To Keep or Not To Keep: Notebooks and Posterity?

These two posts caught my eye today:

This morning I’ve been thinking about how last May my literary archives went to Texas. All my papers (letters to and from me, journals, notebooks, drafts and fragment of work both published and unpublished, contracts, bank statements, phone bills, you name it) had lived with me for over 30 years, and it was sad to see them all go, though Betsy was excited to have the boxes out of the basement.
It’s been strange since all that left not to be able to go into our basement and sort through some paper part of my life long-past. Now it’s as if a part of me is gone to live in Texas, and I’d have to go there to visit it. (From Kudzu Telegraph, via Sparkle City Blogs)

I often wonder why the lives of great writers seem to be filled with depression, tragedy, and insecurity. And why so many feel the need to destroy their notebooks, correspondence, and personal journals (or in Maud’s case, burn some and edit the rest)? (From The Lazy Reader)

The two quotes seem to represent opposing sides of how notebook-keepers might choose to dispose of their writings at a certain point in life: keep and archive them for others to read? Or go as far as destroying them to make sure no one else reads them?

I think about this with my own notebooks. If I were hit by a bus tomorrow, people in my life would no doubt go through my belongings to dispose of them, and someone would say, “Wow, here’s boxes and boxes full of those notebooks she was always using.” Then they’d probably start looking through them. Some of the stuff I’ve written in journals could be embarrassing, or hurtful to people who might read them. Yet there are a few things I’m proud of.

I’m not likely to ever occupy the status of a major author whose works might be studied, or have biographies written of me. Perhaps I should make a will and stipulate that all my notebooks be destroyed. But that seems rather sad. What would you like to have happen with your notebooks after your death? Have you left any specific instructions for them?

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2 Responses to “To Keep or Not To Keep: Notebooks and Posterity?”

  1. Most people would understand that journals reflect a certain time or day in the past. If they are in your life (family, friends), and you’d written something bad about them, chances are that they could recall that you once had a fight. Or, chances are, they’ve had some not-so-nice thoughts of their own. The good thing about journals is that it would take reading a good portion of them to get to something bad about them (possibly), and after they’d read all that, they’d hopefully understand that emotions change and that was one particular time in life.

    I’d prefer my potential great-great grandkids to have some of my old journals to get to know me through, and understand what life was like now. Good or bad, it’s who I am. You could consider donating them to some historical society or diary museum, I suppose.

  2. This is honestly why I have strict rules on journal keeping. I don’t write anything bad about my husband or other family members. Not that I’m in denial if we have a disagreement but nobody’s going to want to read that stuff when I’m gone. I may write bad things about other people but family is off limits, at least as far as anything detail oriented goes.

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