The Unbearable Banishment: Burn, bury or bequeath? Please advise.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Burn, bury or bequeath? Please advise.

If you walk down into my New Jersey suburban basement and look behind the laundry machines in a dark corner, you'll find this storage container:

It is chock-filled with my old journals. I don't call them diaries because that would be a bit girlie, wouldn't it? Journals sounds much more literary. They cover my early- to mid-20s when I first got to New York City. I think. I haven't been in them for quite some time and am not entirely sure about the time frame.

There are over a dozen filled notebooks.

Additionally, there are five black binders filled with single-spaced type written pages. There's just shy of 800 pages in total. (Yes, they're numbered. That's how I roll.)

I'm starting to wonder what to do with these. Pretty much the LAST thing I want is for anyone (i.e., The Daughters) to stumble across them. I never considered the problem until just recently. 8-Year Old is gobbling up books at a pretty good clip. So she has skills.

The problem is the content. These were written during a period in my life when I had nobody to talk to. Basically, I vented to pieces of paper and typewriters. The result is that the content is, by and large, unrelentingly dreary. This is where I poured my guts out, and pour I did. To read them, you'd think I had a miserable, wretched existence. We're talking Dickens. But that's not the case. I just needed an outlet for my dark thoughts.

I am adamantly opposed to having anyone read these, but I can't bring myself to set them on fire yet. I tried once. What do I do?

Incidentally, I can assure you that there's no buried treasure here. There's no Hollywood ending. It's very, very, very boring stuff. For real.


Blogger Leah said...

I have many filled journals as well, and many of them I think I wouldn't want Hedgie to read...or would I, someday?

All I can say is that a friend of mine burned all her journals in a fit of horror one day, and now regrets it terribly.

June 5, 2010 at 11:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, DO NOT repeat my mistake. More than 30 years ago, I dumped a stack of old notebooks (they contained poetry fragments, political rants, local observations. Trash, I thought)in the rubbish bin.
Years later, I stumbled across a short story that could only have come from my old scribblings.And a TV script I'd abandoned later turned up, re-worked, in the BBC studios. [friend told me about that one]
So...seal them to be willed to your children. Or allow said children access when they are more mature?
Behind a washing machine in the basement? tsk,tsk.

June 5, 2010 at 11:32 PM  
Blogger mapstew said...

A few years ago I came upon my 'writings', many books of stories, poems, and songs that I had written during various stages of my life. And in my angst-wridden ardour, (helped along by copious amounts of a favourite cuban rum!) I did indeed burn said scribblings! A deed I have forever since regretted! Don't make the same mistake my friend! :¬)

June 5, 2010 at 11:43 PM  
Blogger Leah said...

Dammit, UB, I clicked on that pic to try to get a gander at your private thoughts, and the only word I could make out was "her"!

June 5, 2010 at 11:51 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Leah: Oh, you're and EVIL one, aren't you!? Do you know that I INTENTIONALLY used a low-resolution, pixel-obscuring, photo because I know there are people like you in the world.

MIT: Thieving your ideas?! Have you no recourse? My blood would boil.

Map: I'll heed your advice but I'm still very uncomfortable having this stuff around. What a big baby I was!

June 5, 2010 at 11:55 PM  
Blogger Ellie said...

Funny thing about journals. I have loads too. From time to time I might pick one up and read bits from there or then. Invariably, whatever passage I land on is BORING and whiny and makes me cringe at my younger self; which is why I like blogging. It documents happenings and trains of thought, but the public nature of it forces a bit of editorial discipline, which I wish I had applied to my 'journaling'.

June 6, 2010 at 12:48 AM  
Blogger Ponita in Real Life said...

I'd say store them off premises somewhere and will them to your kids, or let them read them when they are much older, if you so desire.

The only experience I have with journals is with my oldest sister's. She died in a motor vehicle accident 4 1/2 years ago and after her funeral, we all got together (husband, kids, and siblings) and burned her journals.

No one read them. No one felt worthy of knowing her innermost thoughts. She spoke to all of us over the years that she was alive, was very open and caring and nurturing, and everyone just felt that reading her journals after she was gone would be too invasive.

So we had a roaring fire in a barrel one night and burned them, taking turns tearing out pages and feeding them to the flames. We called it 'Wordsmoke'... She was a writer, you see, and had had a couple of poems published over the years. But her journals were the secret heart of her and were private. And she wasn't there to ever tell anyone they could read them. So we respected that and they are out in the universe with her energy now, tagging along exploring the stars.

