Sunday, October 9, 2011

Have You Ever Considered an Intentional Diary?

The other day I read a blog post by Melissa Mannon at Archives info called "Reaction to Burning the Diaries" where she discussed her feelings about a New York Times (NYT) opinion piece by Dominique Browning.

In the NYT article Dominique Browning describes her thoughts and emotions following the burning of her own diaries.  The original article and Melissa's post are very thoughtful pieces that are worth reading.  I left a lengthy comment in response on her blog.

I don't want to specifically discuss those two items here but rather an off-shoot of it. One of the things I have been thinking about lately is intentional diaries. I love the concept of writing a diary, but like Dominique Browning I have no desire to leave too intricate or personal account of my life for my descendants.  As I thought through my options I came up with the idea of an intentional diary.

What if you created a diary with the intention having other people reading it?  Ok, I can hear you already saying, "Um, yeah, it's called a memoir."  Well, in this case it's not a memoir, it really is an intentional diary.

The idea is that you keep a daily record of your life but instead of pouring your innermost secrets and feelings you write it with the intention of having future generations read it. The diary or record is consciously self-edited.

The intentional diary provides a window into your life to be left behind with other heirlooms but removes specific information about your emotional and mental state or details that are too personal or painful to share.

I like the idea of intentional diary more and more.  In fact, I've already started one.  It is interspersed with daily events and tidbits of family history.

What do you think?  Would you ever consider writing an intentional diary?  How much do you want your descendants to know about you? Or would you rather bare all and leave the future to deal with it?

Photo Credit: Photo by Barnaby used under the creative commons license.


  1. I think this is a great idea. I keep a diary on and off but it's never been something I'd like to have defining me once I'm gone. I'd bet this would also spark some creativity for blogging too. :) It reminds me a bit of the 52 weeks of personal genealogy and history.

  2. This is a very interesting idea. Actually, my mother-in-law kept a "calendar" from about the age of 12 until she died in 2008. She recorded almost no "thoughts & feelings", just activities and events. Taken as a whole, the entries are very telling without getting too personal.
    I've begun the process of transcribing them to share with the family.

  3. Hmm...I think I have been doing it in my perennial diary. I have recorded stuff like bird sightings, weather, first roses, for years. I also have snippets of my reactions to 9/11, for ten years, and various memorable child achievements. Expanding it would not be too hard to do. :) Like this idea, like it a lot!

  4. This is a great idea. I guess my annual 'Christmas letter' is a bit like this, but an intentional diary would be much more detailed. As Lisa said, it would be good to write about the topics covered in 52 weeks of personal genealogy and history.

  5. My mother left such a diary. I found it very disappointing, it gave me no insight into her as a person.

    Instead I was left with knowing far more about the weather each day, what she watched on TV and what was on sale that week at the store, than I cared about.

    I write something that is half-way between. I have my public "Sharing Memories" weekly topics and posts on Olive Tree Genealogy blog. That is deliberately self-edited.

    But then I also have my personal private journals where I do reveal my feelings and opinions about events and people. I want my descendants to know who I am as a person - what I'm all about. So for me two journals work well - one very revealing, the other only reveals as much as I am confortable with.

  6. Marian, for the last two years, I have been keeping a daily "intentional" journal. Now I can put an actual name to it . . . thank you!

    I felt the same, I wanted to journal for the future but didn't want to put my innermost secrets or feelings for the world to see . . . thinking someday or in 100 years, it may end up on a blog or in a family history book . . . but, I did want to share my daily life, (as boring as it may be)weather and things like that but not make it too boring, so, I do include some emotional feelings or thoughts. Such as the loss of my mom and how it effects me, etc. That way, it would allow descendants to get a sense of who I am and what my daily life may have been about and events going on around us.

    The one thing that I wished I had done while my mom was living, was to get to know her as a person, not just as my mom, so I try and write with that in mind. I am trying to do a timeline of her life, had she left me a journal, it would be so much easier! There is so much I don't know about her and now I cannot ask her.

    Hopefully, my daily "intentional" journal will reveal that. I use my Franklin Covey Planner . . . one side has my daily task list and time commitments such as appointments and on the opposite page is a lined blank page to journal . . . it really gives a sense of my day and then I file it by year. It feels complete and all in one place. I think if we mix a bit of what life is like with a bit of our thoughts and feelings without getting too deep or what we are comfortable revealing, we can share ourselves for generations to come. I think you have touched on a very important subject and I love the title!

  7. As a related idea, I am reminded of the ad for Google on TV now where the father writes email letters to his daughter from the time she is born...for her to read when she grows up.

  8. For the past year, I've been maintaining two types of calendars/journals on my computer.

    One is a simple text file - a combination of a daily log, future appointments, and to-do list. It's the "hard landscape" of my life; benign and boring.

    The other is a journal kept in Microsoft OneNote - this provides an outlet for my writing, something that I wish I had been doing all along. It contains (self-edited) thoughts and feelings, and I try to write something each day. It's a blog to myself.

  9. Excellent article and I like the name intentional journal. Even the mundane everyday things will be of interest to our grandchildren because in the future things will be different. What is mundane to us will be seen as quaint or even fascinating.

  10. Hello Marian,

    Whilst mulling over the concept of an intentional diary, I came to the conclusion that that is just what a diary is (if left to be discovered by others) we leave behind what we would like others to see, read or hear about us.

    But, from the finders point of view the personal and emotional parts of our ancestors' daily lives are just the things that we would LOVE to read about - warts n'all.

    For example, I am craving to know more about my gggrandmother who became our first Australian mother. We have documents, notices, BMD's but nothing about her impossible new life here in Oz from 1856. I confess that I actually cry over Sarah Lawson nee Wright and give praise to her for the grand legacy she left behind. Nontheless, I often ask, 'what would Sarah do in this instance?, would she cast her worries to the four winds?, or would she beat her chest and fall upon her knees saying...this is all too much for me...

    Because she survived hard ships that writers and directors cannot ever portray in film, I believe that Sarah would surely have cast aside many, many worries; except those that involved burying her still-born babies. How she felt at that time would surely not have been included in any diary, so anything we do find will BE intentional by default - or has been burned.

    cheers sonya