Friday, March 14, 2014

To Read or Not to Read? And More...

Shadow Cut, January 2014
 I think we can all ethically agree that, unless strong circumstances call on us to do otherwise, people's journals are off limit to others' eyes. But what about after they die?

This article in the Opinionator column in the NYT is wonderful. It explores "the other side" of memoir/journals/diaries - do we read those of people we love who've died? Do we want those who outlive us to read ours?

It brings to mind the opening of Terry Tempest Williams' memoir When Women Were Birds, in which she finally opens all the journals her mother left her, only to find they are...blank. My god. To think all that was not, ever, written.

And then, questions not addressed, but significant for those who write memoir:
If we write an official version of memoir, do we then get rid of the journals? Annie Dillard is quoted in Inventing the Truth (a lovely collection of memoir writings edited by William Zissner) that we no longer remember what happened, just what we wrote (after writing memoir). What's the point of the keeping journals and letters after we are done "researching"?

So many questions, so little time.  Yet, worthy of pondering.
Just keep writing, I tell my students who worry about who will read what they purposefully (publication/fame) or accidentally leave behind (sudden death/journals). We'll figure out the next part when we get to it.

1 comment:

  1. Five years ago I was sure I had the answer--when I'm gone, burn the journals. Or maybe I'd burn them myself after I read them but now I find I can barely read them myself. Never mind revisit the question of what happens to that box after I'm gone.

    A few years ago a friend called me to ask what I thought about him reading his deceased wife's journals. I asked if they had discussed this before she passed. They hadn't. I advised him not to read them. He confessed he'd opened one, read that she was thinking of leaving him. He hadn't known. His grief was compounded. He did not open them again.

    Which says that I really do want to leave instructions. Just as soon as I know that they are...