Have you ever reread your old diaries?

A gruesomely hot and long summer is behind us. And I’m so glad. How did you get through? The Viking blood I must have in my veins was seriously uncomfortable in the heat and I did little more than read 21 books. I’m so glad we did a staycation this year and didn’t position ourselves in an even hotter place. But in hindsight I’m also actually grateful for such a ridiculously hot summer, because I normally never take the time to bulk read anymore. And that’s such a pity, because in one word, it was lovely.

This weekend I dug up my old diaries from the attic and after I’d carefully manipulated the locks to open, I was plunged back in time. Thirty-four years back in time. What a tumble. I’ve always considered my diaries to be a treasure – something to cherish. This little journey down Memory Lane was my first time savouring it.

mandy van goeije's first diary

My First Diary

My First Diary

I remember getting my first diary as if it were yesterday. We were on a holiday in the Belgian Ardennes and I had fallen ill. My parents went shopping and I had to come, but stayed in the car. After some time I was woken from my slumber by the sound of running footsteps that came near. When I looked outside, my brother stood by my window, holding a little paper bag with something in it.

That little white silky paper bag with the blue line drawing of the historic town made me feel better in a heart beat. Slow, feverish movements prolonged my curious enthusiasm. I took ages to carefully remove the tape from the paper bag because it could keep and protect whatever treasure it was holding again after opening, I don’t know if this memory accurately recounts the slowness with which it happened or if the memory itself is played half speed in my mind.

When I could finally reach into the paper bag, I pulled out a dark green diary with a golden lock and two tiny golden keys. Fever or not, my heart fluttered for joy. A diary! My first diary! With a golden lock! There was nothing in the world I loved doing more than reading and writing. And this diary…it felt as if I’d been given the world.

My first diary with the all-important golden lock.

Down the Rabbit Hole

So I wanted to read my old diaries again. I must have kept the keys somewhere. Being so dear to me, I know I did. I even remember putting them away in a little red chintz purse, along with all the other keys of my diaries and secret little trinket boxes. Only, I do not remember if and where I’ve kept the chintz purse. So with a small collection of found and crafted micro tools I set out to do some locksmithing. And hurray! There was another flutter in my heart when I managed to open my first diary. And then the next. And then all the others. I could finally open worlds that had been locked for decades. My journey down Memory Lane could begin.

First pages in Mandy van Goeije's first diary from 1984

The first pages in my very first diary. 1984

Art Journaling avant la Lettre

Reading my old diary was often endearing, sometimes hilarious and insightful all over. My attempts to write a phonetic kind of English in my first diaries sent me into a few fits of laughter. And what I was really surprised to find out, was that I was art journaling avant la lettre by illustrating many of my entries with a drawing. I had totally forgotten about that. But even in my very first diary I made illustrations, like the one below. At the time I was very concerned with the great famine in Africa. I collected money for charity to help. And I wrote about it in my diary. To illustrated my point, but I think even more to explore such a huge, inconceivable and incomprehensible disaster and process my emotions, I drew a starving child.

One of the illustrative drawings in my first journal from 1984. Art Journaling avant la lettre!

One of the illustrative drawings in my first journal from 1984. Art Journaling avant la lettre!

Childhood Worries

The text I wrote is a bit endearing. Especially since I now have kids of my own and have witnessed their attempts to comprehend the world they live in and deal with the sorrow, fear and confusion they’ve felt about some events. Reading back this entry made me want to hug my little self and tell her I was proud of her for caring and actually trying to do something about it, carrying the burden as little as I was. Below the following photos of the pages you will find the literal and unpolished translation of my entry.

Page 1 of the famine entry. What’s attached, is an article about the famine that I found in a magazine.

25-11-’84
Dear Diary
Sorry I don’t know the date, but that’s okay, right? It was and is One-for-Africa day today. I donated ten guilders for Ethiopia. They’ve got around 15 to 16 million guilders. Hey, I remember the date again it’s in the top right corner. The class council won’t even give money for Africa and the famine. There will be a photo in this diary + everything about Africa.
Love, Mandy
PS. the date’s on it too. READ IT.

Page 2 of the famine entry.

