Reading Old Journals…Yikes!

A few weeks ago I dragged a box of old journals from my closet. I started my first diary in elementary school. It had a padlock on it so nosy siblings couldn’t peek. They could have just ripped the binding off the darn thing, of course, but they never thought to do that. I don’t know what happened to that early diary. I wish I had it now to see what my 9-year-old self thought was important enough to record. I suspect it was stuff like “Michael W. stuck his tongue out at me today when Mrs. N. was writing on the blackboard,” or “That kid Joe R. seems really nice. I bet he’ll marry my little sister 20 years from now.”

The earliest journals in my possession are from the mid-1980s when I was in college. But I didn’t pick up steam until after I graduated in 1986. From then on my journals record things like:

  • The loneliness I felt after leaving all my friends behind and returning from the happy bubble of college life
  • My growing dissatisfaction in a 9-to-5 job that just wasn’t me
  • Countless dates with “bad boys” who weren’t interested in serious relationships. Duh!
  • My fickle nature
  • My dreams and wishes for the future
  • The plans to realize those dreams and wishes
  • The actual steps I took
  • The successes and setbacks I experienced

Some of the entries are truly heartbreaking. They transport me back to pain I don’t even remember. I may as well be reading a stranger’s journal because I don’t recognize the empty person behind the words. But then, with the flip of a page, the tone changes and I’m going on and on about becoming a rock star. Yeah right! That band I was in with John, Richie, and Vito in high school obviously went right to my head.

A few journals later and I feel exhausted after reading about the hard work it took to start my business. And then, there’s the ridiculous: I’ve obsessed over my weight my entire adult life, but with the exception of a short period of time leading up to my pregnancy and for a short time after giving birth, my weight has not varied by more than 5-10 pounds. How do I know this? Because I recorded it. I could have refrained from worrying and had the same result. The best part of reading my old journals is the exhilaration of seeing dreams and wishes from one year become reality in subsequent years. Progress.

I also love revisiting the quotes I captured from books I was reading at the time or other sources.

From one of my favorite books Always, Rachel: The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman:

 “All I am certain of is this: that it is quite necessary for me to know that there is someone who is deeply devoted to me as a person, and who also has the capacity and the depth of understanding to share, vicariously, the sometimes crushing burden of creative effort.” Rachel Carson

From Dinah Mulock, “Friendship”:

“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are—chaff and grain together—certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”

From Alex Noble:

“Oh, the miraculous energy that flows between two people who care enough…to take the risks of…responding with the whole heart.”

My New Year’s Resolutions for 1996 were taken directly from Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe:

Health enough to make work a pleasure,
Wealth enough to support your needs,
Strength enough to battle with difficulties and overcome them,
Grace enough to toil until good is accomplished,
Charity enough to see good in your neighbor,
Love enough to move you to be useful and helpful to others,
Faith enough to make real the things of God,
Hope enough to remove all anxious fears concerning the future.

In 1997, I began my journal with “My Symphony of Life” by William Henry Channing:

To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion.
To be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly; to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart; to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never. In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common. This will be my Symphony.

That same year, I was plagued by chronic back pain. The following passage by John Adams caught my eye. It was written three days before his death and reassured me that even as our physical bodies break down, our spirits can continue to thrive:

“The house in which John Adams lives is falling down. The roof leaks badly. The foundation is crumbling. The shingles are dropping like raindrops, and the windows let the frigid air through like screens. In spite of all this, however, John Adams is doing just fine, thank you.”

Reading old journals reminds me of who I was and who I wanted to become. Moment by moment, we make decisions that lead to changes that are sometimes barely perceptible in our lives. Yet years later, in hindsight, we realize how far we’ve come or how far we’ve veered off our intended course. Sometimes that’s a good thing. But when an alternate path does not result in fulfillment, it’s time to make adjustments and become aware of how we lost our way.

When I put the last journal back into the box and pushed it all back into the closet, I was feeling refreshed and ready to start daydreaming about what I want to do in the second half of my life.

