Some twisted roots unearthed among the leaves of an old diary.

Picture yourself on a nice, sunny day, under a big, shady tree, digging a hole to plant some flowers. You take your little shovel and dig, and you soon find some roots in your way. Over-enthusiastic growth, yes; difficult to remove, yes. But removable with effort. You dig them out, you plant your flowers, and it’s all good.

They came out pretty good, so you want to plant some more. Therefore, you go back to your patch and start digging nearby. You almost have a good-sized hole dug and then your shovel hits something. You look and you see something woody looking. You dig down to get underneath it but you can’t budge it for anything. You keep digging and digging and all you’re doing is revealing more of it, until you realize it’s a giant tree root, growing from that tree that’s been shading your flowers all this time.

This story begins when my parents asked me to go through my things in the basement. I started with boxes of my old notebooks. At first I was delighted with what I found. Boy was I clever. I was tickled because even though they were from sixteen or seventeen years ago, it was just like me now. In some cases, I was even smarter then. A scary issue to be dealt with separately.

I saw that I had actually received a pretty good education at my Catholic high school. Greek plays, Latin, theology, literature, college chemistry, AP English and Spanish. I had made amazing progress from freshman year to senior. An essay from freshman year about The Lord of The Rings: I really like this book because it’s really good and I know it means something and I like it. Senior year: Dostoevsky takes me on a tour of hell, Dante’s Inferno-style, where a pathetic Satan is tossing people into a black pool full of tortures, as popular figures of the time float by, suffering their own particular hilarious punishment for their sins, and then I realize all of my own crimes, and I sink into the pool. It was pretty darn good. 

There were humorous stories that made me laugh out loud. I was impressed with my wit and way with words. I found report cards, tests, essays, everything to do an egoist proud. And then I stopped chuckling.

I had uncovered a maroon 5-Star notebook, college ruled, packed with small handwriting in both print and cursive; I used to like to experiment. It was a diary of my sophomore year of high school. Right away I saw something disturbing on page one. Naturally, I also saw a plethora of embarrassing and immature things. I had a very unhealthy obsession with a grown man I never had a conversation with in my life. And, of course, there were boring accounts of the day and complaints about my mother.

My relationship with God played a surprisingly larger role than I recalled. I had many misunderstandings and superstitions. Yet, I also had a lot of knowledge that I had unconsciously welcomed and absorbed; I was just too young to be able to articulate and express it until years later. But I loved God and something in me urged me to keep asking questions, to overcome my mistaken notions. I was actually quite pleased with the depth of these entries.

But I grew sad when I read about a girl who struggled with how to relate to other people, how to grow a deeper friendship. I didn’t want to bother people, put them out. I worried constantly about criticism. And how much to share, how much to ask someone else to share. When to call, how long to wait for a call. These days, it’s the same business with texting. When to text, how many texts, when to stop. I realized I’m no different now.

In nine years, despite being friendly with many people, I’ve made no friends that I hang out with outside of work or even text about non-work related issues. I sort of kept in touch with a couple of women who were much older than me. I just can’t really talk to them about myself. When people leave, we exchange numbers, but I never hear from them again, even though everyone else seems to have. Same old song.

But one of the most disturbing aspects that I saw were the burgeoning roots of the tortuous thoughts that would choke me during my worst periods of depression. The seeds of this depression were planted seventh grade, but I did not realize how bad things were during my high school years. Seeing those words in my fifteen-year-old handwriting shocked me. I felt like I discovered that I really am defective after all.

When I went back upstairs, I looked in the mirror and my face was the color of the notebook and looked about ten years older. My heart was pounding and I felt nauseated.

(I finally calmed down after a shower and a lunch served by my mommy.)

This is my titanic struggle—how much weight do I put on this notebook? Is this who I am? Is this some sort of subconscious retribution for believing things got better? Or can I laugh it off and say, I was a stupid high school girl? It’s just your typical teenage angst? What makes the latter choice so difficult is that there was so much similarity between me now and me then. Maybe that isn’t the shocker of the century. How many notebooks, for the last ten years, have I filled with the same kind of stuff over, over, and over again?

