The Truth, The Whole Truth

Every personal journal I've ever written is in a drawer in my bedroom.

As you might expect, they record events, musings and dreams beginning back in my days as a 12 year-old eighth grader. The volumes go forward from there to the present day.

I intensely dislike the earliest journals and have come close to burning up anything I wrote between the 12 and the age of 20. Trust me, I've had the barbecue grill fired up and a can of lighter fluid ready.

At the last minute, I found I could not burn them. So I doused the flames with the garden hose and watched the wisps of smoke disappear into the haze of Los Angeles. I returned the journals to their drawer.

I don't know why I keep them. Indeed, I rarely crack open the pages of these journals, not even for a nostalgic laugh.

They are the thoughts of a stranger. And when I do pick them up, the words don't make me smile. My journal entries are both disturbing and heartbreaking to me. Even with all the events, wishes and regrets recorded on the page, what always strikes me is how much goes unsaid.

I am unequivocably dishonest in them. Even with myself, I could not commit to paper the true thoughts I had about most things in my life. Everything is veiled, like I was attempting to win a spot in a coded document contest. I don't have the best memory so when I pick up those earliest journals, sometimes I can't even figure out what I was actually doing, thinking and feeling.

However, there were those rare moments when I wrote down what was real. They are easy to identify because I would later go back and black out the words, first with a ball point pen and then with a sharpie.

When I leaf through my journals, there are entire sections that are blacked out. Clearly, I wanted there to be no accidental readings of my thoughts.

Of course, the easiest solution would have been to not write at all. But you might as well ask a bird to cease it's song. I've been writing in one form or another since I was five. How could I stop?

And so black marks streak the pages.

Paranoia? Possibly. But I was under no illusions either. I was too consumed with the fear that someone would pick my journals up, read them and suddenly realize I was not precisely who they thought I was.

I was afraid I would disappoint. Then they would no longer like me. No longer love me. And they might find a way to use my true thoughts and reflections to somehow hurt me.

A couple of months ago a friend asked me at what point in my life I finally became my true self. It is obvious from my journals that as a 21 year-old living in China, I stopped blacking out what I wrote down.

When I leaf through those first, cross-out free journals, I get a chuckle from the occasional disclaimer I threw in for any possible nosy readers. In one journal, I wrote at the very beginning, "If you're reading this and you're not me, how do you know I'm telling the truth?"

I really thought I was clever with that one, didn't I?

Throughout my twenties, the disclaimers disappear until all that remains is the unvarnished truth. But it was often a truth that only lived on paper.

As I get older, I find it's no longer enough to merely write my true self and then live a facade of that truth. No, I have be fully myself whether on paper or in person.

But it's not easy to be 100% honest with yourself, is it?.

And so perhaps I keep those journals in the drawer with their blacked out words as a reminder of an existence that truly was not living. A reminder to never let myself go back to a place that bleeds darkness and secrets.

A reminder to tell the truth.


West said…
I had similar concerns about my diary being read, when I was a kid. Then it happened. So, I stopped writing in it.

It seems that once you got all the way to China, you felt "the coast was clear" and you could stop classifying your documents.
Anonymous said…
I tossed mine away with my childhood (or so I thought at the ripe old age of 21) - One of my biggest regrets today.
I'm glad you have your journals.
Anonymous said…
I've never kept a diary, I never felt the need to record my inner or outer life. If I did keep one, I suspect it would be very dishonest and trying hard to paint me as a much more perfect person. But Jenny's kept a diary for decades, mainly because it helps her remember things and helps her clarify her thoughts.
As I down size before my move, I came across the bin that holds all my journals. I started one in high school, wrote through college and my early 20s, started writing again in my late 20s and kept it up. At one point I was going to throw them out but now I'm glad I kept them.

I used to worry someone would read them. Then I stopped editing myself. They are my thoughts. What is the point of keeping one if I can't be honest with myself?

