Dear Queer Diary: To Burn Or Not To Burn?

Dear Queer Diary_Rory Midhani_640px

I once lived with a boy who regularly stored volumes of poetry on the stove, a state of affairs that caused me to break into a cold sweat every time I entered the kitchen. Okay, so there was a shortage of bookshelves in the apartment. And yes, that the stove was very infrequently used for cooking. But really— books on the stove?!

I am no pyromaniac. Although I love the sweet melty insides of a toasted marshmallow with all of my nostalgic girl-scout soul, in non-camp contexts, fire actually makes me a little bit nervous. Especially in conjunction with books.

Would this be a bad time to mention that I've actually never read Farenheit 451? (Via Feminspire)

Would this be a bad time to mention that I’ve actually never read Farenheit 451? (Via Feminspire)

This is one reason why I would never, ever, ever consider burning my diaries. While I have come around to the idea of occasionally dismantling an old copy of Paradise Lost for the sake of home décor, the thought of consigning a book to the flames still gives me dystopian shivers.

To make things even worse, a diary is a one-of-a-kind artifact. Unless you employ a team of monks to work round the clock hand-lettering illuminated copies of your journals as you write, one accident with that nice lavender-scented candle you got from the sale bin of Cost Plus World Market is enough to destroy forever your account of your most recent conversation with the cute girl at spinning class.

You spin my head right round, right round. (Via SheKnows)

You spin my head right round, right round. (Via SheKnows)

In spite of my personal reservations, the burning of diaries seems to be a fairly common occurrence. Most practitioners claim they are protecting others from being hurt by the contents of the diary in question— although some also cite the spiritual benefits of relieving oneself of years of secrets, written down in a weighty succession of notebooks.

I don’t think that I am particularly sorry to say my life has not been sufficiently scandalous to merit diary-burning. While my journals have documented their fair share of hurt feelings and complaints, I cannot think of a single sentence I have penned that has the power to really cause anguish. No affairs that must be concealed in order to protect loving families. No crimes whose evidence should be destroyed for the sake of blossoming political careers. And if my future children read about the really embarrassing crush I had on my high school history teacher, I think that’s probably okay.

Part of me wonders if my diary’s relative lack of the dark and deep devalues it. Does my journal’s less-than-horrifying content mean that I hold my inhibitions too closely— that I am somehow failing the sacred confessional charge of the fearless journaler? Yet I am a true believer that the virtue of a diary lies not necessarily in its top secret contents, but in its recording of small moments. Graduate school plans and coffee dates aren’t the kind of thing I need to burn.

I like to keep all my end tables on glass-encased daises. (Via Merchant Circle

For my next birthday, I will be asking for a glass display case for my diary. (Via Merchant Circle)

Rather than imagining my journals disintegrating into ashes, I prefer to dream of their pages displayed in a locked glass-top museum case. Ever since I discovered that it was possible to donate one’s “papers” to a university, library, or museum, I have been planning my bequest.

I can picture it now: my journal resting on a perfectly angled foam pillow, the elastic closure sagging with age, and a faithful curator turning one page every day, like they do with the First Folio or the Gutenberg Bible. Literary scholars will travel from far and wide to study my early poetry, composed in honor of my first crush, and the queer theory contingent will comb my diaries for every clue pertaining to my sexuality.

(Via Zastavki)

(Via Zastavki)

It’s a narcissistic dream, of course— but so, I might argue, is the alternative. The diary preserver thinks her experiences should be kept safe for the benefit of future generations; the diary burner believes her thoughts are so important they must be destroyed for the sake of world peace. What say you, my dear queer diarists? Are your journals destined to go up in flames? Or are you already planning the exhibition on your journal-writing career?


Dear Queer Diary is a column about the joys (and occasionally, the pains) of journaling. We crack open our tiny notebooks and break out the rainbow-colored pens on the regular, so get ready to limber up your writing hands and document all your beautiful feelings!

Header by Rory Midhani

Maggie is a freckly, punctuation-loving queer living in the Boston area. She supports her book-buying and tea-drinking habits by teaching America’s youth how to write topic sentences and spends her free time writing postcards and making sandwiches for her girlfriend.

Maggie has written 53 articles for us.

23 Comments

  1. When I came home from my London semester abroad in 2009, my mom accidentally washed my diary with the laundry. It exploded into tiny unreadable pieces of paper scattered everywhere. I felt like a friend had died. She never got why I was angry-sad, and was mostly pissed about the mess. I feel like you’d get it! I like your museum dream. I guess I think about morbid things a lot, and I want my diaries to exist after I do to prove I was here and I existed and had thoughts. Just in case I never make anything that lasts forever or have children, etc.

  2. I’ve often contemplated the thought of burning diaries, but resisted. I love the idea of ridding myself of the reminders of the past. In the link to the Rae Earl article she said

    Now I would like them burned because I don’t want people to ever be reminded of how painful their life journey has been (some things are best forgotten).

    I thought it odd that she said ‘their’ when writing about her own diary, but subsitute that word, and that’s how I feel. I find it difficult to pick up and read them. But I usually conclude that’s why I should keep them, to remind myself of what’s passed, and past.

  3. I burned all my high school diaries when I started undergrad. I don’t regret it. The angst was reaching a critical mass, it could have been dangerous.

