On burning diaries and why I still write

I really enjoyed Lena Dunham’s essay in Lenny last week, about rereading (and now publishing) excerpts from the diaries she wrote aged 20.

(I mean, this is Lena, and I wouldn’t be a cliche millennial if I didn’t enjoy most things she does – although let’s gloss over the fact that I’m catching up on Girls lately and am aware that, out of the group, I DEFINITELY relate to Hannah the most, and I am CRINGING about it.)

I kept a meticulously regular diary between the ages of about 13 and 16. I wrote almost every day. Sometimes only about where I’d been and what I’d eaten, but always about what I’d been feeling. About my friends, about my first boyfriend, about getting together with him and then breaking up two years later. About people I liked, people I didn’t like, school and jobs and reinventing myself (it never happened). My life was painfully simple, but painful nonetheless. Isn’t every 14-year-old’s?

Lena said this of looking back at the inside of her 20-year-old mind:

“There is something so pleasurably painful about reading old diaries, like picking a scab or waiting for a sneeze or asking an ex to explain, in graphic detail, why they don’t want to f*ck you anymore.”

Eh, I think I get it. Except when I used to read my teen diaries back, all I got was drippy and sentimental. I’d read them wistfully and wish for the times when things were (retrospectively) easy and happy and I knew where I stood in life. Before the pretence of being a grown-up kicked in and I had to have it all together even though I really didn’t. You’re allowed to be an emotional mess when you’re 14. It’s expected of you.

I’m purely postulating here. I don’t know if these are the reasons I used to read my teen diaries and wish time-travel was real. I don’t know why I’d long for those days so damn hard. But I do know that when I saw an article a few years back which championed the burning of old diaries, moving on, focusing forwards… it made sense.

My teen diaries made me feel homesick every time I read them, like a golden time was lost and I could never get it back. Which is true. But to intensely nostalgic me, that’s the worst. It’s a recent revelation, this whole ‘doing life looking forwards’ thing. It doesn’t come naturally to me. I like to cling and reminisce, possibly to a fault.

But after that article got me heated, I stopped clinging. I ripped up every page of those old diaries, and I put them in the recycling bin like the good little rebel I am.

That was about four years ago. The relief was quite something. I didn’t have to hang on to that painfully awkward teenage girl with her doubts and self-consciousness if I didn’t want to. I could just hold onto the good stuff, like being the nice kind of sensitive, and being utterly in love with my family. Because that’s who I am regardless, and no destroying of old diaries can change that.

I realise this all sounds nonsensical given that I’m writing this post on my very personal yet very public blog, the content of which is what I’ve been thinking/feeling/eating. What makes this any different? I’m not sure it is different, not really. If this is my diary these days, my posts are just longer, and hopefully more eloquent.

I’ve read past posts on here, dating back almost two years, and it doesn’t feel anything like as painful. Perhaps I’m just different now. Happier with where my life’s heading, not feeling that I need to look back. Actually quite proudly fond of the person who was writing, rather than regretful that I didn’t nurture her right. No longer feeling like something’s missing – because reading the words of teenage me, it was always only clear what I’d since lost, rather than what I’d gained. Whatever the reason, I’ll continue to post as long as stories bring me sense. Because when my friend recently applauded me for posting every day and said she wouldn’t be able to do it because her thoughts aren’t coherent enough, I said that’s exactly why I write. Because my thoughts are never coherent until I write them down. It’s not the writing of the diaries that got to me, but more the reading them back. So, how long these here pieces will stay online, I don’t know. But I need to write them. And I have a feeling they’ll last longer than the pained words I scrawled in my Bang on the Door diaries 15 years ago.