Diaries and Dramas

A few weeks after my mother died, my sister and I went through her things.  This involved scaling a gigantic mountain as my mother was a hoarder.  At one point I heard my sister sobbing and found her holding my mother’s diary.  It was an odd journal, full of stories of things that hadn’t happened, cruel comments about her children that made no sense, and serious signs of instability.  But all my sister saw were the horrible words written about her.  At the time we had a bonfire outside and so I took the diary, plus more of my mother’s that I found, and threw them onto the fire with broken-hearted fury.  And then I went home, gathered the diaries that I had kept since I was nine years old, and burned them, too.  There was a rage inside that words could so hurt.  I didn’t ever, ever, want something I had written to hurt another person so deeply. 

It probably wasn’t smart to make such an important decision that impacted not just me but siblings as well, when none of us were emotionally stable.  And over the past few years I have had brief moments of regret. 

And over the past few years I have never again kept a diary. 

Here’s the thing though.  Most writers keep some sort of notebook.  Something that holds bits of over-heard dialog, descriptions of someone passed in a street, ideas for stories, and random thoughts on writing.  I keep having this little nagging voice whispering to me that I should be writing life down.  Added to that, I know there are many types of diaries.  I know people who keep weather journals, nature journals, bird journals, and even one who keeps a running tab on river levels.  So if I really wanted to keep a diary, there are a lot of forms I could choose. 

Yet I keep going back to that moment when my mother’s words devastated my sister.  And I believe that if I started a diary again, the words would be false because I would mentally be editing them out of fear of hurting someone.  And that kind of writing is dangerous because there’s the possibility of the writing becoming a lie.  I find myself in this quandary of wanting to keep a journal and yet not knowing how to make it both honest and painless.  This is a common tightrope for writers to walk.  The work needs to be honest.  A friend described this beautifully when she said she was using a pen name to remove the inner critic that sat on her shoulder whispering, ‘what would your mother think?’.  But a pen name and the anonymity that brings isn’t an option when it comes to a journal.

Fiction is easier.  I have written stories where family members have been represented in characters, and not always favorably.  Do I worry about offending a family member?  Heck no.  I can always say, ‘it’s fiction’.  That excuse doesn’t exist for journals. 

I went into an office supply store this weekend and stood before the variety of notebooks thinking how much I would like to take on those blank pages.  I haven’t felt that desire to journal in a long time.  But as I reached for one, the fear came back.  I believe journals are important, especially for writers, but I haven’t found a solution to writing honestly without possibly breaking my son’s heart some day.  Even though I’m not my mother, and even though I want to record my writing life, not his life, is it worth the risk?  Some day I’ll find the balanced answer, but obviously it’s not today.

4 thoughts on “Diaries and Dramas

  1. Oh Lisa, this entry makes me SO sad. I knew some of the facts of why you had destroyed your own journals, but not that emotive gut punch that fueled that fire of destruction.

    I think writers should ALL be disowned, like I was. That is SO freeing! All of a sudden, the decision to live, honestly and truly, and not be destroyed by ANY others, fuels the energy and intent to write in that same vein. Julia Cameron’s VEIN OF GOLD.

    Besides, I have written so many pages, over 2,000, that NO one I know that I might actually matter enough with to be hurt, OR that might read to ANY extent and not get what I was feeling, would get far enough to ever be affected negatively. It’s too BORING!!!

    I have thought so many times through these past seven years about my loss of your journals, and only now, as you are writing on your own site, do I feel a recompense to that loss, a sense that all you convey contains all the best of the spirit of your works that are lost in themselves, but found here. And I cannot imagine that you are less honest in private than you are here, with us.

    Thanks you for ALL you give, in All that you express. Pat Larson


    • Pat, your comments about no one reading all through your journals because they were boring made me laugh at myself. Maybe this whole diary drama is ego! Thinking our words are so important that they can cause another pain (or happiness) when in reality, our daily drivels probably would bore them to tears. What a great comment. Lisa


  2. Lisa, Pat is so right and it has been my same thought all along. You are so honest and nice and always considerate that I could never think of such words your mother wrote, especially not about your own son. And then, I know you are frustrated like everybody else from time to time, but you wouldnt write that in your journal, because of this, what you just posted.
    I dont see a problem with having a writing journal or one about the cabin. That especially I thought a lot about, since it is so wonderful what is happening with it and the history within the whole process. I know that you would write so wonderfully about this. It would be a shame not to have something written down.
    Did you ever think in the last time, if you use that as an extended excuse not to write in general? Just a question, but if you feel so much drawn to the notebooks, I know you could always find a way to write something that doesnt hurt anybody.
    And just if you didnt know yet, YOU are not your mom!!!
    And your situation is much different.

    Maybe you need a kick to get writing again…be warned…next time I take you back to Staples and buy some notebook for you!!! 🙂

    I dont think though, that other people would find your writing boring. Not that Pat said that, no, but I always think of Kris and how she tells us about what is happeing in her life and for her its just so boring and for us it might be the highlight of the week because it is sooooo different from our own lifes.
    So I bet a lot of people would enjoy a journal about your cabin!!! Hint!!!


    • A journal on the cabin is an interesting idea. I’ve already done a couple ‘essay’s on the remodel process. Matter of fact, one about the demolition was the first thing I wrote after radiation. Think I’ll go for a walk in the woods and ‘cogitate’ on that idea…


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