The most special things are the things that don't really belong anywhere but here.

Monday, January 20, 2014


My diary, ages 12-14
A few weeks ago, my big sister told me that she threw away all her old diaries. I asked her why on earth would she do that, and she replied, “Well, I mean, why keep them? Someone will just find them and read them, and do I really want that?” I decided not to tell her that I was planning on writing a blog containing excerpts from my actual middle school diaries. 

Do you still have your old diaries? Do you keep one now? Why do we keep them? First, the obvious: it's fun to remember the things that we thought were important, what made us upset or happy, with the older perspectives we have now. Take this existential musing from April 11th, 1997: 

"Isn’t it just like life where everything goes opposite of what you want? It makes you wonder just who God is. Lately, I’ve been thinking he’s probably an asshole. I don’t understand him. I don’t understand why he does what he does. I just wish I did. Like, it’s my spring break and it’s in the 30’s!"

I also find the illustrations of my hormone-induced rages to be amusing/disturbing: 

I did not understand that you could turn off the "over" button.

I'm impressed that I dealt with insomnia by designing roller coasters:

And I love finding evidence that I already wanted to write about everything. Interesting that they were all tragedies, though...(The "Irish thing"= the Irish Potato Famine). Big goals!

And then there's this….

Buggin'. Guess what my favorite movie was?
Diaries can also help us remember things that we've forgotten. One thing I may not have remembered without my diary is that for a time in junior high, I went on the Oprah chatroom and pretended to be a housewife. This is the only time I've ever pretended to be someone I'm not on the internet, and in my defense, I think it started out as a joke with a friend. However, the joke soon turned into this desperate, pathetic thing, fueled by my desire to skip being a teenager and instead be a confident wife and mother with a picket fence who was never afraid and who never felt bad about anything, because that's what being an adult is like, right? 

I would get very irritated when the other Oprah ladies would talk about problems with their friends or family, or when they would swear. Where was their decency?! Didn't they know that they were OPRAH LADIES and they were to always wear button-up sweaters like the audience on TV, and the worst thing in their lives was supposed to be that they couldn't "remember their spirit"? Obviously, I understood nothing of adulthood, Oprah's audience, or even reality. But anyway, thanks to my old diary (or unfortunately),  I remember this moment from my history and development as a person.

Why do we go back and read diaries from our formative years? I think it’s the same reason why we are interested in any kind of history at all; because if you’re closer to the origin story, you’re closer to figuring out why everything exists. But are you? The genesis is the genesis, but how can something new interpret, or even report, what is happening to it with clarity? 

I wrote that I felt guilty about lying to the Oprah ladies, when I'm nearly positive that I never did. I wrote about how difficult my parents were, when I know that my parents never had rules and were always nice to us. I remember being kind of weird in middle school, but my diary makes me seem like a social, sassy teenager who was actually very normal (rage and OCD issues aside).  I remember being very sad in junior high, but most of my diary entries are very optimistic. Have you ever known a nerdy kid who suffered in high school but now wears their former nerd-badge with pride, as if it were a quirky, cute, endearing part of their lives that makes them more interesting? The more things happen to us, the more our perspectives on ourselves change, and the more we rewrite our own histories.

And then there's the idea of ignorance. Relying on your sixth grade diary to figure yourself out now may be like relying on cavemen to figure out the origins of the universe. There's this romantic idea that when we were younger as a species, we knew something that we have since forgotten, and with some situations, that may be true. But these were also the people who made human sacrifices and had prisoners fight lions in arenas and do other cruel, barbaric stuff. Were these guys really enlightened? Maybe the sun gods drawn on cave walls really ARE documentation of alien secrets and communications, or maybe they were just stories to explain the unexplainable. I think for the most part, the younger you are, the dumber you are. That being said, I would be totally stoked if aliens were real. 

(Okay… this is actually pretty sweet….)

I'm not saying that people shouldn't remember or reflect on their pasts; I actually think that everyone should, and I'm not saying that we shouldn't bother reading our old diaries either! What I am saying is that it may be helpful to remember that even when we document our own lives (maybe especially when?) we are unreliable narrators. Diaries are a mixture of reporting, wish ful-fillment, and an often skewed sense of the self. How do you separate what actually happened from “I want to interpret it this way so I’m the hero of the story,”or even from, “I'm writing like this instead of like that to sustain some part of my current identity." You know what I mean? What am I talking about again? 

So, these are the problems with diaries. I guess. Maybe they should be called TRAISIT entires instead: The Truth as I See it Today. Who cares though, besides historians, right? Or maybe therapists? Or maybe lawyers?

Or maybe like, all of them?

Assuming that many of us are not sociopaths or war criminals, I think that the main goal of writing and saving a diary isn't just about the "truth" or correctly documenting our histories. I don't think it's just about having a chuckle and remembering either. I think that most of the time, the goal of the diary is to correct whatever disconnect we felt that made us want to write the entry in the first place. Yes, it’s cathartic to get stuff out, but we really keep the page or hit “save” on the document instead of throwing it away for two reasons: 

1) Saving something means that it matters. Your feelings and experiences matter. This random thing that happened matters. You matter. And...

2) It's nice to reread something and think, YES, that’s EXACTLY how it feels, isn’t it? That’s EXACTLY what it’s like, isn’t it? You validate your own experiences when you reread them, even if the person whose experiences you are reading is just the person you were two winters ago. There's the illusion that there is someone else besides you in the room and in the situation and in the conversation, even though there’s not, and being understood feels good. That could seem delusional and depressing, OR you could think of it as a step towards connecting with yourself and being fully integrated. I choose the later…obviously…It is so weird though, what makes us feel better, isn't it? 

All this being said, I like to think that diaries can also help us appreciate the ordinary little things about our every day lives, causing us to reflect on all the things that have changed and all the things that have stayed the same. There are several entries I wrote as a kid that I swear I could have written yesterday. (Ex: May 3rd, 1998: "I hate change. I have gas.") And there seems to be this theme, in mine at least, of really wanting to keep the fleeting nowness of now eternal, even if I didn't love everything that was happening. Like in this entry:

July 31st 1997: “When I was 8 or 9… I thought my life was boring and nothing great. But now, I miss it. I miss it so much just because it wasn’t now. It’s weird how when you thought nothing was so great about your life you can find so many wonderful and perfect things about it now. And that that’s why I’m enjoying my life and the summer, cause in four years I’ll wish it were now. And there are great things about now. I’m still a child, I still have it easy, I have a lot, if not everything!”

Thanks for enjoying it for me, Little B!

So now is your turn. Do you ever go back and read your old entries? Do you still keep a diary today? Have you ever reread something that totally surprised you, made you wonder if you were a reliable narrator, or if maybe you've altered history in your head? Do you think aliens exist, and are you afraid that your diaries will ever be used against you in future war criminal trials? Discuss!

1 comment:

  1. Oh man! I have thrown out certain diary pages. Mostly because I didn't want my mom to read them while packing up my room when they moved and it seemed unbearable for her to read my teenage angst. I did save the pages where I had done ridiculous things, like taping a gum wrapper from a piece of gum a cute boy had given me into the diary or the dollar bill that a cute boy had given me after I'd loaned him a dollar for the coke machine--I take comfort in knowing that as long as I have my diary, I will have at least a dollar to my name :)