I haven't read any of my early journals. I am actually a little afraid to. My early 20s were a tough time.
1969 said…
Last week I realized that my son had a journal.

One entry said "Dear Ivory, even tho you are my frend. I don't like you. You are meen. By, Tali 1"

I laughed because of the honesty.

Keep those diaries. They are still a part of you and show your progession and growth.
SheWhoLives said…
I kept diaries for years as a girl but threw them away when I was in my teens. I am GUTTED that I did that!!

You were/are smart to keep yours.
Jen said…
I'm not sure that any of us can be fully honest when we're in our teens/early 20s. We probably don't know ourselves yet. My early journals are full of posturing and a voice of who I wanted to be, rather than who I was at all. But I probably didn't even know the difference.

Thought-provoking post.
Jameil said…
i can't even get into my journal from 12-13 yrs old. it has a lock and i have no clue where the key is. i remember letting my older sister read it. there was def. some raging in there but i've always been very open about every single thing i was thinking. hahahaha. shocking right? lol. i'm glad you kept them, too.
Lola Gets said…
Wow, this was great! Every journal Ive ever had was read by my relatives (the last at the age of 28!), so I just stopped writing them. My friend, The Handsome One, writes in a journal every night. Ive seen it lying around his apartment, and you know what? Ive never had the inclination to look at it. I guess I learned my lesson, huh?

the joy said…
I'm the same way. They're under my bed. I tried to rewrite them, word for word, in a blog, but I only got through two entries before I stopped. But I can't throw them away, and I don't read them. They were for that moment, to get out that need to write, and I think if anyone read them they'd think I was still like that.
Haute in LA said…
Officially my new favorite blog! Found you via Afrobella.

Re: Journaling. I often read back though my old journals and find myself feeling embarassed by my thoughts, feelings and actions and have wanted to run away from my past self (burning them wouldn't take away that range of emotion though).

If anyone ever read them...Wow! Well I've learned to reveal the canvas that is me a little at a time, which is why I started blogging.
Liz Dwyer said…
Do you write a diary now that you're an adult? My sister's diary got read as well. It was very traumatic for her.

I do think you're right about the China thing. I spent so much time there by myself that I really got to know who I was and felt comfortable being myself.

Isn't it funny how we think we're grown at 21? And then you realize years later that you were not as smart or clever as you thought you were. I suppose I'll feel the same way about being in my 30's when I'm in my 50's.

There is such a temptation to sanitize who you are, make yourself out to be a perfect person because you KNOW you're going to die and then some relative is going to be going through your stuff and crack the pages open. I tend to be very big picture what I'm thinking/feeling in mine these days instead of writing down what I wore, what I ate, etc. That would be sort of neat to do.

It is terrifying to read my earliest journals. I was obviously obsessed with Depeche Mode so I write about them quite a bit. That makes me laugh. But those years were quite tough for me as well. It's hard to read what I said or did not say. Yes, if you can't be honest, why write down lies?

No kidding! That's so cute that he's keeping a journal already. I wonder what mine would put in if he decided to write one.

I think I'll keep them because it does make me feel good to know I've evolved, am evolving. But I think I'll add to my will that they should be burnt on my death.

I have thought several times about tossing mine but I couldn't ever do it. Burning them last fall is the closest I've ever come to really getting rid of them.

I think you're right about that. We don't know ourselves really yet. I think I was quite immature, even in my early twenties. Emotionally stunted perhaps. I can remember feeling so torn when I'd write things down because there was a part of me that wanted to just say whatever I wanted and then another part that would whisper, "But you can't!" The one thing is that I was definitely very aware of it my dilemmas around this.

LOL! That is really funny! You need to get someone with some lock picking talents to get those pages open! Your straightforwardness is one of the best parts of who you are. It's really endearing coming from you...but some people it's just annoying! It's like, "Shh, I don't need to know!"

How did this journal reading happen? Up until 28? Wowzer, you have to blog about that. I think reading someone else's journal without permission is such a terrible thing to do.