Do I just accept all this and resume beating myself up? Resume telling myself: you’re a burden, you’re a monster, you’re a burden, you’re ugly, you’re a burden, nobody loves you, you’re a burden, and you haven’t changed. Read it—do you realize that you wrote this? This is you!

Was all the therapy I’ve done over the past year to get me to a place where I could envision a future for myself pointless? Was I wrong to believe that God loved me after all? That the content of this notebook is what I actually am and the real root of my problem has never actually been addressed? I know I’m reading backwards into this but I can’t get it out of my head that the problems I have are too big to be helped now and I was foolish to think I was feeling better.

I had duct-taped the box, but I went back and retrieved the notebook. I made the decision that I am going to read the whole thing and face it, respond to the girl with what little knowledge I have won after fighting for so long. Maybe she has something to teach me too, because she was asking these questions for the first time in her life and the crux of issues was fresher, starker in certain ways. Perhaps I can point out what she already knew. If I leave it down there or destroy it, I’ll only keep worrying about it.

There’s a journal I’ve had for about five years. I stopped writing in it regularly a couple of years ago. It was one of my many diary depression-mills. Occasionally, I’ll write a page describing something especially bad going on it my life. I’ve avoided it now for that very reason.

So my plan is this: I am going to read the old diary bit by bit, and respond to it in the more recent journal. By the end of this project, I hope that I will have put both of these notebooks to bed, and I hope I will have hacked away at that deep root and discovered that it was nearly dead.

Have you ever found any relic from the past that shocked you and then you needed to deal with it?

21 thoughts on “Some twisted roots unearthed among the leaves of an old diary.

  1. I wonder if throwing away all the detritus of my early life didn’t save me from a similar fate. However, not having a god theoretically overseeing any of my early years may have helped me avoid all that conflict of conviction. Do you suppose that a large percentage of Catholic schooled people suffer from assumed burdens like yours?

    Of course, I’m undoubtedly NOT the person to be commenting on this. My view of the Universe is about as simple as it gets, no place for convoluted interpretations of the question of Why. This is a problem when it comes to writing, doan-cha-know. Characters need all that mental/emotional gooey stuff to make them relatable to readers. Hmmm,

    Maybe instead of analyzing your self and all the ancient interpretations of life you have newly discovered, you write stories about that “other” girl and how she rises above it all? I personally feel dwelling on one’s own mental spiral is hell personified. Channeling that into stories though…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. These are all good points. I don’t actually know anybody else with Catholic guilt. If I wanted to be flip I’d say Catholic schooled people carry the least amount of the guilt. I was not at all raised in a fire-and-brimstone, guilt-inducing religious environment, so there was really no good reason for me to pick up on it except that I sought it out, I think, because of my own natural tendencies towards it. That’s what I meant by my misunderstandings about God. I would say stuff about myself that I would never say about another human being. It’s me beating myself up using what’s handy. If I weren’t religious, no doubt I’d have found another way to do it, and have done so at different times. .

      When you say “ancient interpretations of life” I can’t quite tell from the sentence if you mean mine are ancient or if you are referring generally to religious interpretations. If you mean my life, that’s the thing, they may be ancient chronologically but not in immediacy. If you mean a certain interpretation of life, that’s not really my focus but rather why I looked at the things the way I did. I feel like I can’t close the book until I get my hands around it. I have to analyze myself, I need “convoluted interpretations of the question Why,” I need “mental/emotional gooey stuff,” and I will never give them up. I will never be stopped no matter how ridiculous I get. You can’t sound convincing about someone rising above something if you keep the lid on your own pot. You don’t even have to fix yourself, but you have to know what’s in that pot. And I will find out what’s in my pot.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Is it not true that for much of our adult lives, those who have the intellect to fathom that a dichotomy exists, that we delude ourselves into thinking we must analyze ourselves, to the 9’s, before we feel capable of analyzing others?
        The dichotomy I speak of being the one where our published selves (the one’s exposed right here and now) and our internally known selves (the one we would never allow anyone to experience) are actually not at all diametrically oppose, but entwined and obvious so.

        Therefore, your declaration for the need of gooey, emotional, connections to your prior interpretations of “why” are already evident, here in your words, in your humor and obvious, critically accurate analysis of both the words we’re trading today, but also of your work-a-day life.

