35 Diaries

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?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I admit I've never really kept a journal. I do have a few from trips I've taken over the years. Those are cool.
Do you still have all of those journals.?

workofheart09 said...

Oh, I love this so much. SO MUCH. It's amazing what power and reminiscence words can hold. Like you, I kept journals and diaries for years - still have them all, and boy do the childhood ones makes me laugh - and then moved on to LJ when I was in college. It's always special to go back and read about that time, those memories, in my life.

And hey, you may not journal anymore, but in a way, your blog is an evolution of that. :)

(Also - that memory about your dog made me teary-eyed. So sad and sweet.)

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I giggled over the Voldemort comment!

I was never a diary-keeper when I was growing up. However, several years ago, I opened a file on my computer called Worry Wart Journal and started recording all the things that were causing me anxiety.

This document is probably not as much fun to revisit as your diaries, although I do find it enlightening to look back at my past worries with the knowledge of how they turned out. Hopefully that gives me perspective on my new worrie!

Donna Hole said...

I think it is good to remember where we have been, and the person we were at that time. It is good to laugh at ourselves, or cry for losses, or simply sit and stare and think "wow".

People talk of time travel and going back and changing the past; but who we are now is shaped by the past - no matter how embarrasing or sometimes horrible.

Its cool you have all those journals and memories. And someday, your grandkids may appreciate your journey as a historical record of a time long past and alien to their way of life :)


1000th.monkey said...

I've never kept a journal, but I do know about memories that seem to explode out of scenes, paragraphs, even individual lines or words...

Sometimes they carry memories of amazingly happy times, and sometimes, they carry those moments where we just wanted to close our eyes and stop breathing.

writing is amazing :)

Margo Berendsen said...

I was a crazy journal writer too, from age 14 to... ah, never mind the age. I know exactly what you mean, reliving the past... the words don't lie like photos can sometimes.

I still journal, but it's shorter, and more focused, intentionally used to record things that inspire me, move me, ideas I can use for writing... and things to be thankful for, even little things like a falling leaf.

Connie Keller said...

I'm so impressed that you kept so many journals. I have to admit that I've never been much of a journal-keeper. I tried several times, but I just could never do it.

However, I am a fall cleaning person. I can never do it in the spring because I'm so eager to get outside and play in the garden and smell the flowers. But in the fall, it's time for me to organize, clean, and get ready for winter.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I don't really journal anymore but I will occasionally feel the need to get my feelings down on paper so I do it in one big burst of horrible handwriting. And then I feel better, even if I can't read what I wrote. :)

I feel exactly the same way about cleaning and Fall! :)

Laura Marcella said...

I always get the urge to clean in the middle and end of summer! I don't know why either. I guess because I know fall and winter is coming, and I want to hunker down in a clean, organized home?

I did the same thing this past summer with my journals, and after I re-read them I shredded them (that post is here). I didn't get as much enjoyment out of re-reading mine as you did yours! I found it tedious and painful to re-live those tough times. I kept some of the happy entries and the story ideas, but I was happy to be rid of the bad times and keep them in the past where they belong!

I don't journal much anymore now either. Just when there's something good and interesting I might want to record. When I have to vent, I write that on looseleaf and immediately shred it. Feels good!

Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

Tiana Smith said...

I kept a journal. I used to write in it practically every day, but that got a lot harder to do once I had a kiddo :) It's still fun for me to go back and read entries. It helps me remember how angsty and emotional my teen years could be!

LD Masterson said...

I vaguely remember keeping a diary for a while as a kid but the only journal I've ever kept was in college - when I went after my sons were in school. It was part of the course assignment. I still have it and it's fun too pull it out and recapture those few months from time to time.

Michael Di Gesu said...

I have on and off.. Yes, I reread them a few times... Feelings flooded back.

Your post is so heartfelt and beautiful....

DL Hammons said...

My blog is the closest thing to a journal that I've kept, and being that its public I've only recorded events I'm willing to share. Yes, some have been painful, but nothing compared to what I could write.

It's probably better that way. :)

Nicole said...

Ha, sounds like fun, though I have to admit I've never kept a diary or journal.

mshatch said...

I still have my diary from when I was 15 and it IS enlightening to read how I perceived things back then.

Julie Dao said...

Alex: Journals are not for everyone! I think a lot of writers consider their stories to be their "journals." I do have all of mine, still!

Shari: Yes, great point! I'm so glad I have this blog! Sounds like we have a very similar journaling evolution :)

Dianne: I think that's so smart to have a Worry Wart journal! I hear that if you write down your worries before going to bed, you'll sleep better. I haven't tried it, but it sounds feasible, doesn't it?

Donna: SUCH a great point. Time travel to change the past would defeat the purpose of growing as people. I'm not sure I'd want to show most of these entries to my grandchildren, let alone anyone, though! Haha!

Monkey: Writing is truly amazing, I agree. The way you can connect with words on a page - whether by writing or reading them - just blows my mind.

Margo: I think that's really cool that you still keep a journal! There's this pin I saw on Pinterest once where you keep a pretty box full of index cards. Every day, you write down something that happened on an index card (even if it's just "Had lunch at Arby's" or "Halloween costume shopping with the kids"), and then you do this every day for years. And then you'll have a record of what you did on each day of different years.

Connie: I'm not much of a spring cleaning person myself! Fall is the time to do it, I think. We must be getting ready to "hibernate" like all of the animals!

Madeline: My handwriting has gotten SO much worse since I started using computers so much. I used to be so proud of it too... I had the neatest handwriting in school. Sigh!

Laura: I read that post of yours and loved it! I think it's such a great idea to vent on looseleaf paper and then shred it. It's kind of symbolic... sort of like destroying the anger/frustration that you feel. I definitely have to try that sometime!

Tiana: Oh man, my diaries and journals were nothing but emotions and angst. And swearing. I think I have the foulest language 1) when journaling or 2) when driving in the city.

LD: That's a really cool course assignment! Wish I'd had assignments like that back in school :D

Michael: Rereading old journals is quite the experience, isn't it!?

Don: Your blog is awesome! It feels great to write stuff and have people read them... but I think there's a lot that can be said about writing stuff that no one else will ever see. It's just for you. It's helped me work out a lot of frustrating situations.

Nicole: Diaries are not for everyone! :)

Marcy: I think journals will help us stay in touch with what it was like to be a teenager growing up. Pretty handy for people who write MG/YA!

Medeia Sharif said...

I journal sometimes. I used to journal a lot. I didn't keep those old journals, but sometimes I wish I did.

I never caught onto the LiveJournal craze years ago. I had a Yahoo 360 blog that was set to private, though. When it was phased out, my blog disappeared.

Julie Dao said...

Medeia: Sorry about your blog disappearing! They should have warned people about that.

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