Parts of a whole (revisited)

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(Gorgeous Art by Pamela Carlson)

Part 1

In August of 2011, I wrote about the heady experience of opening my great aunt’s 1922 diary for the first time. I was with my mother, who’d pulled the big, leather-bound journal out of a drawer where she’d been keeping it for years, and we marveled at our ability to read my aunt’s words nearly ninety years after she’d written them. I had two emotions as I ran my fingers along the straight, neat lines of Mary Drake’s life. The first was gratitude. I felt incredibly fortunate to have such an opportunity, a precious gift that had traveled through time to reach me.

The second feeling was more complicated. As I scanned the words and wondered what secrets they might reveal, I felt a sudden, intense protectiveness. I wondered if she would have liked knowing her private thoughts were laid bare before me. Did she write them with that possibility in mind, or did this book get left behind accidentally, one of the many inevitable loose ends of a long, full life?

I stopped reading, focused instead on the space between lines, and thought about my own journals, stacked in a drawer of the antique vanity table I use as a desk (an antique vanity table that, coincidentally, belonged to my aunt.) I could see them in my mind’s eye, four black notebooks chronicling the past three years: my utterly ungraceful slog through my shit. I thought of someone sitting on the floor just as I was at that moment, cradling my journals just as I was cradling my aunt’s.

“I have to burn my notebooks,” I said to my mom, and then I smiled, hoping to throw her off the scent of my sudden dread.

It didn’t work. With absolute understanding, my mom said, “Or you could shred them.” Our eyes met, and I knew she wasn’t speaking hypothetically. “I’ve done it,” her eyes told me, and I laughed the laugh of a co-conspirator, but honestly I wasn’t sure how to feel.

On the one hand, I certainly understood the impulse. Holding my aunt’s diary, I felt like an intruder. If I could have asked her if it was okay to read it, I would have. And if she’d said that it wasn’t, if she’d ask me to burn it, I’d have done so without hesitation. On the other hand, despite my own misgivings, I felt sad that my mom had destroyed the record of her own journey. For days afterward, I grieved the part of my mother’s story I would never know.

Part 2

It’s been almost two years since that day with my mom. My notebooks are still stacked in the same drawer. In fact there are five now, but for the last year or so, I haven’t been journaling much at all. I haven’t felt the need to. The truth is, the five notebooks in that drawer cover a very specific, very difficult time in my life. Much of what I wrote, I wrote while crying. I dug deep, hit my own emotional barriers, and then dug deeper. I was reeling and the words I wrote helped me make sense of myself and the world in a way that nothing else could. I don’t know what I would have done without them.

So it surprised me when I read Danielle LaPorte’s post, “Why I burned my journals & celebrate my insignificance,” and all I could think of the whole time was, “YES.”

Because I’m here now, the strongest version of myself I’ve ever been. I’m fond of that past me; I hold her close in my heart. I’m grateful for all that she went through so I could be right here, right now, but I don’t want to revisit the pages of her life. And while I don’t really want anyone else to either, that’s not the main reason I feel so drawn to the idea of a ceremonial burn. Danielle wrote this:

I love deep and I’m very ritualistic, but I’m not very nostalgic… I love my present and I love my future. I love the vastness of my past. But I’ve found that investing in the future has way better ROI… I want my past to move through me like water. I want my ideal future to come to me as easily. Fluid yesterday, fluid tomorrow.

We all carry our pasts inside us, for better and worse, and I’m okay with that. I don’t need the journals to remind me of where I’ve been, and I firmly believe where I’m going is more interesting.

