I mentioned in a comment recently that being home means confronting the ghosts in the floor boards. Along with the memories comes the monsters in the closets and the poltergeist in the pipes. None of those hit home with a more resounding thwack to the temple than going through a musty box pulled from the bowels of the basement. A lone box stuffed full of journals, notebooks, folders, diplomas and other scraps of teenage and young adult detritus. The journals span about 13 years, from 1984 to 1996 and reading them now, as a woman of nearly 44, is eye-opening, heartbreaking, befuddling, cringe worthy, painful, hilarious. In other words, exactly as they should read. My So Called Life, but written. In a pink, fabric covered diary there are love poems written in a flowery, cursive hand. Rhyming stanzas that take a wild stab at love and loss and longing. By 13, I had kissed my fair share of boys, but still, the pool of available emotions to tap into didn’t go much beyond a sanitized longing for hand holding and slow dancing, first base and French kissing.
And if the moon throws shadows
I know the sun will shine
because as long as the sun warms our hearts
you will always be mine
The sentences get denser in the next few years, the emotions more complex, rawer. There are pages of questioning and answer seeking; white pages stained in black ink forever asking why: why does he prefer her? why can’t I be pretty? why can’t he love me? why do I feel this way? There is a dense black book spilling over with desperation, with sadness, with confusion. Should either of my children ever feel that as an adult I don’t know what the desperate torrent and hurricane of teenage and young adult emotions is like, I will hand them this book, baring my word soul to them simply to show them that they are not alone walking a path littered with answerless questions. The later notebooks are a mix of a spiraling descent into depression, mapped out in sentences.
I sit in the window
how it would feel
to float in the mist for a few seconds
knowing my lips would kiss
the wet concrete below
the clock on the wall would keep ticking
telling its tale while
the glow of my cigarette
It used to be
that I had things to hide in:
giant white pages
to play peek-a-boo from behind,
words whose curves were perfect for diving
and curling into.
And I could sleep between the lines
snug; tucked into color and
sounds that only I knew existed
because I made them up.
There are composition notebooks riddled with notes on Hamlet, course descriptions and poems popping with rage; anger sometimes aimed at individuals, but more often spotlighting rules and traditions that cut and carve out large swaths of society. Seething, writhing words; fragments and scraps that jump off the page with fury. Poems that spit in the face of patriarchy, prose that cast thinly veiled women in the role of Kali, of Gaia, of creator and destructor. Evolution of a girl. Revolution into womanhood.
They chained me to shadows
and left me
pale and riddled with white hot bruises
Vampire sucked of everything but
a dull recollection of color
and an open sore of blistering revenge
From faltering school girl to depressed young woman to vengeful lover.
Oedipus talked to Passion
orange-hot, fickle speckled passion
summer soaked, slippery grip passion
even Passion betrayed
pocketing two iconoclastic souvenirs
before she disintegrated
into ordinary germ-dipped love.
The pages stop in 1996, a year before I met my husband. By then the anger had given way to reflection. The questions were still present, but turned outward. Instead of chewing at the cuticles of my own faults, I combed through the hair of everyone else, looking for nits to pick. But the words were softer, more forgiving, more mature.
Under the jaundiced glare
of barroom lights and soured fairy tales
you kissed me
breathing liquid silver
into the rattling hollows of my spine
long ago abandoned
I have always been an open book, both figuratively and literally. When you write, it is your job to make people feel something. What people who don’t write may not know is that often you use your own blood as ink in order to do that. Laying myself bare in the pages of a notebook or in a teenage journal or even on a scrap of barroom napkin is no different from writing a blog. I’m just a better writer now. The question remains, what do I do with all of this? It seems silly to keep a lot of it, not to mention embarrassing, painful and tedious. At the same time, it is a written history of myself, an evolution of a girl in words. Because my writing is so tied up in my experience, so entwined, it’s a bit like throwing away a part of myself. Though I ache for the young girl through some of those years, there was triumph in there too. There was growth, there was maturation, there was resilience and ultimately, there was a life fulfilled. A life as an open book.