Do any of you keep journals? What do you find most valuable about the practice? Do tell. :-)

74 Comments

  1. girlboxing said,

    April 20, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    As with you, Margaret, my first journals were diaries with padlocks from about age 8 on. Somewhere around 12 I graduated to old fashioned composition books or spiral bound notebooks, plus file folders filed with typed yellow paper or legal paper and for several years running, leathersmith yearly diaries in a deep red color.

    When I was a teenager, if I wasn’t writing in a journal, I was reading journals — and given that by this point it was the late 60’s early 70’s that meant lots and LOTS of Albert Camus. I’d read his journals seated in coffee shops in Greenwich Village smoking Gitanes (the anti-cool’s cool cigerette brand rather than Gauloises) and drinking Earl Gray tea. And once, when I was 16, I went to the Village Vanguard and saw Sonny Rollins play, spiral-bound notebook journal, green bic pen and Albert Camus in hand — oh and a Bloody Mary.

    To tell you the truth, I just can’t read those journals any more — though I do still have every shred of paper and my later black bound ones in a box in storage.

    The one’s I do look back on are the ones I wrote traveling. They seem to have the most meaning for me as they keep fresh the first impressions I had including small drawings and other keepsakes like receipts I taped in them — or a running tally of canasta scores from a week I spent in Ko Samui in Thailand, and my attempts at writing down words in a myriad of languages.

    Still journaling has its place and I find I use them now as a means of tuning up my writing with things such as timed writes or as places to write down character studies.

    Your journal entries are so much more interesting than mine ever were — which through my 30’s seemed to be one long story of love gained or lost! And while I did throw in several poems by Rainer Maria Rilke through my mid-20’s, from there on in it was strickly sad tales of whoa, dishing the dirt or some other version of a pity party ;)

    Thanks for the post and the query!

    • April 20, 2011 at 10:31 pm

      Oh, believe me, GB, there are countless tales of love gained or lost and pity parties galore in my journals, too. Those are the entries that are the hardest to read. In fact, there was a time I couldn’t read them at all. I’m a bit more forgiving of myself these days, I guess.

      Your journal entries sound very cool to me. I wish I were hanging out with you back then, smoking Gitanes and drinking Earl Grey.

      Thanks for sharing.

    • April 21, 2011 at 12:41 pm

      What keeps you away, if you’re comfortable answering that? I’m working on a project that required me to reread all my old journals a few months ago. It was definitely painful in places, but it was much less painful than I’d imagined! There were a lot of wonderful moments sprinkled in through the many mortifying and sad moments I’d captured.

  2. Jess Witkins said,

    April 20, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    I’ve kept a journal since I was 13. A few years are spotty in records, but I’ve been pretty consistent. It is interesting to look back at what was important to me when. I used to make lists each year of my favorite films and books and songs. I have to laugh now, they’re all so cheesy, total guilty pleasures! But then they’re mixed in with films that were touching dramas like SlingBlade, American History X.

    I find journaling keeps me grounded and in touch with who I am and what I want in life. And like you pointed out, it helps you remember things about events in life that you otherwise might not recall in such detail.

    • Jess Witkins said,

      April 20, 2011 at 10:08 pm

      P.S. Does it ever frighten you to think who’s going to read your journals after you die? I mean, I know it’s a completely morbid thought, but I write very honestly and I think whoever reads this thing is going to think I’m such a crazy person!

    • April 21, 2011 at 12:43 pm

      “it helps you remember things about events in life that you otherwise might not recall in such detail.” I wasn’t thinking about that at all when I wrote in my earliest journals, but having all those memories documented has proved such a blessing!

      Also? I had no idea how excited discussion on journals would make me until I started reading this entry. Such an interesting insight into others!

      • April 21, 2011 at 2:38 pm

        I’m pretty energized myself, Deborah. I had no idea this post would generate such amazing comments. In fact, I’d planned to write this post a few weeks back after reading my old journals and then decided it probably wouldn’t be very interesting to anyone but myself. I’m glad I decided to press the Publish button.

        I’m assuming the question in your first comment above is directed toward GirlBoxing.