And so, this weekend, there will be a fire – a release, a forward leap, a celebration of me… and my mom.

~~~~~~~~~~

I absolutely loved the conversation that took place in the comments section of my original post on this. I wanted to write about it again now that I’ve come to a decision and ask you all what you think – if you like Danielle’s distinction between ritual and nostalgia, if you ever read through your old journals, and have you ever destroyed them?

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57 Responses to Parts of a whole (revisited)

  1. Becky June 20, 2013 at 5:06 am #

    I have my journals tucked way back in a drawer, underneath clothes, hidden.
    I don’t journal as much anymore, only when necessary.
    My journals aren’t the beginnings to the next best seller, they’re not the script for the next brilliant TED Talk.
    The thing about journaling, for me at least, is that I wrote those words when I was at the most confusing fucked up place I’ve ever been. So, the words that came out are confusing and fucked up. I’m not sure anyone reading them would understand that it was me helping me.
    When I read those journals, the words that are littering those pages are the words of this past person, I get sad and worried and embarrassed for her. They’re the words of someone who thought dying would be so much easier.
    I want my kids to know of my struggles, I think its important that they know that being fucked up isn’t forever, they’ll find their voice.
    I’m not sure i could burn my journals, I feel I owe them (partly) my life.

    So, have a great burning ceremony, maybe even follow it up with a loud and raucous howling at the moon (I’ll be listening). Maybe your burning them will release others from some pasts as well, the ripple in a pond thing.

    jcwburningwoman ~~~ the new Burning Man
    ; )

    • j June 20, 2013 at 7:54 am #

      “jcwburningwoman” made me laugh. Not coincidentally, my husband has a notebook from that same time period. It’s the only time he’s ever written about his feelings. He said he wants to join in my ceremony. Amen to that.

      You description of your feelings when you read your old journals is exactly how it felt to me when I read mine in preparation for writing the Love Essays. I too feel that I owe much of my trajectory over the past five years to those five black notebooks. I just also feel that the experiences recorded inside them are already written in my heart and soul. I don’t need the physical pages anymore.

      That said, there aren’t too may decisions more personal than this one. I didn’t write this post as a recommendation. Just… a personal-public conclusion. :)

  2. Elizabeth June 20, 2013 at 7:31 am #

    I haven’t read your original post, or Danielle LaPorte’s post yet, but I do think we should set ourselves free from a tortuous past whenever we can. We’ve lived through it, learned from it, now let it fall behind us. All that we have been and done makes us who we are today, but I don’t think our loved ones need to read or see the gritty details in order to learn from our journey. Especially when (as Becky said), “When I read those journals, the words littering those pages are the words of this past person, I get sad and worried and embarrassed for her.” Pages of confusion and messed-up-edness will have the same effect on any reader.

    Becky, you may owe those journals your life, but it seems keeping them for someone else to slog through would be a selfish act and not something that would enrich the reader. There are some things our children don’t need to know, things that can be burdensome to them rather than a help. The fact that you are rereading your journals makes me think you are still grieving your past, and that past person. You are here, and moving forward–let that be enough.

    • j June 20, 2013 at 7:48 am #

      Obviously, I completely agree with you. I don’t think my boys would want to read my journals, and if they did… I think it would be more confusing than helpful. And also, frankly, tedious. My journals are self-indulgent, sometimes ugly, often whiny and – most importantly – not a reflection of who I am. I’m not even sure they’re a true reflection of that period for me since they are so focused on the negative.

      Still, it’s such a personal choice. At the end of her post, Danielle says this: “There are historians. There are burners. I’d never advise on journal-burning matters. But I can tell you this: Traveling lighter helps me shine brighter.”

      Me too. (But the world needs historians, too.)

    • Becky June 20, 2013 at 8:45 am #

      1) it would never cross my mind to have my children read my journals. Them knowing where I’ve been is from us having open and honest discussions about all things life.
      2) I would never do anything selfish when it comes to my children.
      3) I’m not grieving my past, I’m ensuring it remains “in the past”.
      4) I certainly don’t perseverate on my journals.

      Thanks for sharing, I’m open to all thoughts that help me grow.
      Peace

  3. Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) June 20, 2013 at 7:31 am #

