A Question

What do you do with a journal once you’ve filled all the pages? People have different ideas about this. Some say that you curate it. Others say that you shred the whole thing. Some people keep their journals forever. If you’re David Sedaris, who has been keeping a diary for more than 40 years, this is what you do with them:

When I first started, you know, I was writing on placemats. And then I moved on to sketch books and then I started typing them out on 8 x 9 1/2 sheets of paper. I would do one every season, and at the end of every season, I would make a cover for it. And I would have it bound. So, I’m very particular about what they look like. Which is sort of crazy, because no one’s every really seen them. I mean I’ve never handed a diary over to anybody to really read it, or rifle through it or anything. So every one of them is the same size, but they’re all different.

But I just sold them all to Yale University. And that just sort of hit me. I’ll still have a copy, they’ll make me a digital copy of everything. Maybe I just thought, “Well, I got into Yale!” (from an interview with David Sedaris at wpr.org)

I could never do that. I’ve kept most of my diaries (or journals—I use the words “journal” and “diary” interchangeably, which I’m pointing out here because some people may choose to make a distinction between the two). They’re a more ragged and motley crew than Sedaris’s. I also haven’t been writing for as long or as consistently as he. Even so, my collection of old writing has grown. The bigger it has gotten, the more I have questioned its value. Most of my diaries are litanies of worries and complaints. They’re not fun to read. I would never share them with anyone else.

So, when I finished my latest journal, I hesitated over what to do with it. The blog has taught me to be more purposeful in my writing, and it showed in this journal. But the ink had already started to fade, and my handwriting, always hard to decipher, had become nearly illegible. There were many to-do lists, and no one needs old to-do lists. (If you did the stuff on the list, it has nothing left to offer you. If you didn’t do the stuff on the list, then it’s just sad.) And there were so many angry pages, because last year sucked, and who wants to read all that anger? So I ripped out all of the pages and put them through the shredder. Grrrrrrrind!

But not before copying any text that I thought was worth saving. You might already have seen some of it (that’s where Ten Things I Hate About Writing came from). Other parts might show up in future posts.

It has been a few weeks, and I still feel good about the decision to curate and shred. I will probably do the same with my older journals and writing projects. I think it’s time for me to face the reality of growing older. Someday all of my junk will belong to someone else, and that someone won’t be Yale. Any words that I don’t want to leave to my family should be destroyed. Any words that I do think are worth saving should be put into a more readable format.

So my answer to the question of what to do with an old journal is that you curate it, then shred the old pages, and it feels good!

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