  3. girlboxing said,

    April 20, 2011 at 10:54 pm

    Re: Journals after your dead …

    After my mother passed away, I came into possession of her writings. For one thing, it was a “who knew” moment because I’d no idea that she kept them.

    I resisted reading them for some time, but after I started reading them, I found them oddly compelling. They were mostly written during my childhood — and so I recognize the person she was. The intimacy of it, however, was never meant to be shared with me and so I eventually put them down.

    With respect to my own writings, I figure I’ll toss the journals at some point except for bits that have a public sensibility. They were written for myself anyway and the truth is much of it is really for the burn pile any way — as it belongs to that category of writing that while it might make interesting fodder for a character is otherwise not much more than a sounding board for this or that emotion that just didn’t have any other way of getting expressed.

    I have a friend who wrote a novel based on the idea of what he called burn-books. Writings kept over a year’s period that shadowed a year in the life of the main character that were then “burned” — a sort of secret life, if you will that was expressed through the writings.

    I figure that some secrets should stay secret.

    • April 21, 2011 at 1:01 am

      I am a family history freak. I lived on Ancestry.com for a long while researching my ancestors. To me, there is nothing more exciting than finding some words that a relative has written. It adds another piece to the puzzle of who they were. Unfortunately, the words my relatives left behind were the occasional thought or letter, nothing substantial. How I would have loved to find dozens of journals. As is typical in life, the generations that follow me will have dozens of my journals to read, but they probably won’t be interested. :-)

      My secrets are all in code. ;-)

  4. huffygirl said,

    April 20, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    Margaret, you have truly been a writer from a very young age. I’m impressed with what you’ve shared from your journals – so well-thought out, well-written. I confess there were times when I wanted to be a journaler but never was any good at it. I had an early diary with silly one line entries because I could never think of what to say. I tried journaling at one point as an adult, during a difficult time. Later, I went back to read it, saw how depressing it was and threw it all away. I didn’t want to think about anyone reading it after I was gone. I guess I’m making up for it now. Blogging is probably as close as I’ll ever get to journaling. Thanks for sharing yours.

    • April 21, 2011 at 1:12 am

      Blogging is definitely an interesting form of journaling, even if the blog is not technically a journal. It reminds you of the things that caught your attention and prompted you to have your say, which definitely paints a picture of who you were at that point in time.

      Huffy, I don’t know if there’s any such thing as being good at journaling. It’s just something you do. I don’t think about technique or properly placed punctuation when I’m scribbling in the heat of the moment. And, as you say, sometimes entries are silly, one-liners. Other times, they’re literary masterpieces. Both types of entry say something about that moment in your life.

  5. April 20, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    I started journalling at 15; picked up a blank book in the airport on my way to Amsterdam, after which I was off for a summer backpacking across Europe. It isn’t very interesting, mostly places (the Berlin Wall was still up) and food, but I learned that I loved the act of writing.

    I started keeping journals in earnest in 1991 when I entered grad school, and have stacks of them now. They only tapered off about six years ago when I began blogging. There are a few incredibly painful ones — a year of betrayal, a near divorce, and the birth of my first child, and endless complications while rebuilding a relationship and a family. I tried to read those once and found it made me miserable.

    I think they will be due for a burning some day, for the sense of closure that will bring.

    The blog, though, I’ll keep! Plus all the pregnancy journals, funny baby journals, memorable meal journals, and poetry journals. (I tended to have multiples at any given time.)

    Wow. Haven’t thought of all that in ages. Thanks for prompting us!

    • April 21, 2011 at 1:19 am

      You’re very welcome, Lisa.

      Some years I kept multiple journals, too. Those are interesting to read side-by-side.

  6. April 20, 2011 at 11:34 pm

    I love the Rachel Carson quote. Wow.

    My journals are a way to talk to myself and sort things out. Every once in a while that wonderful Voice (it’s a Mystery) shows up and shows me the way.

    • April 21, 2011 at 1:33 am

      Isn’t that a great quote? I think you would love the book Always, Rachel.

