source: Jennifer Lee
On my eighth birthday one of my classmates gave me a Hello Kitty diary. Determined not to waste the present, I began to write in it. Little did I know that Hello Kitty diary would start me on what would become a major part of my life for the next thirteen years.
Keeping a journal became habit. I would write every evening about my day, no matter how dull. The pages would be filled with my thoughts, feelings, and concerns. In that first Hello Kitty diary I filled page after page of worrying over how I’d look with braces and wondering if Paul J in my fourth grade class had a crush on me. One particularly memorable page was covered completely in the words “I <3 Paul.”
By middle school I was taking my journals to class with me. Anytime there was a quiet moment in class I would open the journal and write. Soon I became known as the girl who always had a notebook with her.
A selection of the journals I filled
In high school I went over the deep end with journaling. I carried the journal-of-the-moment with me everywhere, always ready to take an opportunity to stop and write. Rather than try to make friends during the lunch hour, I would find the emptiest table in the cafeteria and spend the time surrounded by my own thoughts. I challenged myself to see how much I could write each day, a challenge which culminated in my filling a journal in a week.
Journaling got me through some really rough times and provided me a safe place to try to work through depression, crushes, hurt over losing friends, confusion about sexuality, and the other typical concerns of growing up. It was a large part of who I was, and journals filled a huge plastic tub I kept in the closet.
Please note the past tense.
I stopped journaling religiously during my final semester of college. Between working part time at a women’s shelter, volunteering at an animal shelter, and finishing up my degree it was difficult to find the time or energy to journal. I tried to keep up with it, but I kept finding other things I’d rather do.
This fall I took a hard look at my life and the changes that had occurred over the past year. One of the most obvious differences was that I had stopped journaling completely. Rather than focusing on recording my life, I was focused on living it and staying in present moments as much as possible. As a result I felt happier, less anxious, and I wasn’t ruminating on negative events nearly as much.
I had hauled my dozens of journals in their plastic tub over one thousand miles with me when I moved after college, and then they once again sat quietly in the closet at my new apartment. After some serious thought, I decided the time had come. I was finally ready to say goodbye to my journals.
Before getting rid of the diaries, I went through them one last time to see if there were any memories or creative works I wanted to save. Rather than a stroll down memory lane, I ended up wandering down embarrassment boulevard. Remember the entire page where I declared my love for Paul over and over? It turns out that wasn’t even the worst part. I also found a detailed plan to overthrow the fifth grade social structure involving the choice of who gets to write the assignments for the day on the class whiteboard, the phrase “brace face” used in reference to how I feared I would look once getting braces, and a vow to someday marry James Maslow of Big Time Rush fame.
Of course, there were more serious entries. The diaries surrounding my sixteenth year were especially difficult to go through. I ran across things that I had completely forgotten, and realized I was glad to have forgotten them. That was the final deciding factor as to whether I would keep the diaries. I don’t need to remember everything about my past- if I’ve forgotten something, there’s probably a good reason. Most of the journals were then tossed into trash bags and then placed in the dumpster the next morning. A few lucky journals would receive a different fate.
My parents live about an hour away from me, and have a beautiful backyard complete with fire ring. The weekend following the Great Journal Cleanse I drove out to visit them, the remaining journals traveling with me in my purse. My parents and I went out to the fire ring and I tore out all the pages of the remaining diaries. Dad got the fire started; Mom and I stayed out to watch as the pages burned and to tend to the fire.
The burning remains of 13 years of writing
I felt like an enormous weight had been removed from my shoulders as I watched the pages curl in on themselves and blacken. Now, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t go back and relive my past successes and despairs. All I have left are my faded and time-warped memories, which I honestly don’t think should be taken as a true measure of how things happened.
Now that the journals are gone, I am more focused than ever on living in the moment and enjoying it rather than just recording it. I find myself more frequently pushing myself out of my comfort zone and interacting with the world in ways I never would have before. For example, I’ve started sharing my writing whereas I used to hoard it like a dragon of words. I now have a poetry blog on tumblr that is dedicated to my sharing my pieces, and I attend a monthly open mic night to perform and get to know other poets in my city.
The journals were a huge part of my identity for thirteen years. That urge to record life and try to make sense of it will probably never go away, but the urge to keep all those reflections and realizations to myself has faded. I’m using the energy I put into containing myself and my feelings in notebooks and putting it towards expanding out of myself instead. So far I like the changes.
Here’s a question and a challenge for you: What are you still holding onto that is keeping you from expanding and living in the moment? Are you ready to watch it burn?