by Carie Juettner
In August of 1995, when I was eighteen, I started a diary. It was two weeks before I moved to Austin for college and I wrote about the big changes in my life, such as my boyfriend’s new haircut. The journal had a bouquet of flowers on the front cover and inside, a unicorn bookmark with a purple tassel and the inspiring message, “Anything is possible if only you believe.” Don’t be jealous.
That journal became my closest friend and confidant during my freshman year at UT. I chronicled the highlights and low points of my first year away from home in purple and green pen, multiple exclamation points, and tiny little hearts. I even had a name for my alter ego (one which I am not willing to share, sorry) and gave her the personality traits I so desperately wanted to see in myself at the time. That girl got me through a lot of stuff.
I have been keeping a journal ever since.
Seventeen years later, there are twenty-five volumes of my handwritten ramblings on the bookshelf in my bedroom. Twenty-five journals of various shapes, sizes, colors, and wear filled with my passions, break-ups, brilliant ideas, and embarrassing moments. At some point, I dropped the pretense of the alter ego, having finally merged the two of us together into one semi-whole being, but my method of communicating with myself remains amusingly consistent. When I take the time to revisit that first flower-print journal, I can never decide if my astonishment comes from how much I have changed, or how much I’ve stayed the same. If nothing else, the one thing we have in common is that we write.
Sometimes I write six pages a day. Other times I go six weeks without writing a word. But it’s always there, my latest volume, waiting for me, eager to listen when I return. Those journals are, more than anything else I possess, me.
And right now I feel like I’m cheating on them.
It’s a common party topic, or maybe a question on one of those get-to-know-you email forwards: Your house is on fire and you only have five minutes to get out. What do you save? Since everyone accepts that this party game comes with the convenient disclaimer that all of your loved ones and pets have already made it safely out and it’s down to just you and your possessions, my answer has always been a no-brainer. I imagine myself scooping my journals up into my arms and dashing for the door, weighed down with all the triumphs, disasters, and dirty little secrets of my life. I imagine the rest of my house going up in flames, and feeling relief that at least my detailed description of the secret door in my favorite all-night coffee shop has been preserved.
When asked What would you save? no one ever says their blog. Yes, I know you don’t have to rescue a blog. It’s on the internet. It’s in “the cloud.” I get it. But the idea of having something to save, of picking up something that could be killed by fire and holding it to your chest and running away with it scorched and smelling like burning paper, clutching it to your heart like a piece of yourself that’s been wounded… that means something to me. And the fact that I’m typing in front of a computer screen right now and not huddled up somewhere with an open book on my lap and a pen gripped between my fingers and the feel of smooth paper beneath my palm, the sight of the little glob of ink that forms when I press down too hard on a comma, makes me feel like I am losing a part of myself. I like running my hand across a page I have written and feeling the indentations of my thoughts, a kind of Braille that only I can read. The computer screen offers no such tangible comforts.
For a year and a half now, I have been blogging. I try to balance my keyboard life with that of pen and paper, but I would be lying if I said the old journal hasn’t suffered. Entries are few and far between. Ideas that once upon a time might have been scrawled lovingly in purple marker have now been saved in Candara font instead. Quips once jotted down on a blank page and considered witty have become “status updates” that I realize (too late) are not.
The times, they are a changing, and I am changing too. But if my house ever catches fire, you’ll see me run back inside for all twenty-five of those handwritten diaries before you see me even glance at my computer.
Carie Juettner taught 7th grade English for thirteen years, but has recently given up the classroom to pursue her career as a writer. Her poetry has appeared in the Texas Poetry Calendar (2009, 2012, and 2013 editions) as well as in AIPF’s di-verse-city 2011, and she is currently working on a novel for young adults. Carie lives in Austin, Texas. Follow her blog at www.theblackcatdiaries.blogspot.com.