      I know exactly what you mean about sorting things out. When I look back at my journals, I see myself hard at work trying to understand people and situations and issues. But in the end, it was all about knowing myself better. Sometimes the thoughts and words are obscure, but then suddenly you see a crumb of bread and then another and you can actually watch your younger self march out of the darkness. How cool is that? It’s time travel. ;-)

  7. Jackie said,

    April 20, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    If you only knew then what you know now about how much your siblings like to read, you wouldn’t have needed the padlocks!! And boy that Joe R. had some nice suspenders and knee socks during those dance festivals. :)

    I don’t keep a journal. My form of a journal are my old calendars, ticket stubs, etc. to remind me of all the fun things I have done and that evokes the memory for me. I don’t know that my emotions towards things are very extreme either way and I think I tend to forget the bad things that have happened, so why write them down. In the heat of the moment I can get very annoyed but in the grand scheme of things, it mostly doesn’t matter. It must be a personality issue because I don’t think I dwell on the past much, don’t search for obscure reasons of why things have happened or feel like there has to be a reason for everything. Sometimes shit just happens! Therefore, I just move on. And I think I tend to look on the brighter side of issues instead of the negative.

    I guess I’ll just have to rely on some of your journals to record some of my history.

    • April 21, 2011 at 1:38 am

      Yes, those were certainly some hot suspenders and knee socks. And we can’t forget the dance festival favorite: “Wind, wind, wind the bobbin, back, back, back the bobbin, pull, pull, clap, clap, clap.” I’m actually sitting here doing the hand motions in between typing. :-)

      You and I are very different in personality, Sis. I’ll always be Nancy Drew, looking for clues. And you’ll always be Mickey Mouse. :-)

  8. April 21, 2011 at 6:15 am

    Could have just ripped the binding off the thing but never thought to do that – If they were sneaky they certainly thought of that. Perhaps they respected you more than you think.

  9. April 21, 2011 at 7:22 am

    I used to think I wanted to keep a diary, but after a week or so, I’d just stop writing in it. I must have started and stopped ten times. I don’t know what ever happened to the diary, though. I wish I had it. It would be a riot to read. I did come across some old classwork that my mom had saved. Just seeing my handwriting from back then felt strange. I did recognize it, but there was a sense that it belonged to another person. I can’t imagine how it must feel to be able to look back on your own words. Do you have any recollection of writing the entries themselves?

    • April 21, 2011 at 8:51 am

      I remember the actual writing of some of the entries, and if you read them, you’d understand why. For example, some were in response to a major change I wanted to make in my life and include a manifesto, lists, and plans. In the end, it was like a self-help book written by yourself.

      Other entries I have no memory of writing, nor do I have a memory of the event that triggered the post.

      I agree with you on the handwriting thing. That’s weird. My handwriting is very different now than it was. Back then, it looked more like my brother’s handwritng. I wonder if it’s typical for handwriting to change? Ah, a research project for today. ;-)

  10. afrankangle said,

    April 21, 2011 at 7:43 am

    Outside of an assignment, I haven’t kept a journal, but, I understand its purpose. Although they were timely at the time, interesting to see how timeless quotes can be. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Melinda said,

    April 21, 2011 at 7:50 am

    How nice you have all that to go back and read. That must have been a sign you would be a writer. I had diaries growing up. Each Christmas I would be excited about the new diary and write in it religiously every day for the first month and then it was forgotten…year after year. The only one I did write in all year long, I wrote in some weird code I can’t decipher.

    • April 21, 2011 at 8:57 am

      Aww, that’s too bad. If you ever want the code cracked, send me a copy. I’m pretty good at stuff like that. Love the Cryptogram in the newspaper. :-)

      I have several journals that cover just a few months. I’m not consistent either. However, it doesn’t matter. It’s still great to have those entries to look back on.

      I love buying journals. I have a shelf in my closet filled with journals waiting to be used.

  12. SuziCate said,

    April 21, 2011 at 9:48 am

    Thank you for sharing those fabulous quotes! I tried journaling a few times when I was younger but feared it being read…unfortunately I ended up holdingit allin instead of getting the therapeutic effect of writing it out.

