real time,” and not in retrospect, or imaginatively transformed, as in an autobiography or novel.  I write these journals with no thoughts of publication.”


“I have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.

“I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

“Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”

– My Own Life, The New York Times by Oliver Sacks


  1. Susanne says

    Reading his words is like reading a blessing. Suddenly, I feel grateful, too. That’s very powerful.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brain Pickings is one of the few emails that arrives in my inbox for which everything else stops. Maria’ Popova has a gifting to sift the gold from so much dross and I always feel uplifted and lightened when I spend time wandering her findings. thanks for sharing this piece Rosanna I had forgotten how beautiful his sentiments are 🙂 Linda

    Liked by 1 person

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