June 6, 2010 at 1:14 AM  
Blogger kyknoord said...

Have you considered paper-mâché? That way you could make your daughters complicit in their destruction.

June 6, 2010 at 3:09 AM  
Blogger savannah said...

i just read this to the MITM and we both came to the same conclusion: DON'T BURN THEM certainly store them in a slightly more secure situation (lock & key metal box perhaps?), but wait a few more years and revisit them. he felt that in 10-15 years you might feel differently about what's contained in them.

now take an aspirin and call me in the morning. our consultation bill will arrive next week. :~D xxoxoxox

June 6, 2010 at 5:59 AM  
Blogger Mr London Street said...

Mine are under the bed. Another vote for keeping them; maybe you'll find more to like in them (or less to forgive) in another ten years.

June 6, 2010 at 6:23 AM  
Blogger RubyTwoShoes said...

I'm afraid I cant help with a suggestion - other than bury them deeper?!
But I am impressed with your fresh pressed collection. In the New Year I reflected on some of my old journals and turned it into a blog post, a kind of retrospective look at what each journal covered, and the time it stood for. it was fun

June 6, 2010 at 6:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do what this gal did:

June 6, 2010 at 7:10 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Ellie: I have the same gut reaction when I pick them up. They're a terrible read! I can't believe they came from me! That's probably why I haven't looked at them for such a long time.

Ponita: That's a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing. None of you were at least a BIT tempted to peek? Her most passionate writing could have been within. Unless they were like mine, that is.

Kykn: I think they'd have a lot more more fun throwing the pages into a bonfire. And it would be more symbolic. (See Ponita's story.)

Savannah: I actually TRIED to burn them once but I couldn't bring myself to do it. As much as I hate them right now, who knows how I'll feel down the road?

MLS: Under the bed sounds like a terrible place to keep them! It'll take no effort at all for them to be discovered. Do you enjoy living on the razor's edge?

Ruby: I am very neat. I like neatness. Neat clothing, and such. And the theater. And I had two Siamese cats. I also drive a Subaru. But I'm not gay, all signs pointing to the contrary.

Anon: Thanks, but I'm trying to avoid a public humiliation.

June 6, 2010 at 9:08 AM  
Blogger Here In Franklin said...

We're in "tossing out" mode here. Neither of us is very sentimental and I would burn them in a jiffy. Cold-hearted I am.

June 6, 2010 at 12:54 PM  
Anonymous annie said...

I had journals like that going back into my high school days. Stacks of them. I toted them from one place to another all through my 20's and early 30's and when I bought my first house (I was 32), I destroyed every single one.

Why? For the reasons you mention. They were filled with angst and anyone who read them wouldn't have been able to reconcile the me they knew with the pages. It was strictly an exercise in exorcism, getting negative thoughts, disappointments and generally sad stuff out of my head. What else do you do with this stuff when it no longer serves a purpose?

I think what tipped it for me was reading them again and being appalled. That enabled me to get rid of them and give up the whole journaling thing. It's even more navel gazing than blogging.

Torch them.

June 6, 2010 at 2:06 PM  
Blogger Pat said...

If - as you well may - you decide as I did - to write your memoirs you will be so thankful to have some reference books that you can trust. I had one diary for the year 1949 when my world fell apart.
So there was a lot of soul and memory searching.

June 6, 2010 at 2:34 PM  
Blogger Pueblo girl said...

I would go with burying them in the garden. The thought of digging the hole should help clarify your thoughts on whether it's worth it, or you would prefer to burn them.

June 6, 2010 at 4:21 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

HIF: I don't think that's particularly cold hearted. Tossing puppies into a fire is cold hearted.

Annie: That's what I'm leaning towards. Torching them. They really are painfully bad to read.

Pat: Writing my memoirs is an unthinkable task to me. It would be a very slim volume, indeed.

PG: Buried in the basement. Buried in the earth. Same difference. I either want them around or I don't.

June 6, 2010 at 8:30 PM  
Blogger mjp said...

Use them to write a memoir (all the cool kids are doing it), then get rid of them.

I know you say they are boring, but I'll bet that certain bits remind you of things you did that you may not have otherwise remembered. And before you say that your memoir would be boring, rewind and reconsider. Everyone's life is interesting to outsiders and voyeurs.