    • April 21, 2011 at 2:44 pm

      Glad you enjoyed them, SuziCate. I figured you would.

      Writing really is therapy, except it’s a lot cheaper. Sometimes talking it out is just too draining. I get tired of talking and just want my paper and pen and a quiet corner.

  13. April 21, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    I’ve kept a journal since sixth grade. Like you, my first journal had a little padlock; the friend who gave it to me figured it’d help me keep my secrets from my siblings. (Little did we know it was my mom who would be the biggest problem!) Most of that first journal had to do with (a) how horrible my siblings were and (b) how I was going to marry Edward Scissorhands. If I hadn’t read this fairly recently, I wouldn’t be able to state this so confidently. But it’s a true story!

    At first I kept a journal because I liked the idea of being a writer. Over time, I found that writing in my journal helped improve my ability to articulate myself. My conversations with the people around me were astonishingly improved just by my sitting on the basement steps for a few minutes and writing what was going on in my life.

    I used to fill a couple journals year. Now, it’s been a couple of years since I started my last journal . . . and I’ve filled only 20% of it! I’m trying to be better, both because I still have a lot of dreams I want to capture–for themselves, and as a future yardstick–and because there’s so much magic in seeing I tiny person grow. With my memory, I fear what’ll be lost if I don’t take a couple of minutes here and there to document all the little things he’s learning and helping me rediscover!

    • April 21, 2011 at 3:03 pm

      Good luck with documenting the baby stuff. I had the best of intentions with that but never found the time. Sometimes all you need though is one sentence a day to capture the brightest moment and it’s enough to jog your memory later and have it all come flooding back.

      I feel the same way about photographs and video. I sometimes felt guilty that I wasn’t always attached to my video camera like other parents, but when I was filming, I was so concerned with getting a good shot, I couldn’t just be in the moment and enjoy it.

      And then there were all the photos I DID take but didn’t put in albums, the subject of an early blog post Overcoming Perfectionism:

      http://margaretreyesdempsey.wordpress.com/2008/08/12/overcoming-perfectionism/

  14. Brenda said,

    April 21, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    I am more a letter writer. It’s my form of journaling. Almost none of the letters I write see a stamp or are delivered by hitting the send button. I could never say ‘Oh, Dear Diary, did you see the size of my arse today, my gosh, it’s the size of a small planet’, but I could write all my woes to Mae West or Emily Dickinson, a lost lover, a prisoner in Changi prison serving a life sentence. And like you, I cringe, say more than YIKES, when I reread ‘em. I think WHO THE HECK wrote that stuff…..I think maybe someone broke into my laptop and wrote those feelings, juicy and drippy, and full of woe! It’s sometimes hard to take without a glass of wine. Like you and the others noted, in different ways, it’s a moment frozen in our past that at the time was meaty (or not) and having the memory captured can be a reminder of how far a person has come or WOW, really! Great post!

    Brenda

    • April 21, 2011 at 3:10 pm

      Thank you, Brenda. I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

      I love your idea of writing letters to Mae West and Emily Dickinson. That sounds like fun.

      I was a prolific letter writer for many years (but I actually mailed them to people). I have every letter that was ever sent to me. That will be the topic of a future post.

  15. Ray Colon said,

    April 21, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    Hi Margaret,

    I’ve never kept a journal, but sometimes I wish that I had. I’m as prone to fading memories, intentionally or unintentionally embellishment of important events, and loss of focus as anyone. It would be useful to have had cataloged some of what was going on in my mind when I made certain important decisions.

    I was a late comer to Facebook, so when I finally joined I was reminded of people and places that I have not thought about for years. I was also horrified at how very little of my own life I actually remembered.

    Ray

    • April 21, 2011 at 7:20 pm

      Nothing wrong with a bit of embellishment. We’re writers, after all.

      It’s never too late to start a journal, Ray.