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve considered burning mine. (I even have a poem about it.) And it’s for exactly the reasons you and Danielle have captured here — I respect my past, but I don’t want to live in it. I’ve even considered taking down some of my more personal blog posts for this reason, but two things stop me every time: for my diary, the idea that someday I might have a teenage daughter and that going back and reading my entries from that phase of my life might help me understand her better, and for my blogs, that some people still find them and are helped by them. So far, I’ve decided that those things trump my own desire for ceremonial letting go, but I hope someday to do it anyway.

    • j June 20, 2013 at 7:43 am #

      I totally agree with you on my old blog posts (though launching a new site did provide me with an opportunity to cull). I see them as a little bit different though. As personal as they are, our blog posts are written with the knowledge that others will read them. I don’t reveal everything in a post. I choose what to share in the hopes that what I choose will have value to someone else

      But my journals – they’re raw, written only for me. When I read them again for the Love Essays, it was painful. I felt much of what Becky describes. I haven’t read them since. I can’t imagine ever wanting to.

      That said, I have two boys, one is already beyond his teenage years and the other is off to college in the fall. I can understand your wanting to hold off and see how you feel about it when you have kids (and particularly a daughter) of your own.

      Maybe your burning ceremony will happen when you’re old like me! ;)

  4. Clare Flourish June 20, 2013 at 7:57 am #

    I copied my poetry into a beautiful hand-bound book, and ten years later burnt it, because some of it was filled with self-hatred.

    I have to forgive my father something before I see him in hospital next week, and this is all the more important because it arises from a characteristic I share. I thought of not going. I sorted this in two phone calls to the Samaritans, and lunch with a friend in sunshine by a lake watching the waterfowl. No writing needed.

    I have recorded the result not the wrestling. It seems worth recording.

    • j June 20, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

      I definitely think the result is worth recording. I think the wrestling is probably worth recording too, if doing so is helpful. It definitely was for me.

      Saving it is another thing entirely. I think there are valid reasons for people to save their journals, certainly. I know there are valid reasons not to – my mother and Danielle are proof of that. I think burning poetry that reflects self-hatred might be exactly the right thing for you to do. Talk about rebirth.

      I wish you much love and wisdom as you negotiate your visit (relationship) with your father. I am somewhat familiar with those tricky waters.

  5. julia June 20, 2013 at 8:27 am #

    J, I’m sitting here with tears and so much stirring inside. Thank you for sharing this sacredness – I don’t have any more words right now – just a lot to sit with.

    I love you so.

    • j June 20, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

      Thank you, Julia. xox

  6. Pam June 20, 2013 at 8:39 am #

    I hope the burning/releasing this weekend is a wonderful hootenanny for your soul.

    Loved the post– and it was nice to revisit your post from (can it be?) 2 years ago.

    My favorite part of Danielle’s post was the line about not letting your past define you. I have a bit of a mental hobby horse about people telling themselves certain stories about their lives which keep them in uncomfortable boxes. (I am, of course, included under the heading of “people.”) The paint is wearing off the hobby horse in places. :p

    Perhaps because I haven’t looked back at my journals lately, I currently feel no impulse to burn them.

    Thank you thank you thank you for the sweet credit line for the kite image. *blushing*

    • j June 20, 2013 at 12:39 pm #

      “Hootenanny for the soul” is now the name of the ceremony that will take place this weekend!

      I love that part of Danielle’s post as well. I know we all do that – root ourselves in our uncomfortable, ill-fitting stories. Amazing how scary it is to shrug off that old stuff and put on something new and northy.

      I honestly never look back at my journals, except to write the Love Essays. I find reading them to be painful and, as Danielle points out, not conducive to my evolution. And if I don’t want to read them and I don’t want to leave them as some sort of legacy… well, it’s time for a Hootenanny for the Soul! ;)

      • Pam June 20, 2013 at 4:49 pm #

        Ha ha! Now picturing fancy invitations printed with the words: hootenanny for the soul.

        • j June 20, 2013 at 10:28 pm #

          You could design them, my artisty friend!

  7. Chris Edgar June 20, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    Hi J — that’s an interesting perspective — I can see the value of ritualistically making a new start and embracing the present. Personally, I like to retain my old journals because I typically realize, as I’m reading them, that I love and appreciate the person who wrote them — a fact I may not have been as conscious of at the time I wrote the journals themselves.

