Everyone knows diaries are crap.

Bridget Jones

Growing up LDS in the 80s, we were strongly encouraged to keep a journal, which I did faithfully every day until I was about 28 years old. At that point, I had filled so many boxes of my mundane writing that I finally decided to cut back to only writing 2-3 times a week. Eventually that has morphed into 2-3 times a year, only when something really important happens like brain surgery or an insurrection against the government.

Journaling can be a valuable exercise in self-examination, but in our legacy-focused Church, it is often cast as a way to link the generations by sharing our life experiences, particularly the spiritually transformative events and our feelings about them. That sounds great and all, but ultimately, there are two potential issues: 1) the more you write for an audience (rather than self), the more your writing becomes performative, and 2) will your descendents actually give a crap about what type of pie you ate and whether it was good?[1] Even if you avoid the mundane, is it really that great reading someone else’s feelings about things that were significant to them, but weren’t our experiences? Isn’t a Personal History a better, more readable format for sharing our lives with our descendents?

There is also something insidious about deliberately pruning the narrative of our lives into crisp little morality tales, fit for our grandchildren’s consumption (nevermind the fact that they may view reading our thoughts with the same enthusiasm they would muster for a plate of liver and onions). Lives should be messy. We are flawed people full of biases and bigotries, blind spots and bluster. The only thing worse than serving those things up as fodder for future generations is deliberately scrubbing away all the flotsam and human frailty to present an unrealistic, self-serving version of ourselves to them. When written as a way to promote family pride with a dishonest picture, the ends don’t really justify the means, not to me.

  • Do you have journals? What do you intend to do with them when you die?
  • Did you write honestly? Is what you wrote of value to others or just to yourself?
  • Have you read the journals of your ancestors? What did you think?


[1] Blueberry, and it was.