  16. TheIdiotSpeaketh said,

    April 21, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    I don’t keep a journal…..but years ago I did find some of my old High School attempts at creative writing…… and, a blog friend who just happens to be my High School Girlfriend, sent me copies of notes I had written to her 30 years ago……. Gosh I was a dweeb back then! And I wrote like a kindergarter……kinda like I do now……. :)

  17. Val Erde said,

    April 21, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    Oh, I’m with you, Margaret. I’ve been journalling (in paper journals) since I was a kid, though I didn’t keep any of the very early ones and I had one that stretched for a period of about six or more years and after experiencing a trauma, I chucked it out. My sister actually saw it in the bin and thought she’d keep it for me in case I regretted it, but then decided not to. I remember what went into the last part of that journal and wouldn’t be able to re-read it even now, but the earlier parts contained so much that my failing memory has lost, that I really miss it.

    I’ve got journals going back as far as 1984, with a few pages here and there from earlier ones. But I’m unable to read the 1980s diaries anymore as they are so full of depression, anxiety, panics and paranoia that it really hurts me to think of myself as the sad individual I was. In fact, about a year ago I finally chucked out a folder of loose-leaf entries that were just impossibly negative.

    I can empathise with what you said here: “I may as well be reading a stranger’s journal because I don’t recognize the empty person behind the words.” I feel the same way about the old me. I mean, I still (as you know) have times when I’m depressed and can’t get a grip, but they’re much much less frequent than they used to be. My circumstances have changed, I don’t live at home, I’m married, have a nice house, live in a nice place, surrounded by birds and pleasant people. It wasn’t always like that. I can’t identify with the person who wrote the earlier journals.

    And then there are the successes… in particular being able to break through agoraphobia and move not just out of one house to another, but move from England to Wales, and go from an urban existence to a rural one. All those are in one of my more recent journals and in fact I make a point of re-reading that quite often, to keep myself in touch with what I’ve achieved and what I can achieve.

    Who do you write your journals to or for, Margaret? I mean, I know you’re writing them for yourself, but do you have a future self in mind when you’re writing? I do, you see. I write to my future self and hope that she will get something from past experiences. :)

    • April 21, 2011 at 9:25 pm

      Val, I can’t say I write to a future self, but whenever future self becomes present self, it’s obvious she has learned from past experiences. This is starting to sound like a sci-fi post. ;-)

      When I’m journaling, I’m mostly in the present with the exception of brief glimpses backward and forward to see where I’ve been and where I want to head. But all of the work must happen in the present, so it doesn’t pay to spend too much time anywhere else.

  18. April 22, 2011 at 10:29 am

    I have attempted to journal several different times in my life but for whatever reason, it never took. However, I have kept everything I’ve ever written whether short stories or history papers from middle school. These tragic abuses of the English language offer glimpses of previous versions of myself, some I admire while others I fear. I can see how much I’ve changed and how I’ve stayed the same. Pretty sobering memories but ones worth recalling.

    Thanks for a great post!

    • April 22, 2011 at 12:58 pm

      Hack, you made me laugh with “these tragic abuses of the English language.” So then I clicked on your hover card, read the blurb about you, and now I have some runny mascara to clean up. :-)

      My mom saved every paper we ever wrote. I especially like my report on camels from the third grade. I must have been very impressed with the fact that camels have eyelashes to keep the sand out of their eyes, because I drew VERY long lashes on the camel on the report cover. It sort of looks like giant, vicious spiders are attacking the poor thing’s eyes.

      Good luck with the novel, and thanks for taking the time to stop by.

  19. fordeville said,

    April 22, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    I love everything about this. And I’m not at all surprised to know you always wrote. The big question is whether you could still run for public office if your journals saw the light of day :)

    • April 22, 2011 at 5:34 pm

      I couldn’t run for public office even if my journals didn’t see the light of day. I’m a “let it all hang out” kind of person. ;-)

  20. Richard said,

    April 22, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    “Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are—chaff and grain together—certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”

    I like that quote the most. :-/

    I used to keep journals but reached a point where I wanted to stop dragging the baggage around. I was always predisposed to maudlin nostalgia. I ended up getting rid of them and actually felt better for it.