    • j June 20, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

      If you’re reading your journals, then I can understand your position. Clearly, you benefit from their physical presence. I never read mine. NEVER.

      I do want to say that it’s not a question of whether I love myself – now or then. I’m quite fond of the woman who wrote all that shit down. I feel for her, am astonished by the hard work she put in to find north. But I carry her with me every day, every minute, every breath. I don’t need the notebooks to tell me what she accomplished or how far we’ve come.

      I am what she accomplished.

  8. jillsalahub June 20, 2013 at 12:20 pm #

    I suppose it depends entirely on what is in your journals. I shredded things from high school, mostly poetry that I imagined to be so meaningful and important at the time but honestly just wasn’t very good, (you know, stuff like “his eyes are like blue diamonds” –what does that even mean?!). But the ones I have from the past three years are entirely different, a record of my life, of my experience, a map of waking up. Yes I have a lot of embarrassing, messy stuff in there, to-do lists and whining complaints that are in no way precious, but there’s also a lot in there worth saving, or direct messages from the universe to me that when I’m writing them isn’t the time they are meant for me but rather months or years later when I go back to figure out a date or a detail, and there it is, the very thing I needed to hear, now in this moment. It’s so strange that my embodied personhood I struggle to accept, I criticize and judge and wish I could hide or change, but that written record of me I can accept, embrace, cherish even — yes it’s messy and overwrought in places, but that’s me, a passionate mess. And there’s a part of me that wants someone to find it someday, for them to know I was here, that I lived and suffered and loved, that I mattered (maybe I feel this way because I don’t have kids?). So: I can totally understand what Danielle said and what you are doing, but I also can’t imagine doing it with my own. Burn baby, burn! xo

    • j June 20, 2013 at 1:13 pm #

      I do think that what’s in your journals makes a huge difference, you’re right. I think I can safely say that if there’s any part of you that wants someone to read your journals some day, then what’s in yours and what’s in mine isn’t the same. Certainly, our relationship to it is different.

      And maybe it’s because of all the essays, stories, and blog posts that I’ve published over the last five years, but I feel that with or without my notebooks there is already a written record of my awakening, ample proof that I lived and suffered and loved. (I love that phrasing.) It is, in fact, a body of work I’m proud of.

      I feel exactly like you, sweet Jill, only opposite. I can totally understand why you’d want to keep your journals and even have them one day be found and read, but I can’t imagine leaving my behind for others to see.

      xo

  9. lunajune June 20, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

    I burned only one journal so far, from the year I was 16/17 and it was really wonderful to watch all those words just go up in smoke. but I have 15 or so more all over the house, it is because of the poetry that I kept them, so I told myself, but truly there were many times I reread them and cried,
    Must believe that all these coincidences are a sign that I too should let go of every word
    maybe this full moon is the right time

    • j June 20, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

      Yes. I feel such a pull to the idea of letting go. On my Facebook page a friend wrote that her journal felt like an anchor to a version of herself that no longer existed.

      Mine don’t feel like an anchor so much as just… an unnecessary reminder of a time I’m grateful (and even proud) to have gotten through.

      Full moon/summer solstice. The time might be exactly right, my friend! (Though you might want to pull out some of the poetry out before you let it go.) ;)

  10. Deborah June 20, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

    I have not read Danielle’s post yet, either, but I do think some of my journals need to burn. I know there are a few poems I may want to keep.

    As I have looked at these in the past, I get bogged down in the memories of it all, the divorce, the anger, the hatred and the ugliness that I had to work through. I think that some of my older ones are just going to have to burn.

    In recent years, though, my journals hold some insight and wisdom that I need to be reminded of. I’ll risk the getting bogged down in them once again, but maybe tear some pages out as I go.

    Thank you for this idea of the burning, of purging what no longer serves us. I needed to read this and let it soak in.

    • j June 20, 2013 at 10:38 pm #

      Another friend on Facebook suggested I go through the journals first and pull out things I might want to save for writerly or personal reasons. I’d been thinking of this as an all or nothing thing, but she (and you) are right. A selective salvaging might be warranted. Certainly in your case!

