Honoring the Sacred Space of Diaries/Journals
She seems to keep her own diary, my daughter, at twelve. Sometimes I step on a notebook she has tossed, open to her handwritten pages, onto the floor beside her bed when I go in to wake her up in the morning. Whatever she's been writing, it's none of my business. I'd be lying if I said I've never been tempted to take a peak. We're universally curious about what's written in other people's diaries. I pick it up, close the cover, set it on her desk.
I never read it. Diarist to diarist, I adhere to the unwritten rule. A reader may only be invited into the diary by the writer who chooses to share. The diary is sacred territory. Reading someone else's diary without her permission is like prying open the cover of her soul, the soul she may be trying to save by writing to herself in the first place.
In my journal writing workshops through the years, I have met many participants, mostly women, who have had the privacy of their diary violated, usually in their teenage years, by a mother, a brother, a sister, which caused them to stop writing. The violation silenced the most personal, honest, creative aspect of their voice. This is a tragedy. Even when they are eager to begin writing again - to take a risk, to imagine indulging in the freedom of self-expression - they freeze from fear. In fact, this fear of not being able to keep the diary private often inhibits someone who has never kept a diary.
But, whatever our fears of being exposed, we must dare to write, again. And again. We must give ourselves permission to write what is in our hearts, minds, and souls to discover our truth, to understand the story of our lives, to make choices that lead us to feeling whole and centered as human beings. We have the power to heal violations, and we have the power to create a safe place for our writing.
Creating Safety for Personal Diaries
Find a safe place for your personal diary; the one you keep for your eyes only. You decide based on your level of trust of those you live with to what lengths you need to go to safeguard your privacy. Whether or not your fears seem realistic or rational, indulge them. Get a locked cabinet and wear the key around your neck if you have to. Put your diary on the computer and password-protect it. Do whatever you need to do to give yourself permission to write.
Give yourself permission to destroy what you write before you write it. Then, give yourself permission to wait a few days, weeks, or years, before you destroy it. Once you've put it on the page, it may have much less power for you, and you may decide to keep it. In the thirty plus years that I've been keeping personal diaries I can't remember a single time I destroyed an entry. By the time I was done writing, I had faced my fears of expressing something, and found the insights, catharsis and self-awareness were a worthy result.
Creating Safety for Diaries for Your Children
Keeping a diary for your child raises some different privacy issues, since you are intending to share the diary with a specific audience. Your sense of who this audience is - your present and your future child - shapes what and how you write.
I'm often asked in parenting diary workshops whether I share the diaries with my children as they're growing. Yes, I believe in reading aloud from their diaries. Just as we're curious about what others are writing in their diaries, our children are curious about what we're writing to them. Sharing the diary stories with them is immensely pleasurable, and, once your children know you're keeping them, they encourage you to keep doing so. ("Make sure you write this in my diary!") They also get the message that you value writing "just for the fun of it."
A caution: Don't plant secrets like land mines in your child's diaries. Write things you would be willing to discuss with them now if they open the diary on their own, (although they probably won't want to read your handwriting).
But, just because we're writing to an audience, it doesn't mean the diary for our child is an open book to be shared by all. We set the boundaries and create safety for this writing also. I was shocked to discover that my infant son's great grandmother was reading his diary because I kept it in his diaper bag. When I picked him up from a stay at her house, she tucked the diary back into the bag and told me to make sure I brought it next time, because she hadn't finished reading it! Gently, I let her know that the diary was for him and me, and I found another, more private place to keep it.
Only by ensuring privacy and safety in our journal writing can we create a space for the intimate writing that connects us to ourselves and to our children.
Copyright 2004, Kelly DuMar, M.Ed., all rights reserved. For permission to reprint, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (508) 647-0596.