by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
January 30, 2007
ON THE BURNING OF JOURNALS
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Both Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra sang on award-winning recordings of a song called "Little Girl Blue." It was a tender, compassionate string of lines feeling sorry for an old lady who had nothing left to do but: "Sit there, and count your fingers. What can you do? Old girl you're through. Sit there and count your little fingers, unlucky little girl blue."
The song truly never made sense to me, but it did create an image - a negative image - and I harbored both that image and a fear that I could come to that: a modern day "Whistler's Mother." When I see that painting, "Arrangement in Grey and Black," I don't see the mother of a talented artist, I see an old lady counting her fingers.
Then there's the image James Barrie created when he wrote "An Old Lady Shows Her Medals." Mr. Barrie's fanciful imagination also brought us "Peter Pan," his tale about never growing up. The Old Lady he wrote about during World War I was a Scottish charwoman who did grow old, but was childless. Naturally, all the women her age bragged about their heroic sons - so she made one up. It's interesting theater and another glimpse, perhaps, at how old ladies were once perceived.
We don't have them anymore. Oh, of course we have women well past the four-score years and 10, but they are not old ladies. I would say the only difference between then and now is to be found in attitude and self-perception. We bandy about expressions like, "Forty is the new 25; 75 is the new 50," and the age-old, age-defying line "You're as old as you feel."
What is really on my mind is that the clock and calendar still rule. You reach a time when you cannot feel comfortable planning ahead if it's for more than 10 years, regardless of the state of your health.
I think, what should I do about this, about that? Instead of an old lady in a rocker, I see myself as Rodin's "The Thinker." Today my dominant thought is that I'll burn all my journals, and that's a truly depressing thought.
I always thought these notebooks of every size and color would be wonderful to have just to someday read over and over again. As I thumb through the pages now I see a laugh here and there, trials that seemed insurmountable, and overwhelming situations that no longer exist. Nothing is as it was, and a memory seems to be self-editing. I think our memories are programmed the same way childbirth is. Once you've moved on - once you've delivered the baby - the pain that brought you there is totally forgotten.
The escape of writing a page or two is quite different from the idealistic "Dear Diary" entries of a teenager. The fears and concerns of a 16-year old are palpable on the pages but ultimately reveal themselves as nothing more than the rites of passage we all learn to recognize through our enerring hindsight.
As a grown woman, what is most evident on the written page is that I used my journals to escape those difficult situations, to be in communion with my own thoughts, to share my sorrow, depression, feelings of inadequacy. I rarely ran to the blank pages to make note of the love, joy, and delight Of happy times I knew in all the years between then and now. I was too busy living those days, and I remember them without having to nudge my memory.
But - and this is the burning question - do I have the right to remove the record? They are mine, of course, but they are also a firsthand account of my life lived parallel to those I know and love. And times have changed. Where once my actions were admirable (driving my seven children around in a 1962 Chevy convertible, rather than leaving any one of them home alone) are now greeted with "Were you crazy? You could have had an accident." I might stammer in my defense that "there were no seatbelt laws and they held onto each other," but it looks terrible when you read it in the journal. And that's only one example.
We all know that history will judge us, but what about the fact that times change? What was prescribed by a doctor in the 1950s as a way to beat "housewife's fatigue" would be part insanity today. He would suggest, "What you need to do is take time out in the afternoon, sit down, have a cup of coffee, light a cigarette. Relax. Forget about your problems."
Most of my journal-writing was done when I was following the doctor's advice and pouring my heart out as I "relaxed" my problems away. Not even one page reveals exactly who I was or hoped to become. Not even one page suggests an inkling of who I am today - or where I am today, for that matter.
Between the ages of 30 and 60 I was in the child-bearing, child-rearing stage of my life. It was an actual historical era and I simply acted out my part upon that stage as a stay-at-home Mom. Books are written about how women played those scenes when ordinary childhood ("Leave it to Beaver") became extinct and books on "How to Raise a Child" became trite compared to what we could see from our windows and, too often, in our own homes. It's all been written down, recorded and filmed for posterity.
But not by me.
No, I'm not an old lady by the old standards, and temporarily at least, the journals can remain intact in the blanket box under the bed. But the day is coming when I will fully understand this: Just because something was once treasured does not mean it can never be trashed.