  11. sophylou June 20, 2013 at 6:47 pm #

    I’ve kept a journal since I was in college. I read in them sometimes when I need to remember how something happened, and I’m often struck by the important things I’ve forgotten since, or by important things I didn’t write about. I don’t think I could destroy them, at least, not now. There are definitely some I don’t want to read, thought that does shift over time.

    When I was moving once, I opened a box of notebooks from college that I hadn’t looked at since college. I had an abusive boyfriend for the last three years of college. In that box I found a journal with drafts of notes to a boy I’d recently met the summer after my freshman year (who I never saw again–I’d forgotten all about him!) and drafts of letters to the boy who became the abusive boyfriend, explaining, over and over again, that I just didn’t like him that way, but wanted to stay friends. I need to keep those drafts, even if I don’t look at them again, because that girl knew what she wanted and didn’t want, and I want to keep her alongside the memory of abused me. As a reminder to not be talked out of what you want (still working on that) but also in a way as a comfort/source of strength for dealing with what ended up happening.

    But then, I’m a historian, both by temperament and training, and I tend to feel really lost if I don’t have a bit of past to ground me… All for burning when it’s the right thing!

    • j June 20, 2013 at 10:45 pm #

      I love your response. It’s the perfect description of the historian approach, I think. In holding onto the written record, you hold on to the memory in a healthy way, whereas for me, holding onto it feels weighty and unnecessary. What I need to remember is encoded in my being.

      Also, you reaffirm for me that maybe one last look through them before I send them to their pyre is a good idea. Maybe there’s something in them I’m not remembering, like your lost boy. A memory that could light me up (instead of making me cringe).

      • sophylou June 21, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

        It’s funny — I am very unhappy with where I am right now, which means I really don’t want to look back at the journals I’ve kept since moving here… except that I do try to make a conscious effort to do what a friend and I call “right turns,” meaning, OK, enough of that, let’s make a right turn and talk about our creative work or something more sustaining. Right turns are harder to make here, but if I could find a way to keep the right turns without keeping the bad stuff… hmmmmm. This is giving me some interesting poetry ideas. Like that there are lots of ways of thinking about containers, including the self/soul. So, thanks!

        • j June 21, 2013 at 6:41 pm #

          1. I love the term “right turns” and I’m totally going to steal it. 2. “… there are lots of ways of thinking about containers, including the self/soul” just lit me up. You write a poem, and I’m going to draw something. Stay tuned.

        • Nancy June 21, 2013 at 8:56 pm #

          Sophy, I too loved your response, and just checked your blog which is fabulous! I’m looking forward to digging in deeper. I’ve always been a history buff and think I may have missed my calling, but then I quite often think that as evidenced by the journals I’m planning to burn.

          • sophylou June 22, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

            Oh, thanks re the blog! I’ve not been as good about keeping up with it as I’d originally hoped… but then I started it when I was recuperating from surgery, when my time was structured quite differently.

  12. Nina Badzin June 20, 2013 at 7:51 pm #

    I have mixed feelings! I wrote a post over a year ago about how embarrassed I felt whenever I peeked back at old journals–how boy obsessed and weight obsessed I always was. But having those reminders helps me appreciate how I’ve grown. On the flip side, I stopped writing in a journal when I was 22 so do I really want my kids or grandkids (or great nieces!) to ever see the ramblings the self-conscious teenage me?? NO. I actually did throw out my journals last year BUT I have a digital copy (I typed out my journals over the course of a year many years ago). So my throwing it out was not a final decision the way yours would be. I’m tempted though!

    • j June 20, 2013 at 10:55 pm #

      Yes, and hitting the delete key just doesn’t have quite the drama and flare (pun intended) of a bonfire, does it? At least you wrote your journals when you were a teen. Teens are supposed to be angsty and obsessed (though that doesn’t make it any less embarrassing).

      I truly feel I won’t regret the decision to burn. I think I’ll only feel release, and the strong sense of my own forward motion.

  13. Nancy June 20, 2013 at 9:55 pm #

    Sweet j —

    First I have to swear because I wrote several paragraphs and then someone distracted me with a question and i didn’t open a new tab, I navigated away from here. Damn!

