Not everyone has a door that opens directly to their past. I do. I wrote every day for nearly five years, from ninth grade to the summer after my freshman year of college. Struck with sudden curiosity, I ventured down to my aunt’s basement yesterday in search of the dusty stack of collage-covered Meads that envelope my youthful angst and hormone-infused thoughts.
Atop the stack was my last full journal written the spring semester of freshman year at Judson, for credit in Advanced Essay Writing. Beneath that lay the journal from my senior year of high school, the one that didn’t get written in as often because I was burning the midnight oil to get straight A’s. Beneath that, the journal from the summer before senior year when I was giddy with freedom from a not-so-nice boyfriend that stuck around far too long. Beneath that, I couldn’t crack open another collage-adorned notebook without provoking my gag reflex.
I should just throw them away. I certainly don’t want to leave them for someone to read through in the event of my death. I don’t want to lug them from apartment to apartment to house, from stage of life to stage of life, as a way of reminding me how naïve and artless and sometimes cruel I once was. What once seemed as smart, funny and wise now seems peculiar and false, like looking at my reflection through a cracked and dusty mirror. Somehow, most of what I wrote there has been sloughed off, and what remains is a much different figure than I perceived before.
I will probably keep them, dust them off every once in a while and find that there are truths reflected beneath all of the immaterial things I thought then. Everything else I can take with a grain of salt. The question that the experience actually sparked is this: will writers inevitably look back at their work and see only a jumble of emotions and poor writing? Or am I just a bad writer, one that lets too many of my emotions get in the way? Does everything we write have potential? Do we have to possess the value of hindsight in order to write something true? Does experience make up for what we wrote in the past? Do we ever get over the insecurity of reading our own post-dated thoughts in black and white? Do I need to keep those journals, or can I, should I throw them away?