Small Life, Slow Life: 98/100 {Would you ever burn your past?}

Danielle LaPorte (I know, I know, I’m talking about her a lot lately) once burned twenty years worth of journals.

Twenty. Years.

Here were her reasons why:


  • I’m not really interested in the idea of leaving a legacy. If I die tomorrow and vanish from everyone’s memories, fine by me. I’m here for now.

  • I love deeply and I’m very ritualistic, but I’m not very nostalgic.

  • I love my present, I love my future, I love the vastness of my past. But I’ve found that investing in the future has way better return on investment.

  • I’ve come to the conclusion that reliving pain is actually not that conducive to my joy or creativity. Nope, just isn’t.

  • I’ve tried recapitulation and obsessive, neurotic over-attachment as a means to self-improvement, and funnily enough, it doesn’t seem to work. I can find plenty to be sad about in my current life—I don’t need to go digging up old material.

  • I love ritual and fire. Really, if you want to burn something DOWN, invite me. Funeral pyre, anyone? I’ll bring the matches.

  • For me, clutter-free living is up there with rainbows, front row seats, and answered prayers.

I remember reading that a few years ago and gasping. My journals were so precious to me.

Except…were they?

How often had I read them? How often instead had I carted them from apartment to apartment, sighing under their weight as I did?

I went through a big purge this June. Two good friends came over and helped me sort out my life. I’m not a huge pack rat, but with having a small child, the clutter had really taken over and I was missing minimalism. I spent an entire week sorting, recycling, donating.

And then I got to my journals.

I couldn’t even read half of them. They were so painful, so self-absorbed, so full of drama and blame and self-pity. So awful, so embarrassing. Necessary to have made, but not necessary to have kept.

Would I ever want V reading this? I asked myself. The answer snapped back like a boomerang. Hell no.

So I tossed them. I don’t think I ever would have, without knowing Danielle LaPorte burned hers.

I did not burn mine, because I was short on time before the nanny left, and also because I’m not sure how to work our fireplace correctly and I didn’t want to burn the hours down. But I tossed them (save for the ones I wrote as a child and pre-teen), because they made me sad to read. And C or V or anyone going through my things once I’m gone doesn’t need to hear about who I slept with/hated/yearned for as a dumb twenty-something, which is about 95% of what those journals contained.

I did pause beforehand. I remember, a few years ago, asking my dad if he’d found any of my grandmother’s journals among her things when she died. She was a writer too (she wrote plays), and she died when I was so young that I longed to know her beyond the twelve year-old’s understanding that I’d had of her when she passed. He said he would check, but didn’t think so (is that possible? that a writer wouldn’t have kept a journal?), and he never found anything.

I wouldn’t have minded her romantic stories or unrequited longings. I wouldn’t have been embarrassed for her or ashamed of her. But, only we can control how we want to be seen. One of my uncles on my mother’s side reportedly destroyed all of my grandfather’s journals after he died, because he didn’t think the family could stand to see what my grandfather had written.

Would you ever burn your past? Are you worried about how you could hurt or change the opinions of the people you leave behind? I’m thinking about this a lot today.

Will I ever be embarrassed by this blog, and think that it doesn’t represent me? Because there is no deleting this — even if I did, it would ghost around in the backlogs of the internet forever. Hell, I just found out from an old friend that I still have a MySpace page. I did not believe him, but nevertheless, it is there, broadcasting a Rolodex of dumb profile pictures for anyone who wants to see.

The past is a funny thing — we are so embarrassed by how we were then, imagining we’ve gotten to some higher moral ground now, never realizing that now is just a then to our future selves.

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