The Day Deb Erika Threw Out Her Journals

Erika MarksSince this week is all about Spring Cleaning—and as Deb Joanne so aptly put it yesterday, we’re not talkin’ the kind you need Pledge or Scrubbing Bubbles for—I thought I’d share a post I did a while back on my own blog on this subject of cleaning out. In my case, I threw away some of  my most treasured written materials: my journals.

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Recently, I boldly went where no one has gone before (well, not in 2 years, at least): the back of our closet. There I uncovered the bin (I use the singular to make myself feel better, but trust me, there are other such bins buried in there) where I imagine everything I haven’t been able to find since we moved in has been carefully archived, but upon opening (which had all the pomp and circumstances of Indiana Jones opening one of his franchise’s many tombs), I find it is merely a catch-all for pieces of my past that I can’t decide what to do with.

Today, I decided. After moving old journals for almost 20 years, the diaries of my high school and college years, and a few later, I decided to throw them away. Will I regret it? I don’t think so. By my nature, I’m not someone who lives in the past, or hangs on to it. And frankly, when I cracked open one of the journals, I was met with such a surge of discomfort, I couldn’t close it fast enough.

Now, please understand: This is not about denial or coating the past in a hard candy shell. I GO there. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you I process experiences the way the IRS likely processed Al Capone’s receipts. And maybe that’s why it pains me to read those passages. Knowing how deeply felt they were at the time I wrote them.

I know why I kept them so long. Because I truly believed one day I would be able to read them with detachment, with a new perspective, with a smile. But I’ve tried to revisit them for 20 years now, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t.

Then it occurs to me that I DO revisit my past when I write. How can we not as writers? We may write about people doing things we’ve never done, but chances are they feel what we’ve felt. And maybe that’s a sort of memoir in itself.

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It’s been over a year now since I parted ways with my journals, and I haven’t regretted it which is in itself a peaceful thing. What I find more disturbing telling is that I can’t seem to part with a single line of my manuscript cuts. I have slush files that are easily as many pages as the finished manuscript. Er–we’ll save that for another post.

But of course I want to know what you all think. So tell me, friends: Could you part with your journals? Have you? And if you couldn’t, do you think you could ever re-read them again?

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8 thoughts on “The Day Deb Erika Threw Out Her Journals

  1. I have never been a diarist by nature. The few times I started a journal I abandoned it within a few days. (At least I’ll never face the dilemma of whether or not to toss them out.)

    Fiction is my conduit for reflection on my past. Or perhaps “buffer” is a better word for it. I like flexibility it offers me. 😉

    • Sounds like me and yoga, Deb Linda. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried yoga because I am determined it would be something I would enjoy, and invariably it doesn’t click for me.

      I like “buffer” and I couldn’t agree more. 😉

  2. I’m with Linda – never been able to keep any sort of journal for more than a couple of days (despite the desire to journal-I WANT to do it, just not bad enough-maybe this is how some people feel about writing novels. Hmmm)
    But I’m so glad you don’t regret your decision to purge yours, Erika. Whenever I throw something out, I am always afraid I’m going to regret it later…

    • And Joanne, didn’t I hear you say you were guilty of the slush clutter too? Seriously, I think we need some kind of 12-step program. I’m not fooling myself. Even virtual clutter can hit its limit!!

  3. Fascinating! I’ve kept journals on and off throughout my life, and I’ve almost always thrown them away after some time has passed. I can’t bare to look at myself that plainly from a vantage point. I hope I never feel that way about my fiction.

    • Oh, my dear! Yes! A fellow tosser! I feel better already 😉

      Erika, you raise such a good point–I’ve come to think of journals as being a wonderful tool to help me through a tough period–or any period of transition and as such, I guess I don’t feel they necessarily serve a purpose for me after the fact–does that make any sense? Maybe that’s why I never felt compelled to revisit them later?

  4. Well, it seems as if we “non-journalists” are out numbering the journalists here today. I have never been one to do it either. When I was on faculty in a teacher training program, the first thing I did was remove the requirement for journaling.

    With that said, I was a dreamer of sorts. I wrote poems, especially when I was crying my heart out to Air Supply. I do still have my poem notebook. But, I wasn’t a prolific writer so it doesn’t take up much space–which is the excuse I use to keep it.

    • Now Missy dear, a poem journal is a VERY different animal–of course you can’t part with that! I’m so glad you haven’t!

      (Somehow I just KNEW you were a fellow Air Supply sister. I wore out my copy of Making Love Out Of Nothing At All–I remember that one and Total Eclipse of the Heart were huge at the same time–I couldn’t get enough of either one!)

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