The Day I Became a Writer

In the June 2005 edition of Writer’s Digest Personal Writing, my 100-word response to a question they had posed was published, along with many other writers who had similar experiences.  The question?

Has anyone ever read your journal without permission?  And, if so, what happened?

Photo: orbfactory.com

Like many other journal keepers, I had been faithfully making entries in my journal since my mother had given me a leather-bound book, complete with a little key.  I had a special pen – a pretty pink pen – to scribble in whatever thoughts popped into my head at the time.  It was great!  Kind of a clothing-optional beach for my mind.  Some days the entries consisted of how I hated my brothers teasing me or the fact that I had major crushes on their friends (Russ, you were always my favorite!).  As I got older, the entries grew with me.  My first hit of a cigarette, my first kiss, how I hated my mother and her stupid rules, cutting classes and drinking beer.  I filled hundreds of pages with words I was afraid to say out loud – to anyone.  I included poems and songs that were both dark and light.  I ranted and praised.  I laughed and cried.  I created a world where only I existed; standing on the edge of a well where I dumped out my heart and mind into a place I thought was safe.

I’m not really certain what led up to that day that changed the dynamics of my life, but I do remember coming home from school one day and finding my journals lying on my bed, all of them opened and apparently read by the one person I thought I could trust.  I would have expected this invasion of privacy from my brothers, but definitely not my mother.

Yeah.  I was busted on so many levels and I was surely going to burn in hell.  I back-peddled, I lied.  I had to explain myself, explain my motives – as if anyone should have to defend their heart.

On that day my secrets became hers.  But that wasn’t enough.  Apparently she was so horrified with the workings of my mind, she offered up my journals to my high school counselor for inspection, obviously convinced I was on my way to juvenile hall.

Photo: 7gadgets.com

I’m not sure what was worse – knowing I was about to face purgatory or the humiliation I suffered every time I caught my counselor watching me as I walked past his office.  He never said a word to me, but he didn’t have to.  His eyes said it all.  My secrets were his, as well.

So I had been burned torched, but I healed.  And I continued to write – still unguarded – only I wrote with the knowledge that others would read my words.  And although I didn’t recognize it as such, that was the day I became a writer.   After all, isn’t that what being a writer really is?   Writing exposes us.  It doesn’t matter how carefully worded the sentences are or how well our own personalities are disguised as our characters.  Our stories put our fears and insecurities out for public scrutiny.   We lay out the loose ends of our souls, hoping that someone won’t start picking away at the threads and unravel what we have so carefully woven, but whether or not they do, we continue to write.

Before my mother died, I shamelessly pressed her for the answer to a question that I dared not ask for 13 years.  Whatever became of my journals?  She gave me a combination, but to what she didn’t tell me.  To this day, I still don’t know.

So if you happen across a few wayward journals with entries written in pink, with mention of a boy named Troy, feel free to thumb through it.  My life is an open book and I’m certain the makings of a great story are in there somewhere.

So I ask you the same question that Writer’s Digest asked of me:  Has anyone ever read your journal without permission?  And, if so, what happened?  I’d love to hear from you!

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About Diana Murdock

California-grown, writer of contemporary and YA paranormal with enough energy to write, raise two boys, run, and dream.

Posted on August 23, 2011, in Family, Journals, Personal and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. Jillian Dodd - Glitter, Bliss and Perfect Chaos

    I had a diary which I knew my mom and brother were probably reading, so my diary was pretty much all lies in which there was some shred of truth. If it was important, I wrote it in code. Like how far I went with a certain boyfriend, was all in code. To this day, I still can’t crack my own code, so I’m pretty sure Mom never figured it out.
    My daughter writes notes back and forth to a bff. Half of what is in their notes actually happens and the other half is them joking and wishing it would happen. The bffs grandma read one of the notes that was a I wish it would happen and assumed it was something my daughter was doing and now pretty much freaked.
    I’m all for parents keeping an eye on kids but going through their stuff and reading personal things to me is such an invasion. And the girl learned to never trust her grandma. It’s really sad how that can back fire on you.
    I hope you find your journals someday. I read my high school diary recently and about died laughing at what was SOOO important to me at the time.
    “If mom doesn’t let me go to that party, my social life will be destroyed!!!”