25-11-1984
DIFFERENT TOPIC
Important: it’s attached to this page. It’s about the famine in Africa. See other side.
I find it terrible, really, but I don’t understand it very well yet. That’s why I gave money to people who do understand. I don’t know what to think about it, which bugs me. The rich countries should be ashamed for letting it get this far. They’ve seen it coming for years, but oh no…they don’t do anything about it people there are skinny as hell. Do they think they’re doing a good job? All questions one can’t answer. It’s just so terrible. People there eat only once a day and poorly too. Imagine it were you, you woudn’t be doing too well then. I…I even have desert, I get presents I get everything. but in africa oh no. It’s very important that people learn calculus etc. But those people can’t. Only of doctors there aren’t too few and medicine like antibiotics etc. I’ve seen gruesome things on TV and read horrible things. By the way, Rebecca is very unpositive she won’t even give money for Africa, well that’s not normal. Rebecca herself eats candy like nobody ever has.

Page 3 of the famine entry.

This is a child from Africa [see illustration] who suffers from malnourishdisease. He is fat because there is air in his tummy. They are very thin too, they don’t have the strength to fend off flies. They have buttocks like a little piece of paper hanging down. You can see his ribs too. Awful, isn’t it. I have given 10 guilders to Africa. In Africa that’s around 100 guilders. You can’t say I’m hungry, only I feel like eating, because we don’t know hunger they do, that is the difference. The mothers have little breasts hanging down like pieces of lead. Every 1 to 2 seconds 1 child dies – with 200 children per day and 200 per night that’s 400 every 24 hours. We must not complain. We are healthy, extremely fortunate because if not, we’d be unhealthy too. I’ve written about the famine in Africa. They eat milk and biscuits and bread, or die. One million or more people have already been killed by this disaster, there is bound to be a girl among them who’s called mandy. Horrible, isn’t it? We are all greedy, there are corpses by the road and in towns and villages. People are moving to different areas where there is still food.
Love, Mandy
PS: I hate having to write this

Found Perspectives in Rereading

It’s strange, reading back my childhood emotions and unbudding understanding of the world. It’s like seeing my young self from three perspectives at the same time. There is the retrosprect with which I look back to that time, for as far as I can recall. Then there’s the naive perspective of the girl herself and the words she left behind and the pictures she paints with them. And finally the perspective that surprised me a bit, is the parental perspective that I strongly felt in reading my diary. I kept thinking of my own girls when I read these old pages, feeling very motherly and protective towards little me.

Smiles and Laughter

What also surprised me is that there were moments of uncontrollable laughter.  Sometimes it was the wit of a kid with an explorative mind who doesn’t even recognize boxes, so has no concept of how far outside the box she’s thinking, the way only children can. At other times it was the naivety in the grave voice that totally missed the mark but could blissfully indulge in ignorance.

My fingerprints in blood

The page above is a perfect illustration of childhood inventivity. I can only imagine what I must have thought when one day my finger bled and I saw my diary. There must have been a lightbulb moment where I put the two together and decided to leave a mark. The text says: “My real blood fingerprints”. It makes me wonder about the inventivity of my own kids. Will they too have been fascinated by that little red drop coming from their fingertip and will they too have made a fingerprint in their curiosity about it? Have you?

A Puzzle?

Curious. That word pretty well sums up what my diary shows I was like as a child. I examined my entire world and never hesitated to learn and discover something new. The last page I’m sharing is another piece of evidence for it. My first attempt to write English, two years before I’d have my first English class. So, it’s a bit of a puzzle, since it is the fully phonetic version of the title of a popsong (to the ears of a 9-year old Dutch girl), Can you figure out what my favorite pop song was at the time? It’s the orange words…

What pop song did I talk about in my diary? Tip: it’s the orange words…

Further Down the Rabbit Hole

The journey down Memory Lane has been moving and interesting. And this is just my first diary.I can’t wait to see what’s in the others. There are many more left to read and there is lots more to share from them.

And reading my old diaries I wondered, have you ever reread your old diaries? How old were you when you got yours? What kind of things did you write down? Do you have a favorite? A treasure? With a lock? Please, feel free to share your diary experiences in a comment below. I’m looking forward to reading them.