ILLUSTRATION: Andrew Bannecker


I just burned 40 years’ worth of diaries. I didn’t plan to, 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 laying 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, 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.


I didn’t want anyone else reading my diaries, ever.


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 they start keeping their 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.


I should know. I spent years as an adolescent rooting around in my parents’ closets looking for letters, sorting through boxes of letters and photographs, searching for clues about who they were, how they came together, why on earth I was on earth?


I started keeping journals when I was 14. I was compulsive about it. I scribbled daily—and as I went through college, I filled hundreds of pages with dense, colorful ink, denying paragraphs their breaks, my nib flattening under the pressure of the stream of soul pouring forth. Keeping journals is a way of self-soothing, as an adult, when you’re anxious about separation, or too worked up to fall asleep.


The urge to burn may have been born, long ago, of the old prayer I said on my knees every night as a child: “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” My soul lived in my diaries, and that weighed on me; by the time I was in my 40s, if I died before I woke, I wanted Someone to snatch my diaries before anyone else did.


I wrote about the bad boyfriends, the mean girls, the lying and cheating knaves I loved. I wrote about the wrenching pain of postpartum depression, the confusion and fear of becoming a mother, when I didn’t have a clue how to do that gracefully, kindly, compassionately. Certainly not the sort of detritus I wanted those boys to sift through.


Life really is like a game of Chutes and Ladders, I thought, taking the long view while nosing around, and burning up, my life. You work hard to climb, and you get lucky, too; you’re ambling along when suddenly, wham, you roll wrong, you make a stupid move, and you’re perilously upside down the slide. You’ve got to pick yourself up and start the climb over again. It gets wearying after a while.


That’s the starkest pattern in all of our lives. It takes so long to get the hang of it, the slipping, sliding and starting over, that by the time we’re old enough to know that the climb is everything, the whole story, the destination doesn’t matter, we’re tired enough to let wisdom in, to move efficiently, thoughtfully, to finally stop and enjoy the view along the way.

我不要兒子們知道我曾蒙受的苦難。那對他們而言太沉重。 – I didn’t want my sons to know how I had suffered. That would be too hard for them.


Burning those diaries, I realized I didn’t want my sons to know how profoundly I had suffered from the slides down the chutes, the tumbles through the holes that gaped open in the scaffolding of my life. That would be too hard for them. I wanted them to remember me as one who clambers back. That’s the person they grew up with. A person who picks herself up and gets going again.


Back through the years, I threw journals onto the pile. I couldn’t stop. The fire became huge and hot and loud; the pages didn’t smolder but burst into lashing flame, the books buckled and popped. 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. Another old pattern.


As the journals burned, I watched in horrified fascination, as if it were some other person laying the books onto the fire, to entertain or torture me. The fire had a violent beauty. But I also thought, good riddance. I’ve made what I could of that material.



I’d like to tell you that it was a profoundly, mystically cleansing experience, that I laid a lot of pain and anger to rest on that funeral pyre. 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.

Or do I?

  • opaque (adj) 難理解的
  • scribble (v) 潦草地書寫    
  • knave (n)無賴,流氓    
  • amble (v) 輕鬆地走,從容漫步
  • hearth (n) 壁爐地面;爐床     
  • combustion (n) 燃燒      
  • pyre (n) 火葬用的柴堆

心動不如行動 — 馬上註冊!