Fanning the Flame

My personal journal has 786 pages, 319,829 words, so far. I know that because the status bar in my Microsoft Word document tells me so. Experts will tell you that there are some differences in a diary and a journal, for this purpose I’ll use both words interchangeably.

Sometime around the late 1970s, I began journaling. Like many people who write diaries I used a pen and paper, and in the years that followed, I dutifully filled three, thick loose-leaf binders with almost daily entries. And then one day, I shredded every single page from each of those volumes.

Thinking about it now, I realize that it was not the first – nor last – regrettable thing I have done in my lifetime. But on that day, some years ago, when I destroyed my journals it was because I had a flashback to when I was around 12 or 13 years old.

In those early teen years, I had a little diary with a pink cover that I had purchased from Murphy’s five and dime store. The diary had a flimsy key lock that one could easily open with a hairpin. I kept the book hidden from my family – so I thought – between the mattress and box-spring on my twin-sized bed. Teenagers today are much savvier. They know that of all the places to hide something, beneath your mattress is the last place. That’s the first place your mother looks for your stash of anything.

Before I tell you, I’m sure that you’ve already figured out that my mother found my diary and even worse, she read it. There were no shocking revelations in there, just the age-appropriate thoughts, emotions, observations, and dreams of a young teenage girl growing up in the early sixties.

Back then, I was no different from many teenagers today who feel that they cannot talk to their parents. I found comfort in writing in my diary. It gave me someone to “talk” to and confide in. When one day mother’s teasing and censuring let me know that she had read my diary, I felt hurt and violated. I ran to my bedroom, grabbed the diary from beneath the mattress, and tore out every page that had anything written on it, and then I ripped those torn-out pages to slivers. When I finished, the floor around my small wastebasket looked like a confetti bomb had exploded. I picked up the paper that had missed the wastebasket, tore it some more, and then tossed it and the diary cover with its flimsy lock and remaining empty pages into the trash.

Fifteen years after I destroyed that first diary, I purged the journals that I had begun writing after I left home. Purge two was also unplanned and happened unexpectedly. I was distressed over something that occurred earlier in the day. After I recorded the incident in my journal, I spent some time sitting on my bed, reading some of the pages that I had written weeks, months, even years earlier. It wasn’t all bad, but the unpleasant things brought back pain and raw emotions as if it had happened yesterday. I realized that if I suddenly dropped dead, it was likely that my mother would eventually get my journals and once again read my private thoughts. She would not understand the anguish I had endured in the years following my broken marriage because I had never discussed it with her; nor would she comprehend my struggle to overcome the life-altering, ongoing effort to raise my children solely on meager salaries from low-income jobs. But because she had tried to persuade me to stay in a marriage that I felt was doomed, she would say, “Didn’t I tell you?” My journals would have been contemporary fodder for a teasing tongue.

Had she read those old, tear-stained journals they would not have revealed that the broken-spirited young girl expressing herself on those pages, the one determined not to be beaten down by the struggle and liabilities of single-motherhood would eventually mature into a strong-willed woman. But in time she would see and become proud of the finished product.

When I turned on my shredder and began destroying those journals, I thought there go years of memories. But my hesitancy didn’t last. It only took me to imagine my mother’s face as she had mocked my young teenaged self, for me to resume feeding pages into the shredder. Don’t misunderstand, I loved my mother, but she had her faults, as do I, and as do you. If I could reveal why I destroyed those journals without bringing mother into the equation, I would, but I can’t.

Unfortunately, I never imaged that one day I would be writing a blog and even a book or two and I sometimes regret my spontaneous decision to destroy those journals. Life wasn’t all bad. There were many pleasant days and events that I recorded in those pages, especially times spent doing fun things with my children, but as age would have it, many memories of my past are now mere shadows in my mind.

Aside from the fact that writing is therapeutic, the desire to write burns in me like an eternal flame. So of course, I eventually began journaling again. But now, instead of writing everything down, I use my computer. My journal is password protected. My dear mother, God rest her soul, is dead and my children are grown. Anyone who gains access to my journal now or after I’m gone won’t find it so accessible. And if they do happen to learn the password and read my private thoughts, they may decide that it wasn’t worth the effort to try and pry and perhaps judge.

I often write about my life on my blog, and some of my narratives come from my journal. Of course, I only reveal publicly what I want to share and I suppose that’s one reason I keep procrastinating while writing my second book. There is so much more that I want to disclose than was shared in the first book.

Book two will be a memoir picking up where book one ended. It won’t have the historical value of say, The Diary of Anne Frank, or the comedic impact of The Diary of Bridget Jones, but it could possibly read like the Diary of a Mad Black Woman. It will be introspective. It will be me.

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