What do you do with old journals, writing samples, stories? Do you keep them or have you said good riddance?
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I pitched my old journals in a rare fit of cleaning when I was home from college one year. I kind of regret it, but I also kind of don’t. Just thinking about what I wrote in journals back then makes me cringe with embarrassment at the mooning over entirely unspectacular boys.
Entirely unspectacular boys deserves to be the title of something. It also happens to be true. I’m embarrassed to say that I couldn’t even remember many of the nameless ‘he’s that peppered those pages, though at the time, obviously they filled my heart and books.
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Wow. That was awesome. I also have a lot of old journals. I’ve always written things. I tried going through them but a lot of the memories were painful. I do want to try again now though.
I think there is an ocean of distance, again literally and figuratively, between me and those particular books and feelings. It’s telling that the year before I met my husband I stopped journaling for a long time, as if I had reached a place that was open enough to allow someone else in. But there is enough distance on my part that I can look at this stuff critically, from a writer’s viewpoint. I can see the development, which makes up for the pain sometimes. But there was one particular book that made my heart heavy for sure.
This is another gem Dina…. X.
Thanks, Steve. You know, I have always been slightly envious of visual artists for the tangibility of their work. It was god for me to see the progression of my own stuff here. Not only from a critical viewpoint, but also a reaffirming one.
This is such a timely post for me – as I just recently found one of the few journals from my early twenties that I didn’t purge. Which prompted me to then, at least obliquely, write about it in my most recent blog post. I did not, however, share any of the old journals in the blog. Very brave of you.
Well, open book through and through ;-). I hope that some of the later examples have stood up to the test of years. Some of the darker stuff was not only dark, but repetitive and frankly, whiny–but again, just as it should be. I thought I knew what life was all about at 19, 20, 23–but you can’t know that you really don’t until you’re standing on the cliff of middle age looking back. But that is as it should be. I hope?
I’ve kept all mine; haven’t gone back and read them tho. Maybe that is something I should do. How interesting and possibly disturbing that would be… Great post…
Thanks. Some of the darker stuff was disturbing and difficult for me to read. Some of it was difficult not just because it was dark, but incessantly whiny! And as I would turn the page and read the same thing about someone different, I wanted to reach back into my youth and strangle my younger self. Luckily it seems that it all worked. Or at least I have to keep telling myself that!
I have all of my journals packed away in cardboard boxes. I never thought to get rid of them. I was hoping they would be helpful when writing a book, to remember what it was like so vividly to be 10,15,20. But every time I’ve tried to go through them I spiral into old emotions and come up more confused than when I went in. They’re too much a part of me. I thought my children someday might like to have them, but this stuff night even be too dense for them. So, in response to your question…I don’t know.
I don’t know either. I will likely end up keeping them all, but will purge some of it, if for no other reason that so much of it is repetitive. But the emotions and confusion of those ages? Definitely captured in there. I write a lot about that time of life (middle school and high school) but until I didn’t realize how much it fueled my writing until recently.
Reading Harriet The Spy in second grade sent me down a path of chronicling, recording and notebook keeping. Having my mother inform me she was reading my most private innermost thoughts at 15 promptly put an end to that. My so-called life only partially documented!
Did you ever wish as you were writing out the angst of your existence that “future you” could come and tell you how everything turned out? Or at least offer some explanation of why he preferred her, dammit?
Keep them, Dina! I think they’re a treasure trove, never to be rewritten, replicated or replaced. Maybe there’s some YA gold in there….
Ouch. The only reason I know my mother wasn’t reading the later stuff is because I think she would have had me committed. In fact, there are pages in there wondering if they were going to have me committed! To answer your second question, it was apparent in some of those pages that I thought I knew it all (how original…), so like most teenagers, I probably would not have listened to an older me anyway and would have dismissed myself as old and crotchety. Much like my children will do to me, no doubt. As for why he preferred her–well, in short? Boobs. ;-). I will likely keep them, and hopefully I will use them. Thanks, E. p.s., I never read Harriet the Spy. Sssh.