The Joy,
The worst is the poetry I used to write. I should try to post some of the poems but then you all would never come back and visit my blog! They're a little hilarious because they're so bad. I was always getting dumped by some guy because I wouldn't sleep with him and then I'd be all heartbroken, writing these shockingly bad poems. I almost burned them just because of the poetry!

Anyway, I'm glad you still have yours too.
Liz Dwyer said…
Haute in LA,
I'm so glad you came over here! Nice to connect with another LA blogger.

Good point that burning the journals wouldn't take away the past. That past exists whether I wrote it down or not.

I'll come over and visit your blog!
Ian Lidster said…
Oh, do keep those old journals. They're very much part of who you are. You'd regret it deeply if they were gone. At least, that's my excuse because I've kept mine. And, it's interesting to see my changes but to know there were always essences of who I still am.
Anonymous said…
Liz - I so could have written this (albeit not as eloquently). My earliest journal was from the time I was in 5th grade. It makes me sad to read it too. I write about how I'm 85 pounds and so fat! That poor little girl - I want to hold her and slap her all at once.
SheWhoLives said…

I forgot to say that I have written my response to your Writing Advice meme tag! Check it out HERE
Sundry said…
I have a couple of big bins full of journals in the closet of my studio. Also dating back to when I was 12.

Although my mom once fished a sealed letter I'd written out of the trash and confronted me with it (it was to a boy and what did I mean by "I'll meet you at lunch and you can do anything"...hell, I didn't know. That's why I threw it away) I somehow assumed that my journals would be respected and not looked at.

I actually sometimes wrote to Joe Scholar, the guy I thought would one day find and read my journals with delight and awe. The origins of the famous writer, right here on paper! I had pretty good self esteem back then.

Now recently I've wondered what's going to become of all that paper when I die. To keep this from being depressing, I've gotten a little silly. My best idea so far is to will it to some unfortunate great-niece or great-nephew (I plan to stick around a while) along with enough money to add a small room to their house, to be decorated like a coffee house and lined with my words.

I tried once in high school to stop writing down negative things. Didn't last long!

Glad you have your journals. Really.
Lydia said…
It is a trip that we can't bring ourselves to be honest in a place where we are supposed to be able to be honest!

Thank you for the valentine wish!!
Liz Dwyer said…
They're still tucked away in their drawer, no worries! It's so interesting to me how so many folks who kept journals are now bloggers.

I know exactly what you mean. It seems like I was always writing down some game plan for losing weight. It's insane.

Oh good! I'll come over and check it out!

I know too many folks who got their journals read so I never thought they were off limits. Your mom must have freaked about that letter...I don't look forward to those worries!

That is such a good idea to decorate walls with actual journal pages. I still think I'll just ask them to be burned after my death.

Just trying to spread some Valentine good wishes to my peeps!

If truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues, my inability to be honest hurt me in so many ways.
West said…
Nah. I don't keep one, now.

Losing that one had quite an effect on me. I eventually shredded it.

I guess that's odd, though, because I'll snap the occasional nude photo, but I won't keep a journal/diary. Either could be found by others. I'm not sure what makes one a deal-breaker.
Unknown said…
I still have my first diaries as well. It hurts to read, I wasn't even telling the truth half the time, and I was a bit over dramatic at others, I was making up my own reality. Sadly blogging has become my new diary and even then I can't share what I want necessarily with the whole world. I do want to start back to journaling my thoughts again. I am just so lazy. I have all my diaries in my nightstand as well. I can't rid of mine either.
storyteller said…
Wow ... does THIS post resonate with me big time!!! I've tried to get my sister and/or my best friend to promise to burn my journals w/o looking at them if something should happen to me before I manage to do it myself. My sister laughs and says she'll publish them like Emily Dickinson's sister did and my best friend tells me to take care of this before anything happens to me. I can't destroy them, nor can I read them. It's such a dilemma ... but it's also reassuring to know I'm not alone. I met a woman recently who found her mother's journals that were tied shut with knotted ribbons she couldn't undo and finally cut to access the contents. We closet writers are a strange bunch I guess. Thanks for sharing.
Hugs and blessings,
I started a diary after reading Anne Frank's diary. I was thirteen. Reading it later always filled me with so much pain. I was so insecure and so in need of love. It hurts me when I think of all the pain I felt then.