    So, let me try again. I just love the synchronicity that happens between us and your community! i read Danielle’s post about this just the other day, and I’ve been pondering burning my journals since them. I’ve lost track of how many journals I have; I started keeping a “diary” when I was in Junior High, and through all the years I have at least sporadically journaled at least 6 months of each year.

    I don’t have children and certainly expect to outlive my mama, which certainly eliminates two important sources of fear/shame. In fact, my best friend and I have a pact that if either of us should die, we know where all the journals are tucked, and we must burn them ASAP. No joke! I’ve built in a redundancy, just in case, and my landlady has also agreed to burn them before anyone else comes in. (I don’t know if she’s a journaler or not, but she didn’t ask for the pact to be mutual).

    Mostly I think I want to burn them because they’re mostly full of anger and sadness, only rarely punctuated by joy. In that sense, they don’t represent who I am today, and they certainly won’t help me get to the woman I hope to become before I die. So, like you, the woman they do represent is with me (sometimes more than I would like to admit), and I think they’ve served their purpose. Anytime I pick one at random and look at it, it seems I’m taken back to a time that wasn’t good and if I haven’t outgrown that place yet, I don’t find it helpful to have the written reminder of it.

    Anyway, this turned out better than the first draft! I love this topic, and certainly it’s resonated with everyone as there are a lot of long comments, which I’m now going to go back and savor. Good post, my friend, good post!

    xo

    Nancy

    • j June 20, 2013 at 11:01 pm #

      Yes, yes, yes! I know my journals are full of exactly what I needed to write in order to understand and heal myself at the time, but they are not a true reflection of who I was. They’re only the sadness that I was feeling then, the anger and guilt and pain I needed to work through. They lack joy, though I know there were times of joy even then, and certainly there are now.

      I’m with you and Danielle. Holding onto the journals doesn’t serve me in becoming the me I want to become. (Wish you were still here. You could do the ceremony with us!)

      • Nancy June 20, 2013 at 11:04 pm #

        Me too! I would SO love to be part of the Hootenany of the Soul/Solstice/Full Moon, jcwburningwoman event!

        • j June 21, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

          You’ll be there in my heart. <3

  14. Nancy June 20, 2013 at 10:36 pm #

    PS — I’m watching Charlie Rose, and there’s a segment about presidential libraries. Charlie just named (and I’ve already forgotten) several presidents who burned their papers — or their children do. Lincoln’s family didn’t release his papers until 1957. If I had journals that had real historical value, I wouldn’t burn them. Unlike Sophy, my journals haven’t been a historical record! Anyway, the coincidences are blowing me away tonight!

    • j June 20, 2013 at 11:02 pm #

      Me too. If I were president, I wouldn’t burn my journals. (But I presidents write their journals knowing they will one day be read.)

      • sophylou June 21, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

        I wrote a dissertation chapter on poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His journals were stunningly boring. Whenever he wrote something that even started to be juicy, he’d write over it in code (though someone decoded some of those passages). Every now and then he’d bemoan not being able to express himself more, but he couldn’t feel sure no one would ever read it….. In the 19th century it was fairly common for people to share their diaries with family or chosen friends. I could NEVER do that. (shiver)

        • j June 21, 2013 at 6:43 pm #

          Really? That’s interesting. I wonder if anyone’s ever written a history of the diary. I think that might be interesting. Or stunningly boring. Maybe it depends who tackles it. :)

          • sophylou June 22, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

            I know there’s this book, which I haven’t read but probably should: http://www.amazon.com/Day-Time-Literature-American-Writers/dp/093531251X I’ve seen mentions in 19th-c women’s history of sharing one’s diary with a friend, as a bonding thing, i.e. I think so much of you that I want you to read my private thoughts…

            • j June 23, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

              That books sounds fascinating. Guess I deprived future generations of my journal-y voice. (They’ll have to settle for the blog!) :)

              • sophylou June 23, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

                I’m pretty sure earlier generations burned their stuff too– private letters, journals– to manage what was seen/known. A professor I TAed for made the students keep personal journals that we TAs had to look at. So uncomfortable, and I told my students that they could tell to please not read but just note that they’d done the assignment. The professor’s point was to get them to see that knowing we’d read/see what they wrote would make them write differently. (I was never comfortable with that assignment, though– thought there had to be less intrusive ways to teach that…)