    Great post. Nice insight into Maggie’s brain. :-)

    • April 22, 2011 at 5:39 pm

      Did you really need (or want) any more insight into my brain? Then again, you are the horror writer. Mwahahahahahaha. ;-)

      I’ll admit I sometimes cringe as I read old entries. Some of them are difficult to get through. However, I don’t think I could throw my journals out. They are a part of me.

  21. dearrosie said,

    April 22, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    What an interesting post! And great comments :-)
    Journaling is something I only started doing a few years ago because I didn’t feel “safe” sharing my deepest secret thoughts on paper. And now that I’ve got half a dozen notebooks in my closet I ha’ve wondered what on earth I’m going to do with them. Burn them or leave them?

    I love the quotes you shared. I too have collected some good ones but as I haven’t re-read my journals I wonder why I wrote them out. You reminded me why.

    I too have spent many years trying to research my family tree and would give ANYTHING to read a journal or even a letter written by one of my ancestors and was interested to read Girlboxing’s comment that she didn’t feel comfortable reading her mother’s journals. No doubt it’s that’s too. Not sure I’d like to read what my mother’s secret thoughts were…

    • April 23, 2011 at 12:22 am

      Thank you, Rosie. I suppose you don’t really know how you’re going to feel until you’re actually reading a family member’s old journals. However, I’d like to think, as someone who has recorded the full range of human emotion in my own journals, I would be understanding of whatever was written in someone else’s.

      Thank you for stopping by to comment. I really appreciate that.

  22. bronxboy55 said,

    April 23, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    “They transport me back to pain I don’t even remember. I may as well be reading a stranger’s journal because I don’t recognize the empty person behind the words.”

    I’ve kept a journal sporadically, mostly during times of crisis. And like a few of your other readers, I’ve come across term papers and other pieces of writing from high school and college. As you said, it’s like reading someone’s else’s words, not my own. What a weird feeling.

    This is a stunning post, Margaret. Honest, sensitive, and beautifully written.

    • April 23, 2011 at 8:06 pm

      Thank you, Charles. It is interesting how a lot of journal writing tends to happen during times of crisis. I guess when things are going well, we’re having too much fun to write.

  23. April 26, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    [...] week, a blogger I follow wrote this entry about keeping journals. Both the entry and the comments following it were illuminating. There are [...]

  24. Mackenzie | Red Roan Chronicles said,

    April 26, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    I’ve never been a devoted journaler, but I’ve done it off and on, usually when I’m in really dark times and feel like I have nobody to talk to but the page. It’s actually been really helpful for me for two major reasons. Firstly, that I can look back on those old entries and practically see the despair leaking off the page, and not even really remember what it was about… that kind of puts current drama into perspective too, and reminds me that hard times not only aren’t permanent, but after they’re over they’re not even particularly memorable a lot of the time. :D And secondly, they’re useful because I can look back on them and no matter how stuck I feel in my life, I can remember how far I’ve come.

    But I do hate to break this to you: if they were anything like me, your siblings got into your diary just fine. They simply became masters at learning how to put everything back just so. :D

    • April 26, 2011 at 6:07 pm

      Ha, read comment #7 above. That’s my sis.

      The points you make are exactly the things I love about having journals to review. But even if someone took each journal after I finished it and threw it away, I’d still journal. It’s incredibly therapeutic.

      Thank you for stopping by, Mackenzie.

  25. mgudlewski said,

    April 26, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    Your post, and Deborah the Closet Monster’s blog post today, got me thinking about journaling again. Like you, I love family history, and that’s another motivator. I haven’t had much success in the past, except for weather journals. Doubt my descendants will find those too interesting, though! Thanks for the inspiration.

  26. April 27, 2011 at 7:04 am

    Welcome, Monica. I’m actually interested in your weather journals. What exactly do you capture? Is it straight data or are you analyzing something against the weather (e.g., mood)? I wonder if that’s how the Farmers’ Almanac got its start. Thanks for stopping by.

