Whenever falls roll around, I get this urge to clean. It may seem strange, since cleaning is usually associated with the springtime (why is that, anyway?), but there's something about tidying up this time of year that really appeals to me. I guess getting neat and orderly is my way of preparing for another long, tough winter. And I don't mean just dusting or doing laundry, but also donating clothes I don't wear anymore, organizing the 148712859123 things I need to add to my scrapbook, and purging my computer of old links, files, and pictures.
Anyway, while I was busy doing this last type of cleaning, I came across a bookmark to an ancient LiveJournal account I had opened in college and had continued to update sporadically until 2010. Somehow, I remembered the password and logged in, and what started as giggling and banging my head on the desk over embarrassing entries turned into a rabbit hole of sorts. I tumbled down past memory after memory, and lost all track of time reading words I don't even really remember writing.
I'm sure most of us aspiring authors kept journals while growing up. I have two cardboard boxes filled to the brim with old diaries, almost every page covered front and back with writing. I'd say there are about 35 in all, and they would probably be a good representation of Barnes and Noble's catalog of notebooks and journals for the past twenty years. (Man, that makes me sound old!) I've been lugging these boxes around with me for years, so I guess it was only natural for me to progress to LiveJournal to save some trees (and my back).
Do you ever think about how our old selves live on in these diaries? It's amazing how fast memories can come back, and how vivid they can be, when you read your entries. That's what happened to me this weekend. It started out as a simple task of changing passwords and organizing folders, and became an hour or two of reliving some of my best and worst memories.
I relived... the trip I took to Disney World with my childhood best friend in 2009, and how liberating it felt to laugh and feel carefree again.
I relived... my freshman year of college, possibly the darkest and loneliest time of my life, when I ended up with a horrible roommate who turned all my friends against me. Mean Girls is not just a movie, folks.
I relived... the cold winter day we put my dog down, when I went out barefoot to take a picture of the last paw prints she'd ever leave in the snow.
I relived... my very first trip to the city I now call home.
I relived... a really painful break-up, just before I moved to the city, and all of the letters I wrote him that I never wanted him to see, but needed to write for me. (Rereading these made me cry, and cry, and cry, and also understand what had happened better than I ever had before.)
I relived... our family vacation to Europe, the last one we all took together before the divorce, and how happy we were.
And best of all, I relived... the day I decided to write again (a decision that, ironically, started out with reading those 35 diaries I just mentioned).
Maybe I'm biased, but I don't think that photographs can ever really have this effect. They chronicle memories, too, but here's the thing - you can pretend to smile in a photograph, but you can't hide what you feel in your writing (at least, I never can). It all comes out. There's something about reading the writing of the person you once were that can bring you back to that year, that day, that hour, like nothing else.
And that's something else that photographs can't truly document... how we grow as people. The feelings we feel, and the thoughts we think, and the lessons we learn, and how they lead us to where we are now.
I don't really journal that much anymore, but I think the same effect applies to the stories that we write. I'll read a chapter or a paragraph that I've written, and shining through will be a memory or an experience that only I will connect to it. And I think about that piece of advice, the one that says that you can only truly write from the heart when you get out there and live.
Have you ever kept a journal? Do you ever go back and read the words you wrote, and do the memories appear in your writing when you least expect them to?