        That is, you already know who you are. And no nostalgic rehashing of what once was, rediscovered in adolescent pontifications, will give you anymore insight into what you are, right here, right now.

        Which is, a funny, clever, connected life-analyst with reams of insight left to share.

        You are who you are, most present, most accurately, in the words you share here, today.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s the thing. I do already know. That’s why I said nauseated, not nostalgic. Among other things, I am a liar. I play things off as a joke, like my last reply, but the reality I hide is not funny, at least not to me. The adolescent stuff is funny, at least once I tear it up and bury it at the bottom of the garbage can, anyway. But that’s not it. I think there was another thread somewhere about this issue, but the word depression is thrown around a lot these days and I hate it every time I say it. So I make everything ironic and funny and let the truth slip out here and there. But what I read regarding my depression is what made me sick. Anyone who’s heard the “burden” drumbeat in their head knows exactly where they’re being urged to go.

          I feel nostalgia in a certain way because of the death of someone who was with me then. But otherwise? I’d give anything to get the wasted time back, not the rest of it.

          My public self is a self-deprecating joke. People get quite a kick out of me in real life and that’s what I go with. Here too I lie and defeat the whole purpose of this blog.

          I really like your reply. It’s worthy of the copy+paste archive like Mr. Miller’s. It gives me lots of my favorite stuff to ponder and unpack for hours of entertainment.

          And I appreciate your taking the time to write complimentary words, because it isn’t like you need to. So thank you.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Hot,

    This is the sort of stuff that you can find in any great novel, the interior doubts that lead to depression and irrational action. This exposition is crucial to a compelling character. I’m a bit like A. Mole, but we do differ in one key element: doubt and suffering is to be welcomed by everyone. If it doesn’t kill you, then it is extremely helpful in navigating through life. People who have experienced little in the way of real problems are rather hollow vessels. Suffering and love are the foundational stones for empathy. Lack of either makes for cold and ignorant individuals. Confusion is part of the fun. It gives you something to cry over on the telephone. Not only is there not too much to be done about suffering and doubt, but it is so essential to being human, that we might as well relish it. Use it as a springboard to something else in this life that gives you fulfillment and joy. For me that is the way it works. Ex-drug addicts and ex-felons make the best councilors, particularly in prison. You can’t bullshit an ex-addict about drugs. As for me, I might seem depressed and am down a lot, but I don’t consider myself a sad person, on the contrary I can laugh at the most inappropriate times. Fuck’em. It is the way I feel and I am proud of all my hard-earned injuries. Shitty people often make the best writers. I just watched a movie about Camus. What a creep! I hope you are looking at those existential novels we discussed. I think you will find yourself in them. You will hear your voice. Story, story, story, this is where you must focus. Fuck, where is my ruler. Hold our your hand. Okay, good luck with your life and artistic endeavors. Yes, Hot, writing is an art. Thanks. Duke

    Liked by 1 person

    1. See, yes, you get it! I don’t really have a lot to add because you said it all already better than I could. I have to copy and paste this somewhere to save.

      This is sort of a tangent, but this popped into my head when you said the thing about bullshitting an ex-addict about drugs. Someone once watched me counting money and said, “Well, at least we know you’re not a drug dealer.”


    1. You know, there was a time (mentioned…incidentally…in my old journal..) I wanted to be a scientist and it was because I believed there was this great interconnectedness of all things and I was drawn to the thought that there is a universe contained in a single atom, that this great paradox had to mean something about life. I wanted to study science because I wanted to understand what exists. Unfortunately, calculus ended my career. But looks like a good recommendation for me. Thank you so much.


  3. i hope you can stick with this until about 40 minutes in. then it takes off in a way that is right down your alley. how does the sense of being become being. how do motions, action lead to the realization of our inner reality. it gets real good with krishnamurti and the issue of wholeness. duke

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The first part is about how shitty people can be and then the second part is about freedom, love, and world peace. But none of it is typical, all of it astonishing. He had quiet the mind. Duke

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Like Mole, I don’t have such stuff from back in the day. It may be good but it might also be bad. Maybe analyzing my younger self would make me smarter now. Who knows? I sure hope you will be able to face the old you and work through it.

