On Burning My Journals

A  Journal collage and some writing.

A Journal collage and some writing.

When we decided to move from our house on the banks of the South Fork Rivanna River Reservoir almost three years ago, I was in a hurry to get out and move into a smaller place in town, rather than out in the country. We were in the midst of a cold season that was very much like a Vermont winter, with two major snowstorms and lots of cold. The first storm brought three feet of snow and the second delivered two more.  We lived on a private road and had to hire somebody to plow our road and the driveway.  I was stuck at home a lot that winter and had a serious case of Cabin Fever, which usually means depression, anxiety, and a nasty temper. Being cooped up in the house where my mother had lived with us for six and a half years, brought back the many sad and unspeakable memories I’d gathered during her time with us. All I wanted was out.

Once March came and we found the house in town that we now live in, we put the river house on the market. I began the hard work of packing up what we wanted to keep and finding homes for the rest of the stuff we would have no room for in the new house … one half the size of the one we were leaving. Hard decisions had to be made. We still had many of Mom’s belongings … things I hid in closets so that I couldn’t see them … things that reminded me of the trauma of watching her as she slowly died of lung cancer and old age.

I hadn’t yet been able to deal with all that, but clearly if I was going to move I’d finally have to put on my big girl panties and make some grownup decisions. It was much easier than I thought it would be, but then there was my studio and all of the paintings, photographs and the artist materials that I had easily stored in the river house but now had no room for in the new one.  I couldn’t decide what to do with it all.  Of course I would keep my finished work, but I was in a rush, not thinking clearly, and thought I’d just give the rest away and start over again.

The final straw that broke the camel’s back were the number of large boxes already filled with the journals I’d been keeping since I began writing them in the 80’s. I threw up my hands and felt I had to get rid of them. It was all stuff I didn’t remember writing and considered most of it, if not all of it, to be the worst writing in the world. Not only were the journals terrible to read because of my poor grammar, misspelling and the boredom rating I gave them, there were things I’d written about that I didn’t want anyone else to read, ever. I decided I’d burn them all, along with the past in the old wood stove we kept in the basement.

The day before I planned to do the deed, I was swinging back and forth between “should I or shouldn’t I burn my work.”  There were a number of paintings as well that I’d thought I’d include in the blaze, but I kept hearing a little voice in the background repeating constantly: “You’ll be sorry.”

The next morning I called my daughter to ask her opinion of what I was planning. She roared over the phone that I must not do it.  And when I finally told Bill what I had in mind, he too was of the opinion that I shouldn’t burn anything. He promised that we would rent a storage room where I could keep my artwork, boxes of journals, artist supplies and anything else I wasn’t yet sure I wanted to part with, for as long as I needed to.

A box of my journals.

A box of my journals.

Over the past few months I’ve been rereading through many of those journals as I sit and put my memoir together. They come in very handy for filling in the blanks that show up in my memory.  And I’m finding them surprisingly fun to read, despite my grammar usage and spelling mistakes. I’m so very grateful that my conscience, my daughter, and my husband, encouraged me to keep them instead of burning them, flushing them down the toilet, or any of the other juvenile things I thought of doing at the time.

Have you ever considered destroying your writings or your artwork? If you do it, know that one day you might be very angry with yourself!

This entry was posted in Books, family, Gratefulness, Memoir, Navigating Through Life, Perfectionism, stories, Trauma, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to On Burning My Journals

  1. Gail Livingston says:

    I’ve never considered burning my journals, letters and photos. One day I realized why. I was afraid that if things weren’t written down in papers and books, I simply wouldn’t know who I was. This revelation might not sound all that profound, but it was an epiphany. Now what I need is to take the time and find the courage to sit down and read them, highlighter in hand. Courage, Joan, let’s both have the guts to do it. Sounds like you already are.

    • jzrart says:

      Yes, Gail, it takes courage, but you’ll be filled with surprise and pride once you dig in. Without our journals we will have forgotten what has happened along the way.

  2. warmginger says:

    We did actually get rid of all our stuff before moving to the Middle East. Good bits of furniture went to friends, things we’d got through Freecyle (free furniture exchange in the UK) went to new homes via the same route, little bits and bobs we sold at car boot sales. We gave away all the white goods to people who really needed them and books went to a local charity book sale.
    But we did keep letters, photos. kids’ drawings and all my journals. They’re stuffed in a few boxes in my sister’s garage and it’s nice to know they’re there.

  3. marianbeaman says:

    Your journals go way, way back Great! I have kept all my journals, but they date back only to the 1980s. I wish I had more, wonderful tools for mining stories.

    By the way, I thought I had subscribed to our blog posts but apparently not. So here’s a click in the right direction!

  4. evanatiello says:

    You are lucky to have them for exactly the reason to aid one’s memory. You’re hand writing is so beautiful!

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