Roasting marshmallows in the light of a million finished words

I was going through boxes of old papers last week — you know, the kind of task you can do when a child is home sick from his March break camp and therefore actual writing is impossible. Not that I entirely minded having the sick child around (at least, not until he broke a bottle of red nail polish across the bathroom counter and then attempted to clean it up with a new hand towel), because this going-through of papers was a task I had long neglected.

I have approximately 25 years’ worth of journals, and the idea that all this cringingly personal writing was lying around the house, somehow uncategorized and — more to the point — vaguely available to prying eyes, has been weighing on me of late.

It’s not that I think that anyone would actually be interested in reading through several thousand pages of my handwritten notes. (Actually, I just did some rudimentary math, and it’s approximately 20,000 pages, conservatively. Ye Gods.) It’s not that there’s anything particularly scandalous in there. It’s just that these decades worth of journals are glimpse (more accurately, an exhaustively thorough probing) into the most trivial, boring, tedious, repetitive details of the inner workings of my brain. This is the stuff that I get out of my brain and onto the page each day in an effort to be a functional human being, to write (hopefully) better and more interesting things that people were actually meant to read. These are 20,000 pages of to-do lists and whining and anxieties and ideas and ruminations on my weight, on what I did and what I didn’t do but wished I had. Ad nauseam. These journals are writing for nobody but me. (I’ll be fair: there’s likely lots of happiness in those 20,000 pages, too, but I’ll wager that the happiness isn’t any more interesting than the less happy stuff.)

And, while some people would argue that the above is a precise description of blogging, blogging to me has always been a conscious decision to write for other people. It’s a highly curated, carefully chosen, absolutely non-daily slice of life. And, yes, I strive to be “honest” online, but honesty isn’t the same thing as subjecting any of you to the ongoing monologue in my head about whether there are enough leftovers for the kids’ lunches.

In my organizing, I came across this, the earliest journal I have:

Don’t judge.

The diary has only two entries. The first, dated, Saturday, December 3, 1983, is also, coincidentally, the day I got my first period. It is, predictably, appropriately, histrionic. Thirty-three years (whoa: thirty-three years? Gah.) later, it still feels too embarrassing to read out loud, or to transcribe for you here. Not because of the biological facts of the entry, but because of my tween-before-tween-was-a-thing need to write about it as though I were performing for an audience. It includes lines that may well have come straight out of Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, to wit, “‘I am now a woman’ as they say’” and, “I feel so fat. Now I know why I’ve been so edgy all week.” Yeah, like I had any idea.

This is 12-year-old me pretending to write for myself but really writing for other people.

The next entry is a bit over a year later, and my 13-year-old literary critic agrees with me:

This is me. I hate it here. The last entry is a year ago, and it’s stupid. I was trying to write in a dumb way. I’m more open now. I just feel lonely, and wish this whole thing never happened.

Well, then.

I have no idea what “this whole thing” was about now, but 13-year-old me doesn’t care to explain, because she doesn’t need to. She’s writing for herself, in her moment, not for the woman she actually became. And I respect her curmudgeonly little self a little bit more for that, even as I’m trying to applaud the 12-year-old version of her for at least getting some words down on the page. Because that's hard shit.

All my old journals are now arranged chronologically in bankers’ boxes. They have been sealed, with instructions on the top of each box to destroy immediately — without reading — in the event that I die or am incapacitated. Don’t say you weren’t warned. I authorize an Internet posse of you all to ensure this happens.

Or maybe, one day soon, I’ll have a beach bonfire and roast marshmallows in the heat of all those words. I’m not quite there yet, but if I don’t need you to read them, then why on earth am I still holding onto them?