Why You Should Read Your Old Diaries

Photo: Courtesy of Doubleday.
Do you ever go back and revisit your old diaries, laughing at the young person you once were? Perhaps you were a paranoid teen who felt like the stakes were all so high — from unrequited crushes, to getting good grades, to social acceptance, to caring about your looks. For some, it's a good laugh to reread the voice of your younger, more naive self.

But, what if you reread your childhood journals only to discover that you really haven't changed much at all, that you still feel like the same insecure person inside? That's the way
 Heidi Julavits felt about herself. So Julavits, a founding editor of The Believer  and author of several books including last year's Women in Clothes (cowritten and edited with Leanne Shapton and Sheila Heti), decided to go back into journaling in an attempt to "start over," this time as a fortysomething woman. The stakes are much different these days, from aging, to family, to careers, to faith, to life's losses and disappointments. What resulted is Julavits' new confessional book The Folded Clock (Doubleday), where she very candidly chronicled her ongoing hopes and fears in order to evaluate the kind of person she's become today. 

Read on below for a peek inside Julavits' diary. On this day, she is torn between keeping a vintage necklace for herself or gifting it to her mother on her 70th birthday. The Folded Clock is out today.

The following is excerpted from the book The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits. Copyright © 2015 by Heidi Julavits. Reprinted by permission of Doubleday. All rights reserved. 
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June 18

Today I biked to a vintage store. I bought:

·  a deco rhinestone lipstick case, mirror broken, "as is" price of $5
·  a red tin of cookie and sandwich cutters for $12
·  a painted French serving tray for too much money (or maybe not; the owner of the store made me feel better about the price by saying of the tray, "it's probably much older than I think")

I also bought a garnet and rhinestone necklace. It's costume, from the '40s, not valuable, and it matches nothing I own, but what swayed me was the weight of it. I brought it home. I preferred looking at it to wearing it. I kept it spread over the top of my dresser as interior decoration. Then I considered giving it to my mother for her birthday. She was about to turn 70. My husband and I were throwing her a fancy dinner, and turning our house into a three-star restaurant run by children. But, was this enough? I worried that I needed to give her an object to commemorate her birthday. A dinner party was too ephemeral a gift. She wouldn't catch accidental sight of it and remember...me? That she'd  turned 70? Neither of these are things she's likely to forget.

Still, the tradition with landmark birthdays is to give a gift that presumes the receiver needs reminding that they remain beloved and alive. I thought I'd give my mother this necklace. But, while I never wore it, I found, for whatever reason, that I didn't want to give it away. I told myself, You didn't buy it for her, and it's not a true present if you didn't buy it with the person in mind. This gift was technically a regift, from me to myself, and from myself to my mother.

I concluded: I definitely should not give her the necklace. And yet, I still couldn't firmly commit. I changed my mind daily. I thought, She's turning 70 — does she really want an old necklace? Wouldn't she prefer something more fun and modern? If I give her this necklace, won't I offend her by implying that she's no longer young enough to wear fun and modern jewelry? I thought, I'm a vintage-wearing person, but she is not a vintage-wearing person. Maybe the objects of dead people freak her out. I thought, If I like it, she probably won't like it, because we don’t have the exact same taste in jewelry. I have given her jewelry in the past that I've never seen her wear (and that I would wear), and she's given me jewelry in the past that she would wear (but that I never would). By this logic, I should not give her the necklace. Except that I didn't ever wear the necklace. This suggested that she would like it and thus I should give her the necklace.

I did not give her the necklace.

The night of her birthday dinner, I dressed up. Because I was still uncertain about my decision to keep the necklace, I wore it. I thought to myself, If she doesn't comment on my necklace, it means she doesn't like it, and I made the right choice. But, I often compliment people on items of clothing they're wearing because those items look great on them, not because I think they would look great on me. I compliment a woman on her ring when I can sense that she is proud of or excited to be wearing it. I want her to know that her positive feelings about herself are effectively communicated to me through the object transmitter she's put on her body.

If my mother complimented  me on my necklace, it could mean that she herself desired to wear it, or it could mean that she appreciated how I wore it. If she said nothing, of course, this would mean unequivocally — she did not like it, not on me, not on her.

We met for cocktails on the front porch as the child staff readied our table. My mother said, almost immediately, "What a pretty necklace!" I tried to divine how she meant this comment. It was pretty on me? It might have been pretty on her? I demurred. "It's just some cheap thing I found at a vintage store." It was cheap. But, I was trying to make it sound less desirable to her, and also to reassure myself — I hadn't been cheap when I'd failed to give it to her.
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