        • Nancy June 21, 2013 at 9:01 pm #

          I once did have a “traveling” journal with my best friend at a time when her husband’s work took her to the midwest. I have to find out if she still has it, because that one I might not want to burn. I do think there are very interesting dynamics when one does share a journal. I am fairly certain I probably took pains not to melodramatically repeat the same complaint over and over.

          J — look at these fabulous conversations you’ve birthed here!! xo

          • j June 21, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

            Actually, a shared journal sounds kind of fun to me. I suspect it would keep me from tapping into my least attractive, most melodramatic self.

            And, I know! I love this comment thread. So many smart people thinking and feeling their way through this. It’s very heartening!

  15. Naomi Wittlin June 21, 2013 at 7:39 am #

    My first thought after reading both posts but before reading everyone’s comments is that I most definitely want to shred my journals from high school and college. I actually pulled them all out of the closet about a month ago with the intent to look through them and pull out pages that I wouldn’t want my daughter to ever read. I was soooooo melodramatic and needy then. I doubt I will ever be a famous author or artist but just in case, I wouldn’t want the public to read about any of my early adventures.

    • j June 21, 2013 at 7:55 am #

      I’ll be curious to see if you feel that way after reading the comments. On Facebook, I just told Julia that I was hesitant about getting rid of my journals until the day I just wasn’t. Reading Danielle’s post, I felt nothing but absolute resonance. No hesitation. No hanging on. No nervousness about the finality of the decision.

      I feel that way still, even after the well-reasoned arguments people have put forth for holding onto their journals.

  16. Toni June 21, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

    I don’t think I could destroy them. They feel too much like a part of me. But then I have a hard time deleting old texts, too. I guess I don’t like to let go.

    • j June 21, 2013 at 9:52 pm #

      You’re a historian! Nothing wrong with that. I’m realizing the world needs both.

  17. Joanne Marie Firth June 22, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    Wow, this really surprises me j. What an amazing way to let go of the past and your most difficult years. I’m beaming with pride. I am picturing you with your mom, firelight glowing on your beautiful faces. I see some tears in your eyes as you accept this great release. I will be very curious to know how you felt during and after. Your mom there supporting your decision is a great comfort to me.

    Before I married my first husband, while courting him, we divulged our entire past and wanted a fresh start. I had a blue covered journal scrawlled with drunkin whinings of teenage escapades. It was nothing but junk that I didn’t want carried forward into my new life. That journal went into the fireplace, as my man and I stood and watched it burn.

    One other ritual we partook in, was gathering up all of our old jewlery that had been given to us by previous loves. We bundled it all up, some valuable, some not, and drove to a hilltop where we threw it to the bottom of the leaf covered hill.

    A few years later, I think we were pretty broke, we drove up there to see if we could find that stash of gold, silver, diamonds and rubys. We came up empty handed and laughed because it was kind of a silly thing to do. A madly in love thing to do.

    Good luck with your burning and know how much support you have all around you. xo

    • j June 23, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

      You have the best stories, Joanne. I love that one. I can just picture you two, on a whim, heading to the bottom of the hill to see if you could undo what you’d done on a love-fueled impulse. I’m glad you laughed.

      The burning happened last night. It was truly the most exhilarating burning ever for me. (It’s my fourth.) I did go back through the journals, scanning for stuff to keep. I pulled about 15 pages from various notebooks out but, in the end, I threw them into the fire too. I was deeply touched rereading what I’d written, but I also felt the weight of it – old beliefs, old stories, old me.

      Watching the pages burn (which I took pictures of, so I’ll share them in my next email out to subscribers) I felt nothing but release. Intellectually, I know nothing is different now except there’s more drawer space in my vanity-table-desk. I was already northbound before I burned the journals… but still. I watched the ashes float skyward, and I felt a space inside me open up too.

  18. Estrella Azul June 24, 2013 at 2:59 am #

    My journals are somewhere in a box behind all sort of things. And, in the lack of a place to burn them (no real yard), they’ll likely stay there until I have my own little house with a garden where I can build a fire.
    Danielle’s post prompted the same feelings in me, that of “Yes” and that which, turns out, is why I haven’t been journaling since then. There can sometime be a magic to old Dear Diary. But it’s not this one.

