Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Journey of my Journals

As a kid, I was always a natural diary-keeper. Someone, I think my oldest sister, bought me a red diary with a lock when I was eight and I proceeded to record events of my fascinating life. Anyone who's read my book knows what this entailed: my daily crush reports on Larry Aronson. Right before our move to Arizona I got a little more sophisticated and got a paisley journal with no lock (a big reading risk in a house with seven snoopy sisters), and then, as a teen, I used gigantic spiral notebooks. Great material for writing book two, right? After all, original source material! Historical fact! A reference! The historian in me loves this. Why even write? Why not just transcribe?

Well, it turns out that diaries don't make a book. I opened my diaries looking for things that I forgot in the numerous stories I've already written of our first five years in Arizona and what did I find? As the mother of a teen and a tween, I should have known the answer to this. Anyone should. I found a bunch of whining blather. I found a lot of teen anguish and misery and unrequited crushes and false reporting going on between my alleged friends and the guys involved. Also, when I start taking French my Junior year I, annoyingly, start writing a lot of the entries in French.

Is this a book? No. Will this even help me write a book? No.

Turns out the parts I remember and the themes I remember are the most interesting parts anyway. The miserable crushes that end in a rolling make out session on top of a cactus in the desert; the way my life parallels my mother's in a carnival mirror kind of way; the way that the seven of us descend upon Scottsdale like some sort of bomb. That's not in my diaries. That's something you need time to see. A diary's about a day's events. A book is like a panorama.

What is left is exactly what I started off with and what I was writing anyway: a book about a Jewish girl from Skokie showing up in the Horse-riding Cowboy Scottsdale of 1973, not exactly a time traveller but, in many ways, a creature from another place and time.

Has anyone else saved their diaries or journals from high school and found them less than intriguing?  Do you find that your memories are a more accurate reporter of fact than the teenage you?

Author of Looking Up: A Memoir of Sisters, Survivors and Skokie
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