Personal Archaeology 6: I’m Through With the Past, but the Past Isn’t Through With Me

My first journal, started 30 years ago.  Note the Harvard and Dartmouth stickers on the cover, because I have soon-to-be-dashed Ivy League hopes.

I recently bought a new journal.  It’s an off-brand Moleskine-type book that I picked up at Target because the leather-bound one I had been writing in was getting completely filled.  Funny enough, these are the frist two fancy-looking journals I have ever owned or written in because with the exception of a number off lears where I typed my journal into MS Word, I have always kept a journal in a small notebook, the first of which I began filling exactly thirty years ago on December 13, 1989.

Starting a journal–it wasn’t a diary because diaries were childish and for girls–was an idea I got through something in my seventh grade English class.  I am not sure in what context Mr. Engel brought up keeping a regular journal, but I do remember that he mentioned how a former student began her journal with the phrase, “This book is dedicated to my children, their children, and their children’s children.”  I thought that was really cool and after the frist page where i explain that the journal contains periodic entries from 12/13/1989-9/4/1992, I started with that, and then began chronicling thoughts and life as a nerdy suburban teenager, until the summer of 1995 when I stopped writing in the notebooks and saved typed entries on a floppy disk.

I have to confess that with the exception of a few entries that I mined for blog or podcast purposes, I haven’t looked at any of these notebooks since I wrote the original entries.  I know what is in some of them because like so many people, i can’t remember conversations that I had five minutes ago or the names of students I see every day, but I can vividly remember having crushes on particular girls from seventh grade, and that I wrote about them endlessly.  So, I am a little worried about what I will find.

After all, I have a low tolerance for shame and embarrassment. I mean, nobody really likes feeling ashamed or embarrassed, but I don’t think that normal people feel ashamed and embarrassed about things they did decades earlier.  I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I will be going through my day sometimes and will see something that sets off a chain of thought that makes its way back to a moment in my past where I did something stupid and wind up feeling embarrassed.  If others are around, I will take a deep breath or sigh and pass it off as “forgetting to breathe.”  If nobody is around, I find myself saying something really negative, like “You’re stupid” or “I hate myself.”  Not that I actually believe that and I know I am being dramatic because it’s likely nobody remembers taht but me, but it does happen and therefore, it is completely irrational that I would want to invite that in by reading through these old journals.

At the same time, I am very curious as to what is in there.  I know there is a lot worth throwing away, but I am pretty sure there are things written in there that could be inspiration for an essay or story or something.  I keep telling myself that I am going to get back into writing something other than blog entries and podcast episodes, so maybe this will unlock something (there are also separate boxes of 25 years’ worth of creative writing journals, which is another journey I’ll eventually take), and I’ll wind up thanking my younger self for the inspiration or maybe even the perspective.

Not that there might be much.  Dedicating a journal to future generations when you are a middle class suburban white kid is pretty arrogant, as if anyone is going to give a shit who you were at twelve.  But in the last year or two, I have been working on facing those sense of shame and embarrassment, especially since I’ve come to realize that the source of these feelings was not me, but the effects of so-called long time friends who would use my past gaffes or quirks as “inside jokes”t hat they never thought or never cared would be harmful or be considered mean-spirited. And while I have cut a number of those people out of my life (and will eventually stop thinking about them–like an ex-girlfriend, these things take time), I know that to let some of these things out and confront the past can be therapeutic.  You cannot let go of what is past without actually confronting what is there, right?  Otherwise, those memories will remain suppressed and that cycle of shame and embarrassment is bound to continue.

I don’t want to announce this as some sort of new entry series.  I guess it’s just going to be a bunch of entries that go over those journals from time to time within this whole “Personal Archaeology” series.  It’s not uncollecting in the sense of, say, comics reviews, but I feel that it’s a necessary part of this journey nonetheless.


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