    • mgudlewski said,

      April 27, 2011 at 9:57 am

      Margaret, I started the weather journal as an aid to my fiction writing. It’s pretty much straight data, with a focus on details. If I’m writing in January, and I want to capture a dismal day in April, it helps me do a little better than, “it was raining cats and dogs!”

      By the way, I love it that you’d still keep a journal even if your journals were thrown away after you finished them.

      • April 27, 2011 at 7:04 pm

        That’s a great idea, Monica. You must write the best weather descriptions ever penned. The link to your blog isn’t active. Are you by chance the children’s author who wrote “Mr. Ollie Odenhofer?” If so, I just listened to a recording of it online. Love it! :-D

  27. mgudlewski said,

    April 27, 2011 at 8:36 pm

    Thanks so much, Margaret. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    Sorry you had trouble reaching my blog. I just tried clicking on my profile pic here on your blog and it worked. I’ll have to check into where the trouble is.

    Thanks again, and for your visit!

    • April 27, 2011 at 11:33 pm

      I didn’t even think to click the profile pic, which would have answered my children’s author question. When the other link didn’t work, I found you on Google.

      • Monica said,

        April 28, 2011 at 10:50 am

        I figured out the problem – my wordpress profile. Thanks, Margaret, for letting me know.

  28. Patti said,

    April 28, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    My blog is the closest I’ve come to journaling so far. I have a very good memory, but looking at this post, I wish I had kept some journals – I think I would have learned a lot. Maybe I should start now, in this second half of my life. I like the idea of writing down good quotes. It’s something I do in my job, but it would be far more interesting to take down quotes from books than from marketing research interviews.

    • April 28, 2011 at 8:01 pm

      Patti, why not start journaling now? On the bright side, in the second half of life, you won’t write entries that are as ridiculous as some of the ones I wrote in the first half of my life. ;-)

      Thanks for stopping by.

      • April 28, 2011 at 11:23 pm

        I’d second this, Patti! You get all the benefit of documenting and reflecting without the detriment of the “I could never love anyone moooooooore!” drama :)

  29. Kemi said,

    May 10, 2011 at 8:26 am

    Yeah, I kept journals for most of my teenage years. Recently, I’ve considered turning one into a novel. We’ll see :). K

    • May 10, 2011 at 11:03 am

      Good luck, Kemi. I once wrote a novel that drew from my journals. I found it difficult to insert enough distance between myself and the truth to make the fiction work. Does that make sense?

      • Kemi said,

        May 13, 2011 at 9:02 am

        Absolutely! That’s my biggest worry. It may be something I just write myself. K

  30. LLH Designs said,

    May 23, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    I have kept journals since I was in 3rd grade. That first “diary” was comprised of heart-shaped paper stapled together with my Hello Kitty stapler. One day it said “I love” so and so. and the next day it said “I hate” that same so and so. Not very deep. Today, my journals are a pouring out of my deepest heart. I’m about to finish yet another one. Starting a new one always feels a little daunting, but I keep doing it…and probably always will.

    Enjoy your writing retreat. It sounds perfect. Let go of fear and the words will come.

    xo,
    Linsey

  31. tag heuer catalogo said,

    June 10, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    Really good post!

  32. September 22, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    I have started journaling more over the last two years. What I like most about journaling is what it reveals about my true nature. It’s sometimes uncomfortable and at its worst, tears also record their impressions of my life. At its best my journaling is expansive and sometimes quirky. It is always fun to look back and see how much I’ve changed and remember things I’d forgotten. Thanks so much for this post!

    • September 29, 2011 at 6:57 am

      Thanks for stopping by, Diane. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I think the “oh yeah, I forgot about that” moments of rereading old journals feel like gifts.

  33. March 28, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    [...] Reading Old Journals…Yikes! struck a chord with many readers. It is my leader in Comments and what great comments they are. [...]

  34. April 30, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    It’s wonderful to see so many commenters here. I think many bloggers are journal keeps gone virtual.

    • April 30, 2012 at 7:34 pm

      I think you’re right.

      I loved reading the comments on this post. They make you realize just how similar we are in our need to document and analyze.


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