I still have the diaries but I don't have a need to record anything anymore. I just want to live my life and be happy.

I thought of leaving the diaries for my kids (and I still might), but I think the greatest gift I can give them is showing them that despite the complexities and pains of life, it is possible to be happy.
I had a diary one year as a child, and although I haven't seen it since then, I suspect that it was written most affectedly in a style that seemed "cool and teen-aged" to my 11- year old self.

I've been reading your blog for a long time and there is no doubt that you have the honesty thing down.

Off-topic, is anyone else having trouble loading your page since you changed the design? My computer freezes every time and has to be rebooted so I can come back. I have no idea why but I'll do whatever it takes to read your posts.
Liz Dwyer said…
Hmm... But you know how folks love to accidentally get ahold of your nude photo collection and stick it up on the web. Next thing you know, you'll have a photo montage set to a trance beat up on YouTube. But if that happens, you're a victim, whereas if people read your journal, they're more concerned with what you said/thought about them instead of how they may have violated your privacy.

Oh yes, overdramatic could be my middle name. Normal people don't get get dumped and then tearfully write out the lyrics to the Pet Shop Boys' "Jealousy" in their journal, not once, not twice but three times in a row. Oh my goodness, such ridiculousness when I thank God now that the guy did me that favor to decide I was a "distraction".

Anyway, I carry my current journal around with me and write in it whenever I have a free moment. It's not everyday but I'd like it to be more frequent.

I don't actually know if either of my parents keep journals. I think I'd be too scared to read them. What if they said, "Gosh, we wish we'd never had any kids." Then I'd be scarred for life and have to shell out $$ to therapists just to be even remotely functional.

You're 100% right though. We are a strange bunch.

"I think the greatest gift I can give them is showing them that despite the complexities and pains of life, it is possible to be happy."

Goodness, thank you for saying that! How true, how true!

Oh no! I haven't heard that anyone else is having issues loading the page. That's not good! Are you working with IE or Firefox?

There's a couple of sites that that happens to me with and then if I switch to the other, it's fine. I also just downloaded the newest version of Firefox and right away that fixed a couple of pages that would freeze.

I'm glad you still come over to read what I write because I'm sure that is really annoying! :)
Keith said…
Being honest with one's self is a learned skill. It takes that same honesty to when when you've reached the point of self realization.

Many of us will never know honesty in it's purest form - we'll have casual acquaintance only with that which masquerades as truth. And to some extent that's fine. It's never making the attempt to get to that level of honest understanding that is a travesty.

Have a beautiful journey Liz. I walk the path with you, but with honesty I'll say I'm a few steps behind.
Carol said…
I found you via Jen (a2eatwrite); congrats on her award! I, too, have journals all the way back to junior high school, one of which has my insistence that I kissed a boy that, truly, I never even had the guts to TALK to! (

Would you ever go back to those days? Not me!

It IS annoying but you're worth it.

I'm using Firefox. I also have Safari but rarely use it because when I post on my own blog, it doesn't have fonts or italics, etc.

I'll try visiting you on Safari next time and see if it's easier.
Liz Dwyer said…
I'm probably quite a few steps behind where I think I am. Trying is the most any of us can do.

So glad you came over to visit! Oh wow, that is hilarious! So in your journal you say you kissed him but you actually didn't? LOL!

And I'd never go back. Not for anything!

I hope the Safari works out. I'll do a little digging around to see if I can find out anything on how to fix it.

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