Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Journals, Context, and the Historical Record

A while back, I revisited several journals that I kept during the early 1990s. A fair portion of the scribbling I’d classify as benign. But some of my reportage brought back unpleasant memories from—it would appear—a mostly unpleasant time in my life. In fact, I had largely forgotten the multi-layers of unpleasantness that existed back then, but there it was. A considerable chunk of these journal entries took a rather dim view of select individuals and their behaviors. Worst of all, I found myself every now and then extolling the virtues of some folks whom I subsequently discovered didn’t merit the praise—and that’s putting it mildly and among the most embarrassing things I have ever put on paper.

What I especially find interesting about these strolls down Memory Lane is the nature of journal writing itself. Exactly why was I writing so frequently in them back then? Why did I write the things that I did? Who—besides yours truly—did I ever want or expect to read my journals? The answer to the latter question is nobody but me—at least during the living years. After my death, though, I was comfortable with the journals becoming part of the historical record of my one brief shining moment of existence.

As I’ve grown both older and balder—and nearer being dead as a doornail than twenty years ago—I’m not as comfortable with the notion of bestowing my private journals to the ages. The trouble is that their content—depending on when I breathe my last—could prove hurtful to some people still among the living. Occasionally, my entries were heat-of-the-moment rants that need to put into that context. However, without me around to explain said context, the journals could very well paint an inaccurate picture—certainly an inaccurate big picture—of all that was in my little corner of the world.

This is the problem with honest journal writing as a rule, which is why I have only periodically kept them. I don’t want to be writing them with an eye on posterity and preserving, or enhancing, my reputation. Then again, I don’t want to tarnish my micro-memory on the family tree by having snippets plucked out of it as indicative of the real me that actually aren’t the real me—in total at least.

I know of some people who keep fluff-a-nutter journals that record day-to-day events in a simple, all-is-well tone. All family gatherings are warm and fuzzy—naturally. All vacations are incredibly relaxing and barrels of laughs, too. God—life is good! For sure, these journals have their place. They record the linear progression of our lives and times. And, too, their authors don’t have to ponder whether or not their journals should be set ablaze at some point in the future to keep real the historical record.

(Photo from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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