But I woke one morning and knew it was time to let it all go.
I yanked open the flue, started a small log fire and began here on the books. They burned slowly, at first, reluctant.
A few pages caught, charred edges smoldered across my handwriting, plumes of thick smoke funneled lazily into the chimney. Small hard-covered volumes, bound with thread and taped up the side, most of them from an old French stationer, their plasticized glossy lapis blue or turquoise covers shrank and shriveled.
I had thought that color would keep away the evil eye. The eye that would pry. The eye that would judge. And I am an unregenerate snoop. I will read any diary left in my path. Privacy was, perhaps, the proximate cause of my recent pyromania. My sons were spending the summer with me, probably the last one at my home. They were on the verge of departing into their own adulthoods, moving into their own first homes.
It had struck me, several years earlier, that once children get to a certain age, the age at which check this out start keeping First Person In An Essay own secrets, becoming opaque to those who love them most, the age at which they start doing things they cannot dream of their parents ever having done, they the children, that is become voraciously curious about what exactly their parents did do, what were their secrets, who were they, anyway?
Once children get curious that way, nothing puts them off the scent. There were plenty of people I wanted to smoke out of my life. Come to think of it, several months earlier, one of them, about whom I had written in my diaries copiously, tearfully, had recently popped unceremoniously back into my life after decades of absence, petulantly demanding to be returned to his pedestal, or at least to my bed.
Perhaps a roaring fire would put to rest the Undead. The urge to burn may have been born, long ago, of the old prayer I said on my knees every night as a child: I First Person In An Essay keeping journals when I was I was compulsive about it.
I scribbled daily — and as I went through college, I filled hundreds of pages with dense, colorful ink, going right to the edge, ignoring the light threads of red margin markers, denying paragraphs their breaks, my nib flattening under the pressure of the stream of soul pouring forth. A psychiatrist once told me that I was obviously trying to psychoanalyze myself, which, professionally speaking, is considered impossible.
But there certainly was — and has always been — a form of therapy in keeping journals. As I raked up my burn pile click fateful morning, reaching for old journals secreted in hatboxes, piled in trunks, smothered at the bottom of dress bags, I riffled through the pages, reading. I was shocked that even things that had happened 20, 30 years ago felt as familiar and as raw as if they had happened yesterday. That so unnerved me that I stopped reading.
Worse, I was struck by the repetition of patterns over the years: I wrote about the bad boyfriends, the mean girls, the lying and cheating knaves I loved.
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Certainly not the sort of detritus I wanted those boys to sift through if I died before I woke. Life really is like a game of Chutes and Ladders, I thought, taking the long view while nosing around, and burning up, my life.
It gets wearying after a while.
View all New York Times newsletters. That would be too hard for them. I wanted them to remember me as one who clambers back. A person who picks herself up and gets going again.
Back through the years, I threw journals onto the pile. Embers rocketed across the hearth; ashes blew sideways and drifted into the room. The heat became so intense I had to back off. It was thrilling, in an atavistic, cavewomanish kind of way. I wondered if I were going to regret my spontaneous combustion — when it was too late to do anything about it.
And I write about my life in a blog. It is kind of like the old saw about having it all.
First Person Dos and Donts
Readers never get it all. They get some of all of it. Everything I write is true. I shape, I cut, I feint and dodge; I want to get to something that is uniquely mine, First Person In An Essay at the same time ours, too. As the journals burned, I watched in horrified fascination, as if it were some other person laying the read article onto the fire, to entertain or torture me.
The fire had a violent beauty. And I did think, whoa, there goes a lot of material. But I also thought, good riddance. Oddly, I felt only a numb relief. And a certain amount of anguish that now it was time to clean up the mess I had made of my heart. I mean, my hearth.
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