Danielle LaPorte wrote about burning 20 years of journals. It was the first thing that I read this morning and it blew my mind. It did not make me want to burn my journals but it did SPARK and FOCUS my ideas on why I keep my journals. As always, Ms. LaPorte is courageous, honest and inspirational. The words I think of about her are “seer” and “tapped in” and “ignited.” But as you will see in this essay, we have two very different personal viewpoints of what journals are, what they exist for, and what can be done with them.
Bonfires, Zozobra and the Pheonix from the Flame
My first idea of ritual burning, is Zozobra. In my twenties I visited New Mexico, and happened to be there a few days before the burning of the man effigy “Old Man Gloom.” It is said that when he is burned the worries of the people are destroyed and their troubles go up in flames. We all need release from our negative thoughts and the troubles we feel we are yoked to, a renaissance, a rebirth.
Of course, it mixes with the myth of the Pheonix from the flame, that out of ashes comes new life. But the phoenix myth (of which there are many) isn’t about resilience. The bird lives 1000 years and then dies and is reborn in the fire. It seems to me to be more about forced biological change. Even the firebird has a lifespan. It is not a choice. We use the myth as inspiration of regeneration through difficulty. Fire tempering pain into a new recognition of life.
Rebirth, Redemption, Reincarnation and Renunciation
While we all must come to terms with forced change, because we do not have control over our worlds I don’t believe in rebirth. Redemption, yes. Reincarnation, maybe. But not rebirth, we are born and remain in our conscious identity.
I think that is why I could never burn my journals. To me they are my nature, like an Audubon drawing of a bird. It is my ugly habits, immaturity and solipsistic thoughts. To me reading my journals is scary because I have to confront my own ugliness and accept it as point c on a line from a to z. Burning 20 years worth of journals seems very extreme to me–like dumping your bank account because you don’t want to be beholden to money or cutting off all of your hair because you don’t want to think about beauty.
I believe Danielle’s act may be one of renunciation. Partially because she still wrote about burning her journals. She is a writer. Perhaps it also has to be concerned with being a public person. Often what we write in our private journals is unedited bloviation. If we post it online it is also uneditable (esp. in terms current privacy concerns about the NSA and PRISM).
I believe that journals can provide anonymity, a written meditation space. They are the one place you can let loose and not worry about wanting or needing to join the publishing commercial complex as a goal. We all want to be known and heard, but some people aren’t coming from the place of art, but of self-promotion. It is also another reason to love poetry, the art of a scrim of words over an event and not just reportage.
Catalysts, Process and Bravery
I see in Danielle something I see in myself. We are both catalysts. We make change.
Perhaps she is just braver than I? I have been journaling since 1987. Over the course of time my handwriting gets less loopy. I quit using markers. Sometimes my entry is just the lyrics from a Smiths song. I also paste things in, passed notes from class. There is a lot of reporting on what is going on with my alcoholic roommate. My hopes and dreams, the kernel of who I am beginning to assert itself.
I don’t see the journals as writing so much as a process. I do not judge them based on content or written merit but that they are a part of how I made myself and became me. I had to fight for it, it was not easy, but somehow in there are architectural plans and the original sketches. I admire my journals like I admire skeletons or shells, they are an old house that no longer fits. I wouldn’t burn my journals because they exist like word snapshots—I couldn’t burn all of my photo albums. It would feel like an act of self- negation.
Journaling the Collective Unconscious
There must be something in the air, because just last week I decided to go back into my journals and type up June 6, 1993, June 6, 2003 and June 6, 2013. It was part of a “prescription” a friend had given me. I recently had a break up with a friend and she said, write down all of the things you did for her–then pick one and do it for yourself.
I had spent an enormous amount of time on the phone listening to my exfriend’s problems. Attempting to give some sort of helpful advice, and then being told I was judging her and would never understand. It was hurtful to have spent so much time trying to be supportive and then have my friendship end. I realized that I didn’t have any obligation and I was free. I am very grateful things ended, and questioned myself as to why I let things go so far, and let it become so toxic.
I picked, “Listen to myself” –To listen to myself with the depth and care that I gave my friend. To listen knowing that I may have advice, but that I only come from a place of support. I am not doing this to add any fuel to the fire or criticize myself.
I typed up my “findings” and looked them over. Were there any clues? I had forgotten how lonely my childhood had been, I became fiercely independent in order to force myself out. To this day I love eating alone, having a drink alone at a bar…I can just do it, I can go anywhere and be me. Now that I am surrounded by friends, and living in a city that I love, the focus has shifted. I still have problems, feel awkward, crave and pine and toil and trouble. But I have become.
Channeling Sophie Calle
So no major revelations, but still after typing it up, printing it, and making notes I folded it up in my vintage crocodile purse when I left to go to an art walk that evening.
At a gallery party I met Joshua. We just started telling each other everything back and forth in fits and starts. I unfolded my findings and put them in his shirt pocket.
