A powder keg with a lit fuse in my basement

A few years ago I wrote a post soliciting opinions on how to solve a little problem I have. I received some excellent tips in my comments section but have done absolutely nothing in the interim to rid myself of the issue at hand. It’s all about these:


This is a plastic bin filled with journals from the late 80s through early 90s. They cover the period when I first moved to New York City as a hopeful, brooding, solitary young boy. There are about a dozen books filled with hand-written pages and the binders are packed with hundreds and hundreds of single space type-written pages. The absolute last thing I want is for these to fall into the hands of my daughters. They’re fill with depravation, longing and raunchy exploits. I wasn’t as depressed as these writings would make it seem. Not having the money for a proper therapist, stream-of-thought typing became my method for purging all the dark matter clogging my consciousness. It was cathartic, but it’s not an accurate representation of my state of mind.

The problem is that on more than one occasion, I’ve pulled these out with the intention of driving to the town incinerator but before I make it out the front door I’ll open one, start reading and get lost in the misty water-colored memories of the way I was. I laugh my ass off at the startling depth of my naïveté and utter cluelessness about life, women and human nature. Especially women. I get sucked into a wormhole and come out the other side in some girl’s bed in 1991.


Someone recently sent me a link to an essay by Joan Didion about how it’s vital to keep and reread your old journals. She feels there’s value in them. But I have extenuating circumstances (i.e., children) that make keeping these problematic. I really need to burn these, don’t I? What if I meet with an untimely end? I don’t want my last thoughts to be, “I should have burned my journals” and “Am I wearing clean underwear?” I don’t want them reading this stuff.


My God, they’re fun to read. What a little fool I was. For being free-form and not knowing a damn thing about punctuation, sentence structure or clarity, there are some surprisingly readable passages. How can I throw them away!? I must throw them away! Will one of you hang on to these for me?

39 thoughts on “A powder keg with a lit fuse in my basement

  1. Don’t throw them away! Hide them yes, but they’re priceless. Maybe put some of them up here (or on a password protected sub-site). They’re part of you and it’s priceless to be able to look back at another form of you.

  2. I still have a bunch of old ones somewhere but at the same time i threw a bunch of stuff out, some from when i was really young but back then i didn’t have time to write shit down, i was to busy taking drugs and drinking and chasing women, wish i would’ve wrote more down, guess that’s what i do now… from what i saw, lock ’em up in a trunk and hide ’em for your own enjoyment, you might be more worried about the wife finding them than the daughters… you filthy pig (and i say that with love and respect from a fellow filthy pig) haha

  3. You could read them aloud into an audio-file which you could hide safely in a memory stick. As a backup, you could pay a typist to create a text document from the audio file. When your daughters are grown up you should let them read everything if they want to – they’ll be wise enough to know that even parents are human. It might help them to recognise elements of their own personality in your musings.

    • Read hundreds of pages into an audio-file?! Not a chance. Most of it is quite dull and mopey. Poor me. That sort of thing. Not at all like the titillating examples I provided. I still can’t imagine that I’d want them reading this stuff even when they’re age appropriate. As far as I’m concerned, they’ll NEVER be old enough for this junk.

  4. Henry Miller eat your heart out!Umm, a left-luggage locker that no-one in your family knows about? A bank deposit box (ditto)?Don’t ever throw them away/burn them.PG

  5. If you have serious aspirations to ever be a full time writer you can’t destroy them. Further – any details you can add re time and place whilst you can still remember what happened yesterday, is worth doing. Then you can think of safely secreting them somewhere.

    • I cannot imagine that I’ll ever take writing so seriously that I’ll be able to draw a paycheck from it. (Isn’t that what “serious aspirations” is a euphemism for?) I was particularly worried about you reading this post. You’re so demure and I have so much respect for you. I didn’t want to expose you to this gutter side of my past. Hope you don’t think any less of me.

  6. I threw mine away in a fit of depression many years ago. I was afraid I would die suddenly without the chance to destroy them in time before others got to read them. It was a mistake. 😦

  7. I think you know what I’d say…KEEP THEM! In a locked fireproof cabinet.I trashed a lot of my early stuff and have no regrets about most of it. But there were some things I should have kept.Too late now, but I thought, when I was 30 something and starting on a new page ( odd metaphor, that!)that there were painful reminders and I lit the match.I was a fool!As to your children reading them, when they are adults…that’s something you can decide on, years down the track.For now, enjoy being a happy daddy.

