20+ Years of Angsty Journals

I began writing in journals when I was thirteen. I was inspired by a late-night adventure I had with friends that no one would have thought twice about in the early 70s but would have given me a heart attack if my daughter had taken a similar jaunt when in middle school. Anyhoo, a few weeks ago I was in such desperate need of a plot that I began searching through my 20+ years of journals hoping to recover some memory I could spin like Rumpelstiltskin into mystery plot gold. What I came across was pretty much 20+ years of Wagnerian opera-level drama and terrible poetry about life, family, and – duh – boys. Entries like this one, written when I was in college:

Notice how I’ve redacted the profanity. Yes, I had a potty mouth at a young age. (Also, note that made-up word: retributed. Bad Ellen! I was way too old to be that illiterate.)

After an hour or so, as I was on the cusp of having depressed myself to the point of day drinking, I suddenly came upon that most rare thing – an upbeat journal entry. In the early 1980s, I spent several years working at the Dramatists Guild in New York. The board was comprised of legends most theatre/film aficionados can only dream of meeting. Well, not only did I get to meet luminaries like Edward Albee, Garson Kanin, Mary Rodgers, John Guare, and Lanford Wilson (who I once walked in on going to the bathroom – we kept the phone books in there), I experienced magical moments like this one with Stephen Sondheim:

The arrow leads to a bad poem I won’t bore you with

While I didn’t find a storyline in my journals, the search reminded me of an experience that has generated a potential plot, albeit circuitously. And despite the angst, it was fascinating to relive important memories, positive and negative, that comprise my past.

In NY and LA, there used to be these great events where people read from their youthful journals. Oh, how I long to bring that to life once again in the mystery community. In the meantime, I plan on summoning the strength to plow through the journals I bailed on. Even if it entails a little – or a lot – of day drinking.

Readers, did you – or do you – keep journals? Are they as drama-filled as mine?

42 thoughts on “20+ Years of Angsty Journals

  1. Never kept a journal, but I did craft detailed and sublime letters to Santa.

    If you do bring back journal-reading events, I’m wildly waving my hand in the air to read yours!

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Mine, at first, were thick diaries that locked. I’m kind of glad I don’t have them anymore! I do remember, with some embarrassment, what some of the entries were about.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I had diaries and journals growing up and through my mid twenties. About five years ago it occurred to me that if I were hit by a bus, my four children would probably read those angsty, boy crazy pages and wonder at what point their real mother had been switched by aliens. I bundled them along with letters from a former boyfriend, and a high school friend and burned it all one evening while drinking a lot of wine. Now I worry less about that oncoming bus.

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    1. Wow! You are brave. I actually read some of my journal entries to my daughter to show she wasn’t the first person or alone in experiencing some of life’s lows. Of course, I shared in the most dramatic reading possible!

      Liked by 4 people

  4. At 8 or 10 I had those little diaries with the lock like Kaye. I was always losing the keys, even then, so I doubt I ever wrote anything very interesting or private. I think I only wrote about what I did that day, because that’s what I had been instructed to do by my dad, who kept a little leather day book (a new one every Xmas) where he jotted a line or two with the same. But I got bored, and usually gave it up after a few weeks, so I had a collection little books with only the first pages written on, kind of like Snoopy typing his epic novels from the top of his doghouse. “Today it rained.” (Great start!) How’s that for angst?

    Liked by 5 people

  5. I had a journal in high school, but it’s only about 20 pp. long, as I rarely wrote in the thing. But after college, a group of us lived in a house together and we had a “bathroom book,” a composition book with a pen on a string attached to it, which we kept on the back of the toilet. Most of the entries were late-night ones, during or after the raucous parties we’d host, long, sometimes-amusing drunken rants and poetry…

    And what’s funny, Ellen, is that just the other week I went to see if I still had them (I do), and decided I really needed to read through them to get ideas for a book I’m pondering. Ha! Love that we had the same thought! Now I’m inspired to actually read them.

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  6. I kept a journal off and on for a few years as a kid. Did better when I started a blog (not my review blog, another one) almost 20 years ago. Even then, I’m not super consistent about updating it. So far, I’ve only posted 2 entries in it all year.

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      1. Honestly, that is one reason why “Random Ramblings” suffers these days – the time I spend on Carstairs. And, since, I have so little going on in my life these days that is new and interesting to talk about, I don’t have much to blog about over there anyway.