Read it or not. Contact me or not. I have just always wanted to do this, to show a stranger my journals. I am also very influenced by Sophie Calle, the French artist famous for taking chance encounters and turning them into a creative investigation of self and society.
It turned out that he works as an archivist, strangely enough. We have plans for Saturday night. Who knows? Perhaps I am an air person. I love to throw things out there and see if they boomerang back or just fall dead on the floor.
But air people respect and love fire people. Burn on you bold and courageous conflagration!
Ps. I actually dressed as a flame for Halloween one year and went through a period of time when I wore of Joan of Arc pendant every day.
Dipping Into June Over the Last Twenty Years
June 6, 1993
(20 years and 2 days ago)
I’ve already been here in Garden City for a little over a week but it feels like an eternity. I got really depressed and have not been acting very much like myself. I’ve been incredibly moody and quick to anger and pick fights, really full of black pestilence and mud. I know a lot of it comes from being removed from my friends, my independence, lifestyle, things to do etc. But I really should be a lot stronger than this. Yet after sitting in the house practically alone for three days watching soaps is definitely enough to drive me a little batty. I feel like my self-esteem has gone kaput and I can’t relate to people very well. My job search has been horrible—I can’t find anything, but I did come here with extremely idealistic unwarranted expectations.
But I did have a hunt seat lesson this morning and that went okay. It’s strange but I feel kind of weird about the entire thing, now in retrospect. As if the lesson went emotionally worse than I had planned. I felt timid and shy and out of sorts. I can just remember the familiarity and camaraderie I felt at Oakwood. I don’t expect to feel that again, I just wish I hadn’t felt so gawky and awkward. I think a lot of the weirdness I feel is he importance I give my thoughts when I am extremely bored—That’s all I can do is hear the amplification. I just feel a little guilty about being so weak—so pampered that I am picky about a job and so starved for fun as an adult. I’m gone from my boring Iowa City environment for two weeks and I can’t take the real world—no tempeh and bars filled with Midwesterners. Its’ like longing for a cowboy. A regional thing.
June 4-8 2003
(10 years ago)
Spent yesterday inside recuperating from a late night binge. Met S– at the Bubble Lounge for the litquake women’s event. Had fun chatting with people. It was packed with literate thirtysomethings. V– was on the panel and we said hi. Afterwards I went over to give her a hug and she was talking to JO– who I know through A– so it was all just a weird circle, something that has been coming up a lot with massive coincidences. V– asked me to lunch but I know she is just in another world. But now I am on the periphery of that world, coming up as a junior member. Heard from JL– back from Italy. Gave my name out to a web zine to submit to—the first time something like this has happened, which is cool. Which is scary. Which is movement.
Went out afterwards to S–’s house and just poured out my heart and had a wonderful discussion of all the intuitive coincidences in our lives. That is a big issue for me—being aware of it and trying to hone it. Afterwards I met K–at the Hush Hush and we just connected. I think Dennis Kusinich is her JL—that person you were meant to know.
Past few days have been swallowed up by JM. I have two opposing feelings—like I have been swallowed up by a cult and when I woke up this morning I believed I got exactly what I wanted. That there is that scene in Donnie Darko where he asks the new girl to go steady and they haven’t even held hands. It’s like they just know. JM and I have been hanging out nonstop—he brought me lunch and stayed the afternoon with me at Porchlight keeping me company and playing the country CD he made for me. We had dinner at C– and F–’s which was fun. I saw his apartment (boyish) and cats (radio) and then we went back to meet C– and F– for a drink at Connelly’s and I felt happy and surrounded by all of my really sad friends. C– has a bender the night before and was up until 6AM drinking rum. F– lost her job. B– stopped by after a peace get-together and I know he is still in mourning. I just felt all of the motion in full effect. I’ve considered moving to Oakland but I think it is a bad idea for me—too filled with the past and a sadness.
June 3, 2013
(5 days ago)
At Stories. Had a sort of unpleasant morning. It was gray and L–slept on my couch because she was trying to upload some video for Young Turks. I just feel really out of it—like whatever momentum I was working on when I got home has dissipated. Then all of the sudden my project seems stupid, everyone has moved on creatively getting their work on Radiolab or working on their next book delivery. I wonder what it is and talk to A– here and it is true, I give too much away being caretaking of other people and not focused on me and my work. My horoscope. I’m not self-interested enough. I don’t even realize how nice I am I am so nice. I like it when there is a moment and someone says, “so who are you so afraid of pissing off?” I am beginning to realize I have limited time.
Who do you not want me angry at you?
But why am I endlessly curious about other people?
Come up with a creative routine sense of structure
- movement, get out
- no distractions
- keep lists of benchmarks
In the end I think that for me to be successful I have to follow my own advice.
Everyone has tattoos—what do they stand for? Does that mean they are more focused? Is it true that if you don’t stand for something you will stand for anything? lack of purpose?
Annuit Coeptus: Providence has favored our undertakings
List of Muses: Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, Urania.