A few months ago we took a deep breath and tackled the chaotic boiler room in our flat which had somehow become full to the brim of stuff. There was camping equipment, old art project materials, photograph albums, Christmas decorations and more. I find that once a cupboard is over-full, it becomes easier to walk in with random bags or boxes and think ‘here’s the perfect place to put this…’
After several car journeys to the recycling (and several trips down memory lane) we tamed it, and is now a joy to walk into – but something was bugging me. My journals. There was a huge bulging bag of them – maybe thirty volumes. The oldest had a fraying spine and was written in my little-girl handwriting. Although I’d already thrown scores of journals away over the years I was still left with this unwieldy bag. I imagined moving it with me in ten years’ time to our next house, and then maybe a nursing home, and then what? Did I really want my nieces to be lumbered with them all? All that blather about who I was meeting for coffee and what I’d eaten for breakfast?
A cunning plan
I came up with a cunning plan. In two years I would be fifty. How about transcribing the interesting bits onto my computer, and then burning the lot in a celebratory bonfire? Once I’d copied bits into a Word document I could decide whether I wanted to pull them into a biography or not, and I could get rid of the objects themselves.
When I shared my plan on social media there were a few people who seemed pained at the idea. They wanted me to save them for posterity, or to at least send them to a project that collects people’s unwanted diaries, but my mind was made up. I wanted to be free of the weight of the past, and to move forwards from the age of fifty streamlined and ready for a new chapter. Also, I like to burn things…
What makes up a life
I am currently nearing the end of my second journal transcription, and I have saved more than I expected I would. I’m finding it a fascinating process. Whilst reading about my four or ten years-ago-self, the themes of that time seep into my present life and mix with what’s happening now. There is much repetition, as I expected. Much of the writing is a variation on the same conflict – the parts of me that want me to eat sensibly and be thin and healthy vs. the ones who love sugar, the ones that drive me to overwork vs. the ones who tell me to rest, the ones that get trapped scrolling on Twitter vs. the ones that have a vision of a shiny social-media free life. It’s also interesting to notice my preoccupations vs. the things one might think were important – a two week pilgrimage to Kyoto took up only a sentence or two, and I wrote hardly anything about the pandemic. Instead I wrote of the cold I was still struggling with, or the friend I’d had a disagreement with. Such is the stuff of life!
Yesterday I had to smile when I came across a section about publishing. I had just finished my book, ‘What Helps’, and a good publisher had told me they liked it but my social media presence wasn’t strong enough for them to take me on as an author. I was wondering in my journal about how much energy I should be putting into ‘building my platform’ – if I put regular time aside, could I build things up and impress a publisher in the future? Where was the best place to put my energy?
If in doubt, ask the Buddha
In my journal I asked the Buddha – what should I do? The message that came back was, it doesn’t matter. If I enjoy posting on social media, then great, but if it becomes a duty and pulls me away from my ‘real life’, then stop. It isn’t as simple as ‘more readers of my new book’ being equal to ‘putting more good into the world’, ‘making more money’ or ‘being happier’. At the time this released me from duty and I went on to launch my book, having some fun in the process. It didn’t reach the best seller lists… but it did help some people, and that was enough.
I smiled reading this in my old journal because, ten years later, I could be the same person asking the same question. Since re-starting this blog at Patheos with my new ‘brand’, Gentle Buddhism, I’ve wondered about whether I should build Twitter and Facebook audiences with the same name. I’ve had fun launching the pages and posting on them regularly, but as time goes on the sheen is fading and I’m wondering if it’s something I want to commit to on an ongoing basis or not.
I guess sometimes we need to learn the same lessons over and over again. I’m glad to have been given an opportunity to read about this dilemma again, as once again I’ve given myself the freedom to choose about the social media. If I’m drawn to post, I’ll post. If I am absent for weeks, doing other things, then that’s also fine. That’s the sort of person I am, and that’s fine with me. I trust that it’s fine with the Buddha too.
Go gently _/|\_
What dilemmas from the past are resurfacing for you? What would a younger version of you advise you to do? What might the Buddha say?