    What I do wonder when I’ll throw away or burn, are photographs. I’ve thrown away photos from a relationship before. I haven’t regretted it.
    And from the other one that ended, I’ve deleted blog comments. I kind of regret that latter. But I haven’t deleted photos. Nor the digital ones tucked away in myriad of folders on my laptop, nor print versions. I’ve gathered the prints into an album. It sits on a shelf. Not in plain view for everyone, but not particularly hidden.
    Right now, I can’t bare the thought of throwing them away. I probably never will burn them, either. And it’s taking a while to figure out why.
    Come to think of it though, I think it’s because I’m content. I’m happy with what was, and all the good in that relationship. So, for now at least, they’re “safe”.

    • j June 24, 2013 at 6:21 am #

      I’ve never burned photographs before. I can see how it might be healthy though. I just think there are times when the best thing for our psychology (or at least those of us who are not “historians”) is to perform a physical act of release. Other times, like with your photo album – not prominently displayed but not hidden away – I think the dramatic final farewell just isn’t necessary.

  19. Leah June 24, 2013 at 6:43 am #

    Hi J,
    I’m planning a burning, although I’m not certain what it is I’ll be setting flame to. I don’t think I’m ready to burn my journals. I feel that somehow they hold important information for future writings. I see them as a reputable source. I’m not sure what it is I’ll be writing, but I’m going to wait for the inner unction before I start burning journals.

    I do want to burn some things though. I’ve moved on in a big way this past year, releasing my attachments to memories and dreams. Seeing “what is” and then accepting “what is”. I’ve always looked elsewhere for happiness. Forwards, backwards, outward but not inward. My inward was too painful. All those bad memories and things that I’m not. I’m not young, thin, pretty, rich, athletic…. The list is endless. Mix this up with all the bad memories from childhood and I was pretty miserable, although most people took me to be a very enlightened and positive soul. Which I guess I was considering the the pain I’d endured. But what I didn’t realize was that my thinking was causing most of my pain. This is the new important thing that I’ve learned. This is what has made a huge difference—made life enjoyable again.

    So, I want to burn some things that represent my old and very painful way of thinking (I’m not sure what they’ll be) and then I intend to write something incredibly uplifting about the whole metamorphosis that I’ve been through. After that, I will burn the journals;)

    • j June 24, 2013 at 7:00 am #

      I love “I see them as a reputable source.” That’s definitely true. The Love Essays were as close to a memoir as I’ve ever written, and I did use my journals to remember all that was going on and when. You definitely don’t want to burn anything that’s still useful to your writerly self.

      How you describe your old way of being resonates completely with me. That’s how I was too, how I’m continuously learning not to be. It was transformative for me to realize that how I thought about the world made all the difference not only in how I interacted with it, but in how it interacts with me.

      As Julia Fehrenbacher said, “What we focus on expands.” Such a powerful concept to embrace.

      I can’t wait to read your incredibly uplifting metamorphosis. I have a feeling I will recognize myself. xo

      • Leah June 24, 2013 at 7:32 am #

        J, now that I can see somewhat clearly, I can see that most people suffer from the same malady. Oh so painful and sad. The good news is there is a way out. I live to spread good news;)

  20. Alarna Rose Gray June 25, 2013 at 9:09 pm #

    I can respect the need for a ritualistic burn, a cleansing, a moving on. I’ve done it once, and regretted it ever since. It’s my history, and my passion and stories that I can’t necessarily rely on my brain to remember. Maybe it’s because I live in a place where people’s histories are rarely disclosed, where as a culture we live as though we have no past. And all the lessons seem to be forgotten. If I’m never brave enough to share those stories while I live, I’d like to think there’s some sort of record when I’m dead and gone…

  21. Karin June 27, 2013 at 6:29 am #

    I haven’t written in a journal/diary since my mother read mine–and discovered through it I had read hers. Some trust issues, eh?

    That was when I was younger though. The most recent “journal” was me writing out a much longer version of my life’s story (the one I shared in our class). Someone had suggested it in order to get my thoughts down and out.I only showed it to my therapist, and when she returned it to me, I did burn it. It was all bad karma/mojo anyway–and I waited for some sort of magical release. The most I felt was relief that I could move on, and so with every little flash of a flame and curling of the pages, I knew the past was ashes.

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