  2. What a post! Wow! I cannot believe your mother betrayed you first by reading your journals and then by sharing them with someone else. My heart broke for you to have experienced such a violation. Horrible. That being said, hats off to you on making it an opportunity for growth as a writer.
    I wrote daily in personal journals from about 14 years old through my mid-20s. I threatened everyone within an inch of their lives if they ever read them and to this day, I “think” everyone respected my privacy. My brother I am not so sure of but I know my mother well enough to know it’s a line she’d have never crossed.
    Now they lay stacked in a drawer holding all my secrets and a lot of my shame. I have been at a loss for years what to do with them. I assume at some point I’ll re-read them to see if I could write a story out of them or at minimum transcribe them digitally as I ponder what to do. In the meantime, I’ve made my best friend promise that if anything were to happen to me, her first order of business would be to get the journals and burn them.
    Thank you for the amazing post!

  3. Journals have always been a popular thing in my family. My dad has been writing his for over forty years now! I have to ask my sister if she still writes hers. I wouldn’t be surprised.

    I can only imagine how awful you felt upon discovering that your mom read your journal. And then she shared it with another person. That’s so sad and confusing, especially for a teenager.

    Right before I moved from Poland to Copenhagen, I started a brand new journal. I wrote in it almost every day. It was a wonderful way to preserve everything that I’ve learned in that beautiful city. I wrote about my new friends, my boyfriend, my host family, me studying English, trips I took, parties I attended, new things I’ve learned and so on.

    Two years later I moved back to Poland and lived in my little condo. A friend from Copenhagen wanted to come for a visit. My place was very small and I had to clear the guest bedroom for him. I put several things in the storage in my condo building basement and—somehow—my journal must have ended up in that box as well. In the morning I discovered someone broke into my storage and stole everything, including my journal. I remember the mix of emotions going through me: defeat, anger, loss, sadness, disappointment, even fear.

    This was my last journal. I decided not to ever write one again. But who knows? Maybe one day I will change my mind.

  4. I think most of the writers who read this post will feel the wound of having your private words read publicly – and shared. I can’t imagine how painful that was, I felt the ache just reading it so many years later. As a mother, I understand the desire to know what’s percolating in your child’s brain (I expect this is especially true when your kids get older), but that’s just so…invasive.

    As a youngster I wrote in notebooks and letters, my mom even bought me little locking diaries which I never used. They seemed like invitations to prying eyes. I spent more time scribbling words and phrases on scraps of paper and tucking them in odd places. I still find one on a rare occasion, tucked inside a book.

    Journaling is intensely private because it’s meant for our eyes only. Taking that experience and turning it around into an empowering moment is brilliant. And I really want to kick that guidance counselor in the shin. Just because.

  5. My mother has been keeping a journal for over thirty years, and though she only writes about the weather and the activities for the day, none of us are allowed to read it. When we were younger, and we’d beg, she’d show us an entry or two (this is the only way we know what they’re really about!). We’d never dream of peeking ourselves. We give this respect to our parents; I believe that a parent should give the same respect of privacy to their children.
    Otherwise, the child may not feel a sense of security with their parent. I imagine a terrible sense of violation that I don’t think I’d recover from for years.
    Your attitude toward this shines; I can only imagine how I would have felt if this had happened to me!
    My journals even today are often filled with things that aren’t necessarily secret, but they’re still *mine* and I wouldn’t want anyone to touch them!

  6. You are an inspiration to all writers, D. Against so many obstacles, you have truly soared.

  7. I love that you turned the situation around and became a writer not afraid of writing out loud. Someone in my family took my journals when I was a teenager and since then, I’ve been wary of keeping one. I’ll start a new journal and then fade off because I just don’t trust what to write. I will have to remember you and your bravery to face the fact that when we write, it’s for an audience and perhaps I’ll find my inner voice for journaling again.

