Friday, December 16, 2011

To stash or trash? What to do with journals.

I have a lot of journals. I love to write, and have loved writing since I was very young. I have filled journals since I was a child. These journals were the expression of my soul, the eyes through which I processed the world. I figured out who I was by writing about it. ALLLLLLLL about it. I am very attached to my journals, in a sense I feel like they are the living breathing proof that I live. They hold my past, and without my past, who am I?

But they are not the living breathing proof that I live. They do not live, they do not breathe, they are empty books I scribbled in as I grew up. I defined myself, they did not define me. And now, hundreds perhaps thousands of pages later they are taking up a lot of space. Too much space. I've stared at this collection of writings and asked myself, "What would happen if a fire suddenly swept through our house and destroyed all of my journals, would I really be so devastated? Would it really feel like I'd lost my past?" Of course not. Who am I without that past? I'm still me. The past is really gone anyway. These journals are just little glimpses of thoughts I had at one time. The richness of the memories and experience lies in my mind, and has created me into the woman I am, so in a sense the past is always with me. It made me who I am right now. The idea that we can hold onto it in any sense, is truly an illusion. Even journals do not fully hold our past experience, no matter how detailed we tried to be when writing it.

I will never forget the first journal I threw away.

 I wrote it in seventh grade. This was me, in seventh grade. Tall, gangly, and awkward. I was already 5'6 and still had three more inches of growing ahead of me. I was giggly, hopelessly romantic, in love with everything vintage and feminine, adored Anne of Green Gables, and I was boy crazy. Absolutely boy crazy. Especially over the boy that lived down the street. For a year, I filled up a little red spiral notebook with a careful record of the number of times he looked at me on the bus, (to my great frustration that number was often zero) whether or not he came upstairs when I brought cookies to his house, (to my even greater frustration he usually hid out in the basement and called for his dad to bring him a cookie so he didn't have to come upstairs) and the general laments of a typical 12 year old..."Oh my gosh, a zit, a ZIT! My life is over." One day as I was perusing the old pages, noting the tally marks I'd once kept as I counted how many times I'd written this boy's name throughout the book (It was well over 365 times proving then and there my parents are the most patient people on the planet because you know I was rehearsing all of this to them as well) I realized something. I didn't have to keep this anymore. I mean, I could, but it was also okay to let it go. To simply throw it away. Scan it? Nope. Just toss it. The idea kind of hurt me at first.

 "But, but, buuuuuuut...."

There was no reason to keep it. My mind searched, came up with some weak argument that it could be amusing to my children one day, or possibly help me get into my son's head a little when he's thirteen, help me understand him better, but the arguments seemed so flawed.

First of all, I don't really know that my children will be interested in reading my boy crazy thoughts, and second of all I don't really want them to. It's not who I am anymore. And while it may offer them some laughs, I don't really love people laughing at my expense. How I relate to my son when he's thirteen will have a lot more to do with who I am the day he's thirteen, than who I was the day I was thirteen. And the only way to get into a thirteen year old's head is to be invited there, by talking. My son is nothing like I was at age three, he will be nothing like I was at age thirteen. He is his own person. What I really need to remember from that time of my life, is apart of who I am forever. Yes, I learned valuable lessons in those adolescent years, but I wasn't writing about those things. Those lessons came later, when I looked back. And I don't need the proof any more. The proof, lies in who I am today. That's what's real.

So in the trash it flew.

"Clunk" it hit the bottom of the enormous dumpster in our apartment complex. No going back. No climbing over those eight foot high walls. Though, the thought momentarily danced around in my head.

But then it happened. A sense of relief. A sense of liberation. The knowledge that there was one less journal taking up space, asking me what I should do with it, scan it, stash it or trash it?

Am I going to trash all of my journals, no. Probably not.  Journals, like any other thing in our life isn't clutter as long as it has a purpose, or fills us with feelings of joy and delight. Quite frankly, that journal was serving no purpose and filled me with nothing but embarrassment. So I chose to let it go. And the fact that if felt so good, assured me that was the right choice.

My grandpa, an avid historian, once shared with me that he'd long ago thrown away all his journals from his youth. My first response was horror, and shock.

"I might have wanted to read those!" I cried.

 "But I didn't want you to read those" He told me gently "That is not who I am anymore, and I want you to think about me as you know me, as I am to you."

I tried to be understanding but I still thought I would have liked to read those old journals and know more about HOW he became who he was that day, that perhaps knowing how my grandpa became such a great man would teach me how to become a great woman. But it doesn't really work like that. I didn't understand until the day I threw away my red boy crazy notebook, that much of what I'd written was nothing more than mental chatter.

My grandpa still has thousands of pages he's written and wants to leave for his children and grand children. He even made videos called "Grandpa's talks" where he shares his insights, life lessons, and passions in a very organized and clear way, easily understood by the listener. He had to write out a lot of mental chatter before he got to the place where he could truly share what he was discovering along the way. But he doesn't need to share the chatter. We all have enough of that in our own heads.

There are different kinds of journals, they all serve a purpose of their own, some are worth keeping, some are not. You get to choose which you feel is worth the space in your closet. But if you choose it's not worth the time to scan, or the space to store and it no longer brings you joy to read through, you are not obligated to keep it forever. It will not take anything away from your past.  And if it held any insight that you might need in the future, you already have, it will always be with you. You wrote it. Besides, the truly inspiring life lessons have a way of getting told and retold so that they live forever. Of course you can keep THOSE!

Good luck in this great clutter conundrum!
And remember, blogging takes up virtually no physical space at all.....


1 comment:

  1. When my mother-in-law passed away, I ended up with all her keepsakes, photos, and journals. They were so rich but so overwhelming and so disorganized, I made two decisions:
    1) I would someday whittle it all down into an organized, condensed personal history for mother.
    2) I would start right away organizing all of my perihelia so that no one will have to figure it out after I leave it all behind.
    #2 I've done pretty good at, and at keeping it up to date. #1 is still a looming project.


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