    Somewhere, I have a journal from the year that I came out. It’s also full of angst, and (I’m not kidding) tables and diagrams planning my coming out process. I probably should burn it, but I’m torn. They were really good diagrams!

  4. I rerread my journals with embarrassing frequency. For me, more than a straightforward chronicle of my experiences, I find my journal to be a space to figure things out, to lay out my thoughts/feelings and then proceed to make sense of them. Often the result is a sort of epiphany moment that I will come back to regularly whenever I need to be reminded of that particular thought/experience/headspace. So I guess in that way they become a convoluted sort of owner’s manual to my own head? I’m also nostalgic to the point of becoming a pack rat, so the idea of letting go of all that memory is almost unthinkable.

  5. I threw away my high school journals a few years later. While there’s times when my overgrown sense of nostalgia would like to be able to flip through them, for the most part they were a really graphic log of very intense depression and gender confusion and I decided at some point that I just didn’t need to be able to dwell on that kind of negativity. I didn’t need the catharsis of burning – I was in a better place by the time I’d decided to toss them, so they just felt irrelevant – and I don’t regret the decision.

  6. not to burn! never to burn. i actually, in a momentary perfect storm of peaking self importance and boredom, i recently considered typing out all my journals, finally getting the messy entries that i created after high school in chronological order. but i have close to 15 years of notebooks completely full and scattered across states and distributed amongst people. idk how to even begin.

  7. I would burn my journals for the dramatic catharsis of it all, but I’m concerned about the potential environmental impact, so I shred all my old journals by hand (it’s fairly cathartic too actually) and then recycle the lot. I do this pretty much the moment I’m done with them. My partner is horrified by this, because she says when I’m dead she wants to be able to sell my stuff. /ROMANCE

  8. I finally got around to excising and running pretty much all of junior high and high school through the paper shredder, and I’m just about to take the remains out to the recycling bin. There is nobody who needs to remember the sordid details of my days as a fourteen year old weeaboo with untreated depression and a badly-drawn Mary Sue Legend of Zelda OC.

  9. I will never personally burn my diaries but my best friend and I have a pact to make sure that if either of us dies their diary will be burned unread. My diary is for me alone and I hate the thought of anyone else reading it.

  10. I’ve never burned any old journals, & i don’t think i could bring myself to do it. When i was younger & experienced depression for the first time, i wrote about it, but then– against online friend advice– ripped those pages out & shoved them deep into recycling. Now i wish i’d kept them. So i don’t think i’ll be destroying anything else purposefully, unless there’s a real, legitimate need to.

  11. I intend to keep all of mine, and I wish that I still had access to those 2-3 years I journalled exclusively on Xanga/Myspace/my family’s old Windows 98 computer. I have an absolutely terrible memory, and I was never the kind of person to take a lot of photos. So it’s important to me to keep my journals if only as a tangible record that I’ve existed all this time.

  12. I kept diaries on and off (mostly on) from when I was nine until I was about twenty. When I was twenty-six I shredded the lot (apartment living not lending itself to fiery purification).

    I had been toying with the idea for a while as the majority of the contents were infused with sadness: grief; self-harm; depression; confusion about my sexuality; attempted suicide; a stint in a psychiatric hospital. I turned a corner in my life, where all those things were fading from my mind and then I took the decision to destroy them, along with any cards or mementos from my time in hospital and any letters I exchanged with the friends I made there.

    It felt great! It really helped me to draw a line under my past and live in the present without feeling a shadow at my back the whole time. If your diaries are a focus of sad times then I say burn them!

  13. NOT TO BURN. NOT EVER TO BURN.

    Speaking as an archivist, I want all of you brilliant lovely queer beings to keep your brilliant lovely queer writings because you guys, history is about more than just the people in power. As queers, we’ve always had to make and remember our own histories, and as a queer archivist/lesbrarian, I want your histories to be part of what makes up the story that we tell of queers coming out and coming of age and living (talking laughing loving living) in the turn of the 21st century. Archives hold that history and the angst and sadness and first-crush giddiness in the beautiful handwritten records of how y’allqueers lived & loved in these past decades are definitely archival materials. Save them! Donate your papers when you’re old and/or when you die! Live a life that’s worth writing/reading about and write about it so that babygays in 2075 can read about what it was like to be queer in 2014.

  14. Before I came out to my mom, I agonized over what to do with my journal (that contained evidence of my queerness), to avoid having my family read it and find out about me being gay if I were to experience an untimely death.

    Fortunately, that all turned out okay, but I still write (journal) mostly for myself. I keep my journal around and re-read things I wrote months or years ago to relive those experiences (and occasionally consult it for the empanada recipe I learned in Argentina).

    So while I don’t think I’ll ever burn or destroy my journal(s) while I’m still of this world, maybe I’d like to have them burned at my funeral when I die. That sounds kind of morbid, but it also seems like it would be kind of cool, to me, at least.

  15. I’d only consider burning my journals (which I’ve been keeping since I was in 6th grade) because I like setting things on fire.

    I’d keep them around so people could read them. But since I don’t like people reading them now I doubt I’d like the idea of someone reading them if I wasn’t around.

    And if I wanted them to keep me alive I would prefer that that happen through my art.

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