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Well, I think it’s nice to have your own notebooks around to read, but you have to think about posterity. Would you like someone else to read them? I put a “Please destroy without reading” on mine.
Are you saying my rhyming stanzas of love don’t hold up to the test of time? ;-). I do think some of the later stuff does, but maybe that’s wishful thinking on my part. In answer to your question, I think most people reading it would be bored to tears through 90% of it, but I do think there is some classic teenage angst that crossed over into the collective unconsciousness. Perhaps if my boys don’t read them, I can refer to them when they are going through those last teen/early twenty years for some reassurance that they aren’t crazy. Mind you, I’m not sure I wasn’t crazy!
No comment on your poetry at all! I was thinking that my journals are so self-conscious and ridiculous that I wouldn’t want anyone else reading them. But perhaps yours could be a good reference for your current writing—a reminder of how you once felt.
I was just teasing you, Cherry. Lots of moon and stars and ocean waves in those early ones…..I do use them as a reference. Until I started working on ‘the book’ I didn’t realize how much of my middle school/high school memories fueled a lot of my writing. But as the protagonist in ‘the book’ is a 12 year old girl, they’re coming in handy. Now, if this one gets done, perhaps the next one can be about an depressed young adult finding her way in the big city….Oh never mind, that one’s been done a thousand times!
Most of my journals are from the 80’s on, a few from the late 70’s. I can’t bear to part with them. Reading through them again lays my soul bare, but those memories and those feelings are too precious to me to lose. I recently found a diary written to my first love 36 years ago, which made me cry to read – so many details from those forgotten days brought to light again. Yet my first love and I will be reconnecting later this year, after at least 25 years of no contact and… I will give that diary to him then.
Most of my journals/diaries are from the 80’s, with a few started in the late 70’s. Reading them again certainly lays my soul bare, but those memories and feelings are too precious for me to burn them. I recently found a diary that I’d written to my first love 36 years ago when we’d been apart (in different states) and ended right before we moved in together. Reading that one made me cry – so many details and words from forgotten days brought to light again. My first love and I will actually be reconnecting later this year (in another country!), after having no contact for at least 25 years. When we meet, my intent is to give him that diary with as much love as which it was written.
Wow, what a story! I hope that he appreciates it for all that it contains and the emotion the that goes with it. It does lay your soul bare, doesn’t it? I think in a good way, I hope in a good way. Almost like raw nerve endings that become more used to touch over time. For me, a lot of that is the “I’m still here and I’m still writing” part of it, which despite the pain, ends with a modicum of pride. Good luck!
I started writing “poetry” which is more like free flowing verse when I was young, I still have two crates of notebooks of my juvenile writing, haha which isn’t too far from my writing 25 years later. I almost burned them in a bonfire after I got cancer 8 years ago. I thought, I am not that girl anymore, I don’t need memories of someone I was not anymore. The hubs made me save them though, because as he says, some day I’ll be famous and just think how rich he will be when he sells them. I laughed and still do, cancer free, I am still me and I still have those old notebooks out in the barn waiting for the someday to come:) great piece and awesome blog you have here. I love the style you have, it’s like talking to my sister, fun and light and gives me a smile:) peace and blessings. Kim
It’s funny how you mentioned ‘not begin that girl anymore’ because one of the things I learned on my latest trips home (and a future blog post) was that there are elements of ‘that girl’ that still ring fierce and true in my own life. It is somewhat reassuring, to me at least. You are certainly not the same person you were, you are a stronger woman, a survivor, a warrior. But….if you think about it, that strength must have been there all along, just buried beneath the stuff that seemed important–that was important–until you figured out what really was. Thanks for finding the familiar in my posts, Kim. I’m happy to have you along!
happy to be tagging along too:) you said it perfectly:) have a peaceful and blessed day my friend, Kim
I have all my old journals saved. I read my husband some of my ridiculous poetry from my youth two months ago. He was in stitches. I am glad you saved your old journals. Thank you for sharing those beautiful bits with us. 🙂