  8. Oooh yes, this has happened to me, only I had already graduated from college when it happened. I had left my journals in storage with my mother, and after we had an argument about religion she read through them “to find out what had made me change so much.”

    She didn’t like what she found, and didn’t speak to me for three months.

    When she finally told me what she’d done, it took a long time for us to have any semblance of a relationship. We BOTH felt hurt and betrayed.

    It wasn’t liberating for me at first. It was one event in many that led to a loooong dry spell in my writing life. But now, I’ve already had my freak self exposed to the light of day, so what have I got to lose?

  9. Wow, what a story, Diana. I never got into the diary thing. I loved owning journals, but rarely wrote in them. I think I had seven, lol.

  10. Yes another inspired and meaningful post, Diana. Thank you!

  11. I had one of those locking diaries…it had a white cover and the pages were gilted in fake gold. I only filled half of the pages because my sister figured out how to open it with a nail file. I never kept a journal on a regular basis, but when I had what I felt were life affirming moments, I’d write it down on a piece of paper and seal it in an envelope. The idea was to open the envelopes years later, kind of like a time capsule. Well, my sister opened the envelopes and read my entries.

    I took umbrage, of course, but it wasn’t something I could complain to my mom about since she thought nothing of opening letters addressed to me from my pen pals. I learned to keep a lot inside myself.

  12. Woah, I feel mortified just reading about that experience! What a horrible, horrible invasion. I am utterly outraged for the teenaged you. I’m lucky my privacy was never breached (as far as I know) in that way. Like you, I kept copious journals and diaries. What I do regret is that when I was an older teen, a good friend of mine suddenly died. While working through my grief, I thought “Everyone could just read her diaries” so ‘just in case’ I too died suddenly, I burned all my old diaries and journals in our fireplace. After that it took me years to start keeping a journal again, and even longer to relearn to be vulnerable in my writing.

  13. Forrest Glenn Spencer

    The exposure was a blessing because the central tenet of writing is revealing our inner selves to others, and yes perhaps that helped pushed into your career as a writer. Who knows? It’s doesn’t matter really…

    Journals are good but sometimes they can become an addictive curse for some. I think what matters is that the past is now and we must build from that; what matters is what happens today and the promise of what tomorrow brings.

    And in the lyrics of UK musician Alexi Murdoch, “You’re whole life is here / no 11th hour reprieve / so don’t forget to breathe.”

  14. Oh cousin…wow. What a great post! I have been writing since I was in the 4th grade, but usually poems. It wasn’t until my dear friend Forrest suggested a book to me several years ago called, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, that I began writing my “morning pages” as Julia calls it. This book changed my life- literally and as Forrest mentions above, it is an addiction for me. Journaling in the morning is like straightening out all the spaghetti in my head and helps me filter through things that are not beneficial to me. Journaling, like is like a delicious cup of coffee (also another addiction of mine) and I cannot function without it.

    I knowing so little of my aunt (your mother), it is hard to say what motivated her to share your diaries. Perhaps she was resentful towards you, because you were so free at such a young age unlike her, who from what I understand suffered from being “imprisoned” within her mind as a child and obviously through adulthood.

    I never worry if someone reads my journals or not. If they do and are offended, shame on them. Another quote from the wise, Wayne Dyer, “It is none of my business what you think of me.” I really need to have that tatooed on my butt!

  15. You know, I wrote my journals with the expectation that they would be read. In my house, there was no privacy, no secrets–except the big ones we kept from the world. I never wrote a lot in those journals. No poetry, no big moments. Those I wrote on pieces of paper that have disappeared. In fact, most of my writing I did in my head. Which, I guess is why learning to write my stories down in detail has been such a struggle for me. I still feel I need to hide–but I also feel the need to share my work.

    Thank you so much for such a wonderfully written, thought provoking blog. It touched my heart.

  16. OMG, I just now, after reading the other comments, really, honestly understand how wrong it was for my mom to feel she could go through my things–including my journal.

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