This morning, I had the unfortunate and amusing privilege of hearing some of the drivel I put into my 9-year-old diary. I have few memories of actually writing the clearly fictional stories (such as petting a white seal on a beach) and banal accounts of my 9-year-old reality (being annoyed by a classmate). But I’d written them, and somehow that diary ended up in my mom’s hope chest for she and my sister to have a good laugh over.
I have been an inconsistent diary-keeper for probably as long as I could write. I have stacks and boxes of half-completed, pretty notebooks, many of which are painfully embarrassing to read (especially the boy-crazy teenage years). I certainly wouldn’t want them scrutinized if something happened to me. If only there was a special mechanism for spontaneous combustion of diaries upon sudden death or disappearance of their writer. I’m not alone in this.
After sharing the news of my diary discovery, one family member remarked that she was fortunate to have had a flood destroy her diaries. A flood as good luck? That’s some strong feeling about diary destruction! But I could see how it would literally take a flood or some other act of God to give up something that, however embarrassing or shameful, is nevertheless intimate and even sacred to us.
Why this attachment to diaries?
- It’s good to see where we’ve come from. Just like how helpful praise can be, it is also a bit of a boost to realize, at least for me as a writer, that I really am capable of much more now than I was at 9, or 13, or even 20. Sometimes I fear I peaked in high school.
- Learning from our past. You know, never wanting history to repeat itself and all that.
- We may need the diaries. I wish I had a pensieve. Even at 28, I don’t remember everything and I am startled when a friend mentions a person or event that I am apparently supposed to know. Although I still occasionally read back on something with no recollection of it, a diary does help store memories.
- Voluntary destruction seems violent. It’s not just paper. It’s you–experiences, memories, thoughts, feelings. What does it imply to destroy all that?
But, diary destroying is lauded by some. For many people, and in some spiritual practice (both new-age and time-tested), burning a diary is seen as a way of letting go of past hang-ups, purging bad feelings, memories and experiences. For some it’s a cathartic method of coming to terms with past events and even past versions of yourself. Somewhat logical, but is it really that simple?
For others, it’s just a safety measure when the diaries’ secrets are a bit more serious than excitement over Mom paying me $10 to wash the dog (which my mom assures me she never would have done. How did 9-year-old me think that would make an interesting story?).
Probably the most compelling reason for me to get rid of old diaries, as I get ready to move, is just letting go of physical stuff. The emotional stuff–well, whatever. But I hate STUFF. The less I have to pack away, the better. But will I do this, either through burning, drowning, shredding or recycling? Likely not. Because as much as I’d maybe want to purge or forget or just shrug off as whatever, the emotional stuff has still got me…
But maybe, just maybe, I should save the diaries and take them on the road with Mortified.
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Do you hold onto old diaries? Have you ever purged them (or been purged of them involuntarily)? Why would or wouldn’t you?