September 26, 2009

Reflection: Leave the Roots On

.... Lie down, wounded
angel. I love you. I know there is
no tender palpable miracle happiness.

Every once in a while, I become reacquainted with old notebooks.

My life is flush with them: sketchbooks and art journals, commonplace books of other people’s poetry, binders of old poems and nonfiction and school papers. scrawled journals chronicling nearly every developmental phase—the identity crisis we call “adolescence,” a bleak period of young adult depression, the secondary identity crisis known as graduate school.

There used to be journals from elementary and middle school, too, but I destroyed them years ago in a fit of 15-year-old embarrassment. I know better than to destroy old journals now, although I have sometimes been tempted to reach for a wide-tipped Sharpie to obliterate passages that make me cringe.

Sometimes, in retrospective reading, I admire my past selves. I cheer them on. I write them imaginary love letters detailing their unknown strengths. I wade through the murk of dilemmas from six years ago, or 16 years ago, and I feel deep compassion for that past-me who was so much braver and smarter and more creative than she realized.

And sometimes I wince at what I wrote, wishing I could do a bit of time-traveling to nudge my past-self in a better direction.

It is a blessing, these riches of so many years of introspection. It's a gift of instant perspective. It reminds me that if my here-and-now 34-year-old self can be so compassionate toward my past selves, there will also come a time when a more experienced me will offer compassion-in-retrospect to the self of my here-and-now. (Notice all the hyphenation. It’s a complex interrelationship that requires the mediation of hyphens. I am now the same self I always was and always will be… and yet, from another perspective, I’m not.)

The only thing that doesn’t change is the urge to document what’s happening. There’s not really a specific motivation. It’s not just about keeping a record for myself, with an awareness of how helpful it is to touch base with all of the old myselves. It’s not just a means of expression for difficult or confusing or overwhelming feelings. It’s not just because I would like someday to share some of these journals with my children, or to revisit them in difficult parenting times as a way to remember what’s hard about being four or 14. It’s not just because I want to leave as many marks on this earth as possible in my time here.

It’s also just because I am compelled to do it.

Many thanks to the Notebook Stories blog for featuring this post!


  1. So glad I found this blog. I'm a life-long journal keeper as well. I don't re-read them enough-- every birthday and maybe once or twice a year besides. I have always thought of them as a friend-- always there for me to blather on about whatever it is I feel like expressing. Recently I was very inspired by Alison Bechdel's graphic novel Fun Home to read and write them a bit more anthropologically. Working on it.

  2. Kate, congrats on being a lifelong journal keeper--it may be a compulsion, but it's also a serious case of follow-through. :) Thanks for the recommendation. I knew about Bechdel's comic but had no idea she'd written a graphic novel.