Resolution, Absolution …

January 18, 2008

I was staggered a few weeks ago to find that my 2007 journal was over 93,000 words. If I had been putting that many words into a novel, it would have been finished!

I’ve said many times before that I’ve kept a journal since seventh grade. I kept them then in spiral bound school notebooks. Sometime in high school I burned the journals I’d kept until then in a pique of teenage angst.

At least, that’s what I think it was.

If I had the journal I started shortly after that, I could tell you exactly what caused me to burn the earlier ones. I burned those journals, page by ripped page, in an enormous metal drum used for burning trash behind the house where I grew up.

The reason I say “if I had the journal” is that, later, pre-computer, I wrote in smaller spiral notebooks and locked my journals in my desk drawer. My then-wife broke into my desk and read them, and was angered by what she didn’t read.

I had been reading how Camus edited his journals, and I had done the same with mine with a pair of scissors, leaving partial pages dangling from the wire spiral. When my wife saw the remains of those edited pages, she assumed that what I had edited out were things about her, or worse, things about other women. She was partially right. I had edited out things I had written about her — angry things, things that would have been painful to her that, my anger abated, no longer mattered. There was nothing about other women, because there hadn’t been any. All I had done was edit out things that were of no consequence anymore, and had been daily, mundane entries, and ultimately trivial.

There was a bit of irony in that she got angry over what wasn’t there, not by what was.

While there is always the chance I will be wrong, I don’t expect anyone will ever read my journals. So I don’t know why I keep them on disk in a bank safety deposit box, and print up a hard copy every year to put it in a locked trunk under my bed. But I do. It’s almost as if I simply can’t let go of both what was, and what is.

I write to let that someone, that possible future reader, know who I am and who I was. Yet at the same time I don’t want anyone to know, because what they see in my journal is the real me, and sometimes the real me is not a good person. This is the dilemma, the wanting and not-wanting anyone else to read my words and see “me.”

And like the possible reader seeking “me,” I write to find myself. I am the person that writes all these words, and did and does all of these things.

But I was a different person then, writing them, just as I am a different person now, having said it. What my wife didn’t understand was that what I wrote in my journal at one point, was not necessarily what I believed at another. Failing explanation, and having felt her anger yet again, I burned up more of my past, this time in an old charcoal grill behind the trailer where we lived, so that even now I regret not having those things I can’t remember.

Journals are for later remembering. They are history, for history. But writing in them is also for the instant, for this very instant. In my journal, I can empty my head and search for resolution.

Or in some cases, absolution.

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