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  7. El, I love your journal! It provided an outlet to release some of that angst we so often feel as young people — which is actually healthy, I think. I never trusted the level of privacy in my house growing up to journal really personal stuff (I come from a family of snoops))! But I do still have some of the really bad poetry I wrote in my teens and twenties —an emotional journal, of sorts.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. I also kept journals from my tweens to teens. (Full of angst and drama–or what I thought of as drama.) Like Kelly, though, I figured I’d get rid of them because I didn’t want *anyone* to ever read them.

    I have kept some really bad poetry. The poems are in a folder that I’ve deliberately shelved away from prying eyes.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. El, this is such a great post! Loved peeking inside your journal.

    Yes, kept journals–like Kelly and Jen, though, after I had children, I destroyed them, which was cathartic and painful all at once. (I may have saved a couple from when they were born, I think, but none before or after that.) And YES, there was drama lol.

    However, I DID keep all of my bad poetry…so sign me up for humiliation at your reading. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Cyn! I’m just glad I restrained myself from sharing the entry where I vented about hating my family life and wanting to run away – except I only had $17! A sensible Capricorn even as a moody teen, lol.

      Liked by 3 people

  10. I didn’t do very well with keeping up with my journals and diaries. I would begin them but never continue past a few weeks either. My life just wasn’t exciting- what’s to write about? Later, I picked it up again, and was married- was a mom by then. I still didn’t keep up the journaling, life was getting difficult at that point, and I just didn’t want to write about it. I was very into avoidance- I did destroy all of them. I have one of my late wife’s journals. That I’m keeping just because it’s in her handwriting. One fun moment was I was helping to clean my grandmother’s house out and I stumbled across my mom’s diary from high school. (in the 60s) she is such a hoot! She’d have a date with a guy in the afternoon, run home and change, and go out with a different guy at night! LOL. I never let her hear the end of that story!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. This is pure GOLD, Ellen! How fantastic to have that mental snapshot of those times.

    I never kept a journal, but my bestie did and since we did so much together, it was like journaling by proxy. She immortalized some hair-raising adventures, and so many times we look back and marvel that we ended up in one piece. I’m tempted to start keeping one now!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Like others, I had the diaries with the little lock. But after a few entries about the mean girls, teachers, and, yes, boys, I bored myself, figured no one would ever want to read my juvenile ramblings, and gave it up. I tried journaling a couple times as an adult with the same result. If I bored myself, no one else could possibly find my scribblings interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’m finding all these comments about everyone’s journals being so boring absolutely fascinating. And I think you’re wrong. I did some research a few years ago and stumbled on a diary from a farm wife who lived, as I recall, in very rural Kansas around 1920. Almost every entry was a notation about how boring her life was—”no different than anyone else’s.” But that life, while common then, has all but disappeared now and it was decidedly NOT boring to me. Her daily chores were similar to mine, but handled altogether differently. Her relationships were similar, but completely different, because of the era….etc, etc, etc. I don’t know how the digital age will have skewed things in the far future, but those snapshots of different lives in different times are something we’ll mourn if we lose them.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Becky, SUCH a great point. I envy you that diary. I would love to pick up one like that. With the transition to online communication, we’re going to lose so much everyday history, like you bring up.

      Liked by 2 people

  14. Thanks for sharing, Ellen! I had a few diaries with the lock since elementary school, and of course one of my brothers found one and picked it open to taunt me, laughing like a maniac. I threatened murder, then shortly had stuff to “blackmail” him with! We then had to do journals in HS English, and I kept up the practice several years later after marriage, (including the requisite bad poetry) until 2014, when we became full-time caregivers for my elderly parents. Some are good records of the times, including historic events and travel reports, so now I might revisit them again. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Wow. I never kept a real journal because I was afraid someone would read it. I had one of those five-year diaries when I was in 6th grade and had a really hard year. I hardly wrote anything in that diary, but I do remember one entry after the Christmas holidays: “Back to the old grind.” That one unoriginal sentence summed up months of misery.

    Later, as an adult, I wrote one page of journal in very small, cryptic prose, almost in code, because again, I didn’t want anyone to read it. I found it years letter and couldn’t decipher it myself!

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Barbara, how funny you couldn’t read your own prose! And I’m sorry 6th grade was hard on you. Guess what? It was my worst year ever. I think it took me over twenty years to get over it.

    Liked by 2 people

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