I have been a pretty faithful journal keeper for the better part of my life. In high school I could full two journals a year, writing pages a day on every little detail of my life. Most of this stuff was fluffy and trivial: outpourings of “love” for boys that I liked, poems, thoughts on teachers and friends, and even some chemistry notes from days I forgot my notebook. For the most part, my journals are fun reads full of days worth remembering.
Not entirely, though.
I’m afraid I often break my mother’s cardinal rule of journaling; never write the bad stuff. The mean and depressing thoughts aren’t something you want people to know after you die.
The advice hasn’t affected me much, I’m afraid—I still write my mean and depressing thoughts on a regular basis—but it does tug at me from time to time. Do I really want people to read my journals after I’m gone? Do I really want them to know how I felt in my darkest moments?
These are complicated questions.
Being remembered as an entirely amazing person would be lovely, but I feel like omitting the bad things would be like turning my private thoughts into one of the sugar-coated memorial speeches that I hate so much. No one is ever seen as who they were in life after they pass on. You’re not allowed to say what you really felt about them anymore, even if you thought they were stingy, dirty, or rude. You can’t even admit to not knowing them that well. Someone will walk up to you and say that the person was so wonderful and that it’s so sad that they’re gone, and our only choice is to respond with. “Yes, it is sad. They really were wonderful.” Even apathy is unacceptable.
Writing only the warm fuzzies in a journal would be like turning your whole life into a funeral. For yourself and the people you write about.
I, personally, will not claim to be a saint. Nor will I pretend that I’m happy all the time. I’m a deep, dark human being with deep, dark human thoughts. Sometimes the only way to express these thoughts is through my journal. In fact, some things are better left to the silence of ink and paper. Writing is cathartic without being hurtful—it helps me organize my feelings before I say things I know I’ll regret.
As for after I die … I like to think that anyone who really knew me wouldn’t mind reading the things I had to say. But still, they are my secrets. Some of the things I’ve written are very personal to me. However, I don’t want to hide or hoard my life away from anyone who would read my secrets and love me just the same. So, I think I’ll write a note to anyone who seeks them out after my life is over, telling them that what they’re about to read is an example of true life in all its messy glory. If they can’t handle it, I’d prefer that that burn them. Before reading.