    I had this notebook that I would use when things got really bad. It was in a box with a few other items that would serve as good distractions. At first, I wrote in it every couple of months, sometimes every couple of weeks. I don’t remember when the last time I wrote in it was. Not because things have been good, but because I didn’t want to put the bad stuff on paper. Because I didn’t want to see how bad things were and how often.

    Decent post. Thank you. Food for thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I get what you mean about not wanting to put the bad stuff on paper. I think that’s why I gradually gave up on my last journal for the most part because it was just too much to keep adding to it. That’s why I want to finish it on a good note. In reality, you’re probably smarter NOT analyzing your younger self. I am immature and I secretly like to be, so I shouldn’t be dabbling in it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear Hetty, I don’t really know what to say. I don’t want to make things worse for you, but here goes anyway….
    There are many beautiful and important things in Our World to get involved with, in my opinion. Yet you seem so focused on your own self. Maybe you are framing the problem awkwardly. You, nor I, are some tight little box. Truth is not buried deep within us each individually. To look ‘deeper’, to look more and more ‘inside’, is just to find nothing; it’s not there. Truth is out in the open in the things we all do (or many of us). Things like art, science, societal welfare and justice, eating a nice meal, growing a garden, and even religion.

    Maybe it’s like the Zen master who, when asked by his student one morning after breakfast “How do I find Enlightenment?”, answered, “Wash your bowl.”

    So, maybe you should put your old notes away and go back to your tree and cover up that hole that led to that big blocking-root, and dig other holes and plant and nurture flowers and vegetables and enjoy them and take responsibility for them and pride in the part you played in their beauty. So to speak.

    I was raised and educated Catholic. It was indoctrination but I’m now an atheist with a very secularized and naturalized ‘spirituality.’ I felt guilt from that religion and my childhood—-my family life then was turbulent and somewhat abusive. But I have apologized to some people, spent time with some helpful counselors, read many a good book, helped students that came from backgrounds far worse than mine, and in general found many things to love. (But not ‘God’)

    Have you read Paul Tillich, “The Dynamics of Faith” ? It’s know as “the little classic” in theology. It’s in the existential tradition and is like a poem that makes god big and vague and all around us, but not something to personally love. Sounds like you never got over your encounter with “Notes From Underground.”
    I do not really know your situation and I apologize if I have belittled it in any way.

    Please take care; you write well and very honestly. I will read more of you stuff. Also, I have my own site that deals with some of this but from a less personal angle.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. GregWW, I am SO sorry I did not respond to you sooner, I did not see your comment because it went to a different folder. No reflection on anything you said. Thank you for taking the time to write that to me.

      You are definitely right that I focus too much on myself. I know this is a flaw. I’ve realized lately that I think it came from my family dynamic. We are poor, and my parents are not bad people by any means, but we weren’t really taught to look too far beyond the four walls of our house.

      I’ve suffered a lot from clinical depression and it’s a disease that makes you think about nothing but yourself all day long. I want to change that, I want to be better. But I still have this nagging belief that if I just keep digging, I’ll find some answer that I can use for the greater good somehow. I want to give people hope. I agree with you that truth is out in the open as well, both good and bad truth. I just feel that until we understand just what exactly is wrong, we’ll won’t be able to see the right, and harmonize it with what’s outside.

      I’m not ready to quit digging. It will continue to bug me, because I know it’s coloring my perception of everything I look at. What’s buried in our subconscious does most of the thinking for us.

      I can’t remember if I read Paul Tillich at any time, I have a terrible memory so I’ll have to jog it later. I can’t give up love of God, but I believe that he is everywhere, if we could only understand things rightly.

      I appreciate your reminder that we all could use a more expansive and less selfish view of life, and that you use that view towards helping others do the same, like commenting here. I’m not just saying that, I was literally typing this while someone describing some horrible murder in the news, and here I am, getting irritated and ignoring them while typing. So you are indeed right, no argument there, and I found your comment at just the right time.

      PS I like how you mentioned an encounter with “Notes from Underground.” How did you know?


  6. Oh golly – I read my old journals and think what a dip shit I was! My handwriting varies so much that I worry about multiple personalities and wonder if they come out at night and wander the street killing small animals! If I had any sense, I’d burn them! At any rate most of the time my really boring personality comes out and they read like shopping lists. Keep your journals by all means.

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