Making Room


One evening in April of 2013, alone in my house for the first time in a long time, I gathered up all of my journals, placed them in a pile by my fireplace, and, accompanied by a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, read my way through each of them, one by one.

I read every page, then tore each from its binding and threw them into the raging fire.

And then I drank.

It was a dramatic and very drinky evening. Imagine choosing to douse yourself in every feeling you ever put down on paper. What kind of person does that sort of thing?

An emotional epicurean, that’s who.

I wanted to make it a ritual, so I savored each diary and took a video of the burning fire. You can read about that night and see the video here.

In the days that followed, I received a vast array of responses ranging from hallelujahs to horror which prompted this response. 

For the covers that remained, I had an art project in mind. I would find a way to attach them with thread, metal rings or glue and hang them over my office desk as a patchwork quilt representing decades of diary entries. To acknowledge the writing that led me to becoming a writer.

Just this week, while cleaning out my office closet, I came across the bulging plastic container with the shells of my former journals. It’s been more than three years since I stowed them there and I’ve talked about the wall hanging,  consulted artists about how do it and dreamed of how it would look on the wall. But up until now, it was just an idea taking up space in my mind and my closet.

Today, a new idea popped into my head, one that must have grown from the desire to pare down and also speaks to our digital times: I could lay them out on my dining room table, highlighting their color and texture, and photograph them.

Cue the angels!

The photo above is one version. The photo below, another.


After thanking the covers for their service, I threw them unceremoniously into the garbage can.

How did it feel?

It felt good. Really good. Like the proper completion to the journal burning, which I now see as a three-part process.

First we let go. Then we make art. Then, we make room to do it all over again.

Photos by Ellen Blum Barish. Copyright 2016.












What We Keep


Earlier this week, I wrote about burning my journals in a what I’ll call a ‘letting go’ ceremony and I received a wide array of responses.

A friend shared that when she told a group of writers that she let go of hers, there was a collective gasp.

Another tells me he understands, but wonders where I found the strength.

Another writes that she is inspired to let go of hers, but that she would keep the one where she meets and falls in love with her husband.

Tears streamed down my daughter’s face when she heard about it. She just couldn’t understand why I would do such a thing.

I spent the week reflecting on these reactions. It seems to me that some of my reasons for letting my diaries go are uniquely connected to writing personal narrative which is process-centered. Present tense oriented. Personal.

But there were other reasons and these were connected to what we keep and why. I found it an interesting exercise to think about what we hang onto and what we easily let go.

(For my writing students in search of a prompt, I urge you to try this one.)

It’s for the following reasons that I was moved to make such a permanent act:

They served their purpose and were taking up physical space in my home and psychic space in my life.

I’m not that girl anymore. (Thank you, Leslie, for the words.)

So much of the content was sullen, whiny or dull and it didn’t feel like good emotional feng shui to have that around.

They were locking me into one storyline.

Like paint palettes or mounds of clay, they weren’t fully formed. The pieces that came out of these found their way into finished work.

And finally, through this ritual, I’ve become aware that:

I’m more interested in writing words that remain true, that stand the test of time; the words that I will, consciously, leave behind.

Photo by Ellen Blum Barish.





Ashes to Ashes



I’ve written in one journal or another for 40 years. Here’s a picture of them. You can see my very first one, a paisley print on the far left tucking out from beneath a dark blue leather journal. Fourth from the top. Amazing that before they were colorful, bound or wire-ringed books, they were trees.

But last week, with a very full glass of wine that I filled twice, I went through my journals, reading some passages, skimming others. And then, I thanked each one, ripped out the pages, built a fire and fed the pages into it.

Here’s what it looked like in its early stages:

IMG_3589 2

The fire burned for four hours as it consumed rants, to do lists, plans for the future, vents, wishes, dreams, annoyances, story ideas, rage, gratitude, doubt, praise, doubt, uncertainty, fear, doubt, whining, joy, relief, and more doubt. Me, usually with a pen, working things out. To get to here.

You can see it burn here:

I couldn’t let go of them all. I saved both of my pregnancy journals for my daughters. And I couldn’t let go of my first one from 1973.

I also kept the covers. I have an art project in mind.

But I wanted to remember the burning. So I can remember the mix of  emotions I felt as I watched: light, strong and giddy.

In the morning, in addition to my memory and the images I’ve shared with you, this is what remained. I’m going to take the ashes and bury them in the earth where they began so another 13-year old girl will have paper on which to practice her writing and work things out.