    • To be perfectly frank, there are many painful episodes within that I don’t need to relive. I’d be protecting myself from that, as well. Do you know what would be really special? If someone offered me a big pile of cash for these scribblings. Then they’d be off my hands and they’d not have been destroyed. The perfect solution.

  8. That you are asking yourself if you would regret trashing them means that you would definitely regret it. But I think you already know that.The harder you try to hide them, the more likely it is that they’ll be found. Could your parents effectively hide anything from you? Mine couldn’t. “Hide” them in plain sight – stick a big label on the end of the box that says, “TAXES 1990-2000” No kid on earth would ever open that.Maybe you need some objective perspective on your daughters eventually reading it. It’s really a gift, that writing, one that most of us will never receive. A vivid picture of a parent as a real person, with real insecurities, mistakes, idiocy…who wouldn’t love to have that?Do you want to sit around the kitchen table with them while they read it in 20 years? No. But of everything you leave them after you’re gone, I would wager that box would be the thing they treasure more than anything.Something to think about, anyway.

    • These are excellent points. I think this post, like the one I wrote previously, is a veiled requests to be talked out of destroying them. You’re correct. I don’t want to be rid of them. I think it might amuse me to read of my own father’s conquests and failures. I’m not so sure it’s what I want for my daughters, though.

  9. do not throw them away. that’s all i have, sugar. at some point as your girls grow up they will find out damn near everything about you that you never wanted them to know! bottomline? it won’t matter one bit! trust me on this one key thing. xoxoxoxox

  10. i still have a box of my writings – pretty depraved stuff for a 16 year old trailer park girl. can’t throw them out. when my daughter was that age, i went back through a few of them to get my head back where it lives when you are a 16 year old girl. it helped.i won’t throw mine out either. you keep them? your daughters will eventually read them. and when they are adults? what’s the harm in knowing you you were/are? these things are our building blocks. be real. let them know you someday.

    • I can’t get past the thought of my two girls reading this stuff. I don’t even want my wife to read it! That’s probably why I’d make such a lousy writer. You have to be willing to put it all out there in order for it to be worthwhile. Have you ever read a book by David Sedaris? His early ones, especially, expose all his family’s kookiness. That’s what makes it so entertaining.

  11. an endless dilemma. i had a stack of this sort of journal too which i kept for years. recently with all the deaths in the family though i really had to ask that question. Do I want my son to read this. I have been a writer in the past so have a published novel (Viking), a non fiction book and soon a chapbook of poems etc. I decided these formally published writings are enough to leave to posterity. Finally, at age 67, it took me that long, I destroyed my journals except for the last few years worth.

    • In all that time did you ever go back and read all that old stuff? I always think I’m going to but can’t imagine having the time to actually sit and weed through it all. Most of it is quite dull and doesn’t have value. To destroy or not destroy? That is the question.

  12. You must NOT Throw them away. Put them in a storage unit or somewhere safe so that you can re-read them, whenever. Joan Didion is right. Maybe give the key to that storage place to someone you trust, and ask them to give them to your kids after your death, and/or when they are 30! It is your History, and, it is precious!

    • I’m afraid that what’s precious to me might be a image-altering laugh-fest for my daughters. As I’ve said above, I don’t even want my wife to see this stuff, even though she is already well aware of how demented and damaged I am. History or reputation? Which is more important?

    • I’m beginning to like the idea of a safety deposit box. Keeping them off grounds might provide the peace of mind I’m looking for. I remember I buried a filled journal once in the woods for safe keeping but I could never find it again. That wasn’t so smart.

  13. I’m so happy all my old journal writing was done by hand, and no one, absolutely no one, is able to read my handwriting, buwhahahaI completely understand being stuck between nostalgia and embarrassment on this

  14. Definitely keep them. I’ve said as much before. We all have embarrassing tales to recall. Speaking as one who has a stack of journals that is maybe a slightly smaller stack than the one I see here.Been a while. Always loved reading your posts.

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