Burning my past

Is a description of my sex life at 18 really all that interesting?


The internet is filed with confessions and queries about burning diaries. Everyone who writes diaries wrestles with this at some point.  We are all the poorer because Isabel Burton burned all her husband’s (Richard Burton) diaries on his death.

I have lived with a diary in my hand since I was 18.  Even today, I never go anywhere without a journal.  I write in bed, in cafes, on trains and planes.  Writing is how I live.

My whole life is in big box.  At this moment in my life, and as I contemplate moving, I look at the box filled with diaries.  Carrying the past around is heavy, both physically and spiritually.

So I spent a week reading, revisiting the narrative and details of my life.  Some was edifying and some was insignificant.  I asked myself, how does it make me a better person today to have my life in a box?

I always thought I would want my children to read my diaries so they would truly understand who I was. But now I know that’s ridiculous.  Number one, they’re not interested.  I am their Mother and that’s all they really want to know.  Nothing I write, or nothing about who I was at a time before they were born, will change who I am in their minds.

Then I realized that leaving my diaries behind for my children to dispose of is a painful thing for them to do, like killing a piece of their mother.

Whilst the internet is a great repository of history, a certain part of history has disappeared:  the whole culture of letters and diaries.  No one writes paper letters anymore.  Think of what we know about history from diaries and letters.  We love to read them, don’t we?   We love the privacy of being allowed in to a certain era of life. Granted, I am not a famous musician, painter, or thinker, but my diaries do reflect growing up in a certain time and place, a valid historical document.

After much to and fro, I have decided to go the way of the Vikings, the Romans, the Hindus, the Sikhs: onto the pyre in a ceremonial rite. The garbage bin was never an option; my diaries are not trash.  Rather, they will be sacred words set free into eternity.

By burning these papers, I will honor the meditative goal of life:  to live truly in the present.  I will still keep writing a diary because it is how I live. But I won’t carry it across town or across the ocean in a box.

Do you keep a diary?  Have you considered what to do with them?

xo Liza

P.S  If you have any compelling reason why I shouldn’t burn my diaries, speak now (in the box below), or forever hold your peace/piece!


Hello my lovelies!  Looking oh so forward to reading your comments in the box below.  I’ve love it if you would “like” or “share” this post with friends and family.  And if you haven’t done so already, enter your email so you won’t miss a thing.


15 thoughts on “Burning my past

  1. I like your analysis and how you came up with the solution. I think it sounds right and if it feels right, follow through. Your gut tells you a lot. And burning is so much more meaningful than a toss in the garbage. Now that might feel and sound wrong.

  2. Hmmm…nope…I think that maybe 20 years from now you will get something out of reading them again. These diaries are written by YOU for YOU and to hell with anyone else. As long as you are alive they are a part of you and your history. You can always leave a note in your will, or just tell your kids now, that upon your death they should be burned without being read; that you did not do it yourself because YOU wanted to have access to them at any moment during your life but that no one else needs to read them after your death. Obviously, if there is some terrible secret that they must never know about you, then burn that particular diary now. Otherwise keep them for yourself, Liza. Yes, the past is heavy. Burning the diaries will not change that. That’s my compelling reason not to do it!

    Now, about Richard Burton, if you mean the actor: who is Isabel? I know it’s a Spanish translation of Elizabeth, but why did you call her that? I’m just curious…as far as I know she was always known by her own name Elizabeth Taylor, never Burton, and not Isabel…and upon his death she was not even his wife, he was married to someone else. Please enlighten me 🙂

    1. Juanita, thank you for your passioned appeal. I appreciate your taking the time to speak, and this seems like something you’ve thought about serioiusly. I’ll let you know what I ultimately do. But you make me pause…

      Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890)was the most extraordinary adventurer and individual — read about him here. His and Isabel’s story is most fascinating!

      1. Thanks for the info about Burton, an extraordinary man indeed! I have just read a little bit but will delve into it when I have more time. About the actor, if he did have diaries, it would not surprise me if Elizabeth had burned them! Although maybe while he was still alive haha…another fascinating man, to this day in my mind the best male actor of all time, with a gift that was sadly not maximized because of his alcoholism and personal demons. I can still hear his voice.

        About your diaries: I have destroyed some past letters and photos of mine and regret it. Not because I want to leave them behind; but because I want to look at them again. That’s where my appeal is coming from. As far as your kids go…about the burning of your diaries being painful…the painful part will be your death, not the burning of the diaries. That will just be a detail, the closure that comes with the execution of your request. And just to take the argument a step further: who you were before they were born IS something which might interest them. I have a bunch of my mother’s journals and it absolutely fascinates me. I actually want to write a book about her which describes her as a woman, not just as my mother…a kind of memoir/novel but a reminder to daughters everywhere that this person who was/is your mother is NOT just your mother, she is a wife, a friend, a daughter, a teacher, whatever; and that you, her offspring, were not the ONLY thing that she loved during her life or her ONLY reason for living. I find it very selfish for kids to only see their parent as a parent without trying to know them as the WHOLE person that they are.