Write the memoir, then get rid of the evidence. But not until you've exploited it. Those kinds of things are valuable - look at how many people here regret dumping theirs.

June 6, 2010 at 8:34 PM  
Blogger secret agent woman said...

I have a smaller stack - my plan is to go trough them, cull out the parts I want to keep and destroy the rest.

June 6, 2010 at 9:45 PM  
Anonymous daisyfae said...

i journaled from 12 years old until i met the man i later married, at 19. i have carted these journals around in a small, sealed box.

the writing is horrible. the only reason i saved them was for my own use - as i raised my teenaged children, if i needed to remind myself what it felt like to be 12, 13, 14 again? i figured i could read them to give me better insight into my childrens thought processes...

but your post has reminded me that it is time to burn them...

and ponita? that was beautiful. and amazing...

June 6, 2010 at 11:15 PM  
Anonymous Sid said...

Hahah. Just reading everyone's comments and can't help laughing at how they've regretted burning them. I have journals too but they're not about my day to day life. The journals are a space for me to practice my writing. To see if I can come up with anything worthy of reading by the public.

I was going to suggest you send your journals to me BUT what if you're right. What if it is tedious???

June 7, 2010 at 3:08 AM  
Blogger Nimpipi said...

Don’t throw them away. Lock them in a bank if you have to. No, but that would mean you were taking yourself too seriously. I take that back.

If daughter finds your non-diaries and squirms, she'll have learnt her lesson.

I found my mommy's journals when I was 14. The mention of men who weren't my father caused minor aneurysms in my poor teenage brain. And I never went near the secret drawer at the back of her cupboard again. Of course it may be argued that my wimpishness (slash self preservation) outweighed curiosity about what mommy was like back in the 60s.

I've kept a diary since I had milk teeth. I used to write with a pink sketch pens and use a lot of stickers. My elder brother would devour the crap I wrote and tease me ALL THE TIME. This carried on till, oh wait, he still does it. Bastard.

Fact is, hide them journals all you want, they’ll be got to anyway. Moral of the story: please don’t junk years of depressive personal history just because a little girl wants to know what daddy was like when he was young.

flashes brilliant cheeky smile

June 7, 2010 at 3:26 AM  
Anonymous nuttycow said...

Keep keep keep.

I've kept my old diaries. Embarrassing as they are. They'll be worth a fortune one day, I'm sure.

June 7, 2010 at 3:34 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

mjp: That's some very thoughtful advice but I still insist that the material is beyond dull. It's negative dull.

SAW: Have you re-read any of them yet? Let me know if the quality is up to snuff. Are they cringe-inducing?

Nimpipi: You are such a good writer. So funny, with a real voice. What a lucky find!

Nutty: OK OK OK! (For now...)

June 7, 2010 at 7:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Publish them. Look at all the Bloggers who have published their journals and turned then into books and made millions!

Girl with a one track mind.
Petite Anglais.
My Boyfriend is a twat.

to name just a few.

June 7, 2010 at 7:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I'd save them, possibly bequeath them to your kids after you pass on.

I still don't really know my father that well, and even though I chat with him all the time I know that there are segments of his life that are totally closed off to me and my older sisters.

A lot of this is related to Vietnam. In high school, I came across several letters he wrote to my mom while he was on cruise in the late 60s. Pretty graphic/horrible stuff.

At the time I felt reading them was invasive (we were cleaning out a crawlspace). But now, I'm sorta glad I saw them, it has provided some context to things he's said, done, miscellaneous behavior patterns, and so on.

Based on what I've read here, your relationship w/ your kids seems comparatively well-adjusted. Taking them to art exhibits, shows, the Park, et cetera. So yeah, maybe you don't need to leave that window open. But I do think people eventually get curious about their own history, and understanding all of the events of their parents' lives before they were born, is a pretty common symptom of reaching that understanding.


June 9, 2010 at 11:52 AM  
Anonymous Greg T. said...

Read them one at a time and burn them one at a time. Over a glass of brandy. The last thing you want is to have your daughter's re-evaluate their opinion of their father after you are long gone. Just my opinion. You know the saying --- opinions are like a$$holes, everyone has them and they all stink.

June 13, 2010 at 8:24 PM  
Blogger Blues said...

I had those same kinds of journals. The freaky thing is that I can't find them.

July 4, 2010 at 1:38 PM  

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