Should You Burn Your Diaries? and Other Musings

I’ve kept a lot of diaries in my time, usually with fancy covers.  I have a leather blank-page book with a flower embossed on the cover (I meant to write poetry in it),  two Jane Austen notebooks (very cute), quaint imported notebooks, spiral notebooks, Moleskine notebooks which somehow I never fill up, and a Penguin On the Road notebook.

Mind you, I do not “journal”; I write in a journal. I also dislike the verbal adjective“journaling” (a gerund).  The mere mention of a “journaling” class in an adult education catalogue repels me.  In my experience, people who talk about “journaling” tend to be breathy pre-Raphaelite types who cry in public and are diagnosed with the mysterious borderline personality.  Everyone has sympathy, because they are so outwardly feeble (tough as nails inside, though).  Alas, we are not pre-Raphaelite flowers in the meadow here. It’s the midwest, baby.  We are goddamned tough prairie grass.

I wish I could say I’d recorded the narrative of my life in journals, but, alas,  I only write in them when I am feeling blue.  And that is sad!  I have mused on the loss of a friend with leukemia, and days spent sobbing after my favorite cat was put down because her kidneys were failing.  And why hang on to all this sadness?  How can I get rid of these journals?

It would be symbolic to purge the sadness by make a bonfire of the diaries, but that is illegal:  open burning pollutes the air.   What other methods?Shredding? However, it takes about an hour to shred a single page on our Office Depot shredder.  Perhaps there are super-shredders at one of the old photocopying stores.   

THE BULLET JOURNAL.  A few days ago, when I looked up New Year trends, many magazine writers and bloggers cited the “bullet journal.” I have had trouble grasping the concept, but it seems to be a planner.  The women’s magazine Good Housekeeping claims that  bullet journals are sui generis.  “Unlike traditional organizers and planners, this method encourages authors to examine how their goals, tasks, and responsibilities make them feel. Instead of a standard checklist, bullet journaling requires daily, monthly, and yearly reflections along with bullet points and asterisks.”

Well, that is fine with me, though I’ll stick to my planner.  

WHAT ABOUT ALBUMS?  I would like to see a revival of old-fashioned albums, like the one in Jane Austen’s Emma.  When Emma and Harriet ask Mr. Elton to write in an album, he writes a romantic riddle, which Emma is sure is for Harriet; no, it is for Emma.  Other friends write verses. 

 Autograph albums were briefly trendy in my childhood.  We never met famous people, but who cared?   My friends wrote a lot of goofy stuff.

What is your favorite kind of journal?  Or do you get rid of them, in which case you must tell me how!

16 thoughts on “Should You Burn Your Diaries? and Other Musings”

  1. I bought my journals from the op shop – others’ discarded birthday gifts – and filled them with what happened, speculation on why it happened, and how I felt about it all. Sometimes I didn’t even know what I thought or felt until pen hit paper. That’s when I said that I was journaling, because it made me feel modern for a Luddite. Made me smile to hear that you prefer to write.

    I burned many in fireplaces, and shredded others to feed worms in the compost bin. Other options could be paper mâché or adding them to a paper layer in a No-Dig garden bed (no idea if prairie grass allows this).

    Do you still have your goofy old autograph album? I do. 🙂

    1. I wish we had an op shop! I have read (somewhere) about people “repurposeing” old notebooks and even swapping those that still have pages. Composting is such a good idea, and so is papier mache (but the latter beyond me). The autograph book is long gone, alas.

  2. I have kept diaries since I was in my teens. But I have thrown them out. I tried keeping a bullet journal last month but I found it tedious. So I now have a Hobonichi Techo Cousin (do a search on Google and you’ll see that the Hobonichi, although Japanese, has a cult following outside Japan). It’s a planner/diary in one. I keep another small journal for spiritual meditations. I find it hard to meditate for long periods of time, but if I write down my spiritual insights, I can concentrate without difficulty. I also write down story ideas (I am a writer and have published a novella).

    Every other year I sort through my journals and toss most of them out.

    1. A very good idea to have a meditation journal! And I’m sure the Hobnochi is wonderful. I have to fill up all my partly-filled notebooks first. That’s one of my New Year’s resolutions. And congrats on your novella!

  3. I’ve been keeping a diary / journal since I was given a diary, the kind with a lock and key, in 5th grade. I think it was a reward for no longer sucking my finger (read into that what you will). I kept a diary for several years in high school, but it soon became a compulsion for most of my life. There are gaps, though, during some of the more exciting / traumatic times.
    I’ve recently been editing them, removing some of the more graphic episodes or ones I’d rather not be read. At this point, I’m planning to leave the books to one of my nieces. But I may change my mind. Destroying them seems akin to erasing myself, although I haven’t cured cancer or solved any mysteries of life.

    1. How nice to have a lifetime of memories in diaries! I’m sure your nieces will adore reading them. I do know women who have not dared write too much for fear someone would read them. You should hang on to your diaries, because they are a source of your history. My idea is to get rid of the ghosts of sadness and start writing about the jolly times!

  4. Here is another comment from Ellen. There is a technical problem, and the blog bars her from posting. If anyone knows how to fix this…

    Ellen writes,

    I’ve never kept a diary consistently for more than a couple of months — if by diary, you mean records and thoughts about my life. I have kept notebooks and still have them of literary and research projects as I did them. But once there was a computer I began to type them and save them in files. At first I printed so as not to lose these important thoughts but by 1999 or so I printed little. I have been blogging for years, though less frequently than I did at first. This shows me that my urge is to reach people and communicate with them, and to have dialogue and response. I divided my blogs into three when I realized one part of my audience would be offended at say more personal thoughts and that’s what another part wanted to read for. They evolved and my LiveJournal blog is now political because I didn’t want to shut down and I hope it’s useful that way.

  5. Your blogs are the best kind of journals: thoughtful and literary. I’m sure the computer changed the habits of many of us, and communication is at the core of blogs. And I do like the idea of your three blogs by subject. You share knowledge and personal revelations. And I don’t think I have the url for your political blog, so please share it.

    1. Trying again: here is the political blog: now my “scheme” for it is to post important articles which others may not have come across. For this coming week, a longish piece in the Nation by Arundati Roy about what’s been happening in India: very bad, Kathy. Last week Wm Grieder’s Rolling Back the 20th Century:

  6. I like your thoughts on people who journal (as a verb), the delicate flower people. I grew up in the midwest so hope to be tough prairie grass too. When my husband died suddenly three years ago I quickly bought a journal and have filled about 5 of them. I can read early entries and see how far I’ve come in coming back to life. My journals have beautiful covers and magnetic closures.

    1. I’m very sorry for the loss of your husband. That is a tragic loss, one of the worst. And I do like the idea of your journal helping you deal with loss and chronicling your progress. I’m glad it has helped.

      Since I can’t have a bonfire, I will have to be more optimistic in my journals. So thank you for commenting.

      On Thu, Jan 2, 2020 at 12:24 PM Thornfield Hall: A Book Blog wrote:


  7. Interesting post. I’ve written a diary since I was 12, I buy A4 sized hardback books with ruled paper. I’m on the 24th one! I used to write every day but I’m so busy now that it’s more like every few weeks.

    1. 24 is a lot of diaries! It IS harder to find time later. A daily diary is the best kind, but I completely forget about it for months at a time. Viva la diary! When it goes well, that is. 🙂

      On Thu, Jan 2, 2020 at 3:57 PM Thornfield Hall: A Book Blog wrote:


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