I recently went on vacation to my family home, and got to do some of my favorite things with some of my favorite people: camping, swimming, cooking, singing Uptown Funk at the dinner table to make my nephew laugh.
I also had the surreal experience of learning that I’d left about six boxes of my old stuff at my Pap’s house, where I used to live before I moved to Baltimore. Like a time capsule from past-me. I found: books, mostly crappy books, reminders of how I used to waste my money before I had to use it to support myself. My old teddy bear wearing a Christmas sweater, a gift when I was a little girl. Strange souvenirs of my youth, love letters from old boyfriends, things that had some meaning to me back then, which I don’t remember now. But best and worst of all… two of my old journals from 1999/2000.
I’ve kept journals almost all my life. I started keeping them regularly in high school, a brave act considering my sister’s disregard for privacy. (My mom’s response to my complaints about my journals being read: If you don’t want anyone to read it, then don’t write it down. A disappointing, though practical, response.) Several years ago I found and read (and destroyed) my high school journals, most of which lament not having a boyfriend and chronicle the more unpleasant parts of being me – parent and sibling drama, friend drama, general complaining about life. It ranged from boring to depressing… kind of like my life back then.
Unfortunately, I found the same crap in my 1999/2000 journals: complaints about my roommate/best friend, anxious overanalysis of my interactions with various lovers, and a skewed perspective on the events in my life that is so obvious to me now, it makes me cringe when I read the evidence of how stupid I was. That experience I had where the guy I had a crush on wasn’t interested in me, because he was into my best friend? I knew that back then, but you wouldn’t know it from the journal. That time my boyfriend broke up with me because I didn’t stand up for him against my tyrannical roommate when she lied to the landlord and had him kicked out? He was totally right, and I have known that for years. How does me-back-then not see it? She didn’t even mention it – just glossed right over it – “He moved into Ed’s house in Oakland, where all the raver kids hang out. I hope he doesn’t do too many drugs!”
Somehow I managed to not burn the journals in the campfire, though firestarting would have been the most appropriate use for these pages, evidence of my own humiliating self-centered dumbassery. Instead I packed them up with the teddy bear and the strange trinkets I half-remember and the few amazing family photos (my grandfather’s two grandmothers sitting on a front porch in 1948? Thank you, past me, for not throwing that away!) and the Earthsea books and brought them back to Baltimore with me.
I guess the most troubling thing about reading over past journals happens when I go to pick up the pen, or in the case of the blog, the keyboard. I hesitate, not wanting to make past-me’s mistakes – stupid not-seeing, overamplifying the miserable aspects of life, glossing over the truth, and missing the truly worthwhile details completely.
The challenge is discerning, in the moment, what details will be worthwhile later on down the road. My favorite dog’s decline into old age? The amazing meal I made out of what would have been garbage if I’d had enough money to buy something else? Ideas about what I want to do with my life, however fleeting? Emotions related to watching the effects of climate change? The garden, the gentle tilt of the praying mantis’s head, the disappointingly bland tomatoes being produced en masse? What, future-me, what do you want me to say?
For now, I’m consoling myself with those moments when writing isn’t something I’m doing, but something that’s being done to me; when the words fall out of the pen without me thinking them first, and when I’m surprised by what I’ve written. I can feel the difference between that writing and what happens when I am writing because I don’t have anything else to do. But all writers know that those magic moments only happen when you sit down and put pen to the page, sometimes without anything at all worthwhile to say. And that sometimes you can write for pages without saying anything that feels good… but that has to be ok.
Fortunately I don’t think there are any more hidden journals. I’ve probably had my last experience of cringing at past-me’s idiocy for now, at least, until future-me decides to go back and read what I write today.