        But this is MY view. Yours could be different and equally valid 🙂 I’m glad I gave you pause but I hope it does not cause you anguish, and you should do what feels right for YOU.

  3. Hi Liza….I don’t know if I can write in Spanish in your blog but I’lldo!!! Spanish is easier for me. Me encantan tus relatos y la verdad te felicito. No conocia esta Liza!!!! Bravo!!!!
    BURN IT!!!! Yo estoy en eso…..empezando por las cantidades impresionantes de libros de cocina que adoro y quiero seguir con todo lo demas incluiendo las paginas que escribi para mi hija esperando que un dia le interesara leerlas para ententerme mejor….si no me entiende ahora, que me importa si me va a entender cuando a lo mejor seré yo que ya no tendré la capacidad para reconocer a ella!!!!????
    Acabo de leer un libro de Marie Kondo (japonesa) ” La magia del orden” y ella seguramente estaria de acuerdo contigo y conmigo. Burn it! Buscalo si tienes tiempo en internet, no es la gran cosa pero es interesante. Un abrazo muchos besos y por favor sigues escribiendo para……nosotros tus lectores!!!! xo xo

    1. Hi Antonella! Of course, write in Spanish! I will reply in English so everyone can understand. Regarding Marie Kondo, I love her philosophy and wrote a post about her in Nov. 2014. http://campliza.com/2014/11/10/my-tidy-life She says: paper does not make you happy and will never make you happy.
      I am still undecided…because the response to this post has been so big and the comments, both in private messages, email and posted, are thought provoking. I will let you know what I decide to do. Sending love and Yuca white light to you in Italia! Thank you for reading Camp Liza! xo Liza

  4. Hi Lisa, I feel like I want to contribute because I have the same problem myself. I really wouldn’t want anyone to read my diaries unless they were my grandchildren or great grandchildren who read them long after I was gone (I would devour diaries by my Grandmother or any other ancestor) certainly not my children, much too close. It’s tricky though, you wouldn’t know what happened to them upon your death – maybe you wouldn’t care.
    But in the meantime, I like my diaries as I can revisit any part of my life. I have a very bad memory so could lose large chunks but there they are in my diaries, so I look forward to reading them into old age.
    I think burning them is a valid option but I think it is too soon, and maybe you would regret it in your golden years when all you have is memories.
    Valerie x

    1. Hi Valerie! Thank you for sharing your thoughts! Your mention of grandchildren being interested in the diaries, as opposed to children, is something my brother brought up to me. He said that children are too close, but one generation later, the interest and curiosity is there, because…they don’t really know you. “…when all you have is memories…” is a powerful phrase…both good and bad. You have caused me to think twice. xo Liza

  5. Well, I think my opinion carries some weight because I actually had the chance to read part of your journal when we were in high school. I don’t remember why you gave me permission to read something so personal, but I do remember that we were in study hall in the auditorium and I can even recall one incident that you wrote about, which you too would certainly remember. What impressed me and touched me about your writing was your amazing powers of observation and your ability to not only recall minute details of our mundane teen age high school existence but also to give meaning to it. Your musings actually succeeded in giving voice to my experience, something that I thought was impossible. So, I would hate to think that the echoes of that voice were silenced. Keep them for a while longer, and I will feel a certain comfort in knowing that they are still there.

    1. Thank you for this memory, David. It is not something I remember, and I’m so glad you do. It is like you giving me back a part of me. This sounds like typical, daring teenage behavior on my part, if it was that personal. And to think you remember to this day what my journal entry was about! I’m almost afraid to know. Your compliments about my writing mean so so much to me. I must say, I’m surprised and delighted at the response this post has received. Maybe…not so fast into the fire…? I will let everyone know. xo Liza

  6. save the part about your 18-yr-old sex life. you’ll never get it back, but it might be nice to recall when all memory of that time has faded away. on the other hand, if it wasn’t great, burn it.

  7. What a controversial topic this has turned out to be! As your friend, I would hate to think about your burning your diaries, at least not just yet. While you may think they are not notable as “historical documents” they continue to be notable as a narrative of your life and thoughts and, thus, still have value to you and to whoever you allow to read them. On another level, it seems important not to burn them just because they weigh a lot and take up space. Those are problems that can be solved by digitalizing them or finding a place to store them while you decide what to do. I, too, am a great believer in letting go and not accumulating dusty old stuff that brings us no joy, but your diaries are not just a pile of paper.

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