Daydreaming on Paper
December 2002
Keep Out!

Thomas Mallon, author of A Book of One's Own: People and their diaries, divides diarists into 7 categories. His designations of Chroniclers, Travelers, Pilgrims, Creators, Apologists, Confessors, and Prisoners cover almost all of the various reasons why people turn to personal writing. People take pen to paper out of boredom, joy, desperation, and curiosity. The journal has evolved into a place for daily ruminations as well as spiritual exploration. It bears witness to our wedding celebrations and bad hair days. Its pages contain the best and worst of us. For these reasons, diarists and journal keepers usually have a vested interest in keeping their private pages private.

One of the most devastating things that can happen to a diarist is to have his or her journal read by an unsolicited party. It doesn't matter whether the diary pages contain deep, dark secrets or trifles. The writing is by its very nature raw, intimate, and powerful. In our journals, we are naked. As with our physical bodies, these "mental bodies" are ours to expose or to deny access to as we see fit. A violation of journal privacy can be just as traumatic as a violation of the body. There is a massive, writhing, mixed-up ball of emotions - rage, humiliation, embarrassment, fear - that accompanies the knowledge that one's diary has been viewed (and judged) by outsider eyes. It has happened to me many times, and the feeling is not one that I would wish on anybody. There should be a special place in Hell for the person who reads another's diary and then has the nerve to fling the knowledge found there in the hapless victim's face. If I were Queen, I would make it so.

My wish for you is that your diary or journal always remain a safe place - a place for you to rant, cry, ponder, laugh, grow, learn, observe, and record with blissful abandon. Should you choose to share some of these bits - these best and worst parts of you - with another person or persons, even better. The fact remains, however that it is your choice. No one has the right to read your journal without your express permission. While there is no 100%, foolproof way to keep nosy people out of your diary (I'm living proof of that), here are a few ways that you can tip the odds in your favor.

  1. Mum's the word.
    In terms of privacy, the fewer people who know that you keep a diary, the better. What a person doesn't know exists won't tempt them to try and find when they are "returning a book to your room" or "looking for their socks".

  2. Write in something that doesn't scream "JOURNAL".
    Nothing says, "Read me!" like a glossy, 5- by 7-inch book with a picture of big-eyed kittens on the cover. Those fine leather-bound numbers aren't much better. Write in anything tiny and cute with a (totally ineffectual) lock on the side and the unscrupulous will be on it like white on rice. If you are paranoid about your diary being read, you will probably be better off with something simple like a spiral notebook or steno pad. Or,...

  3. Use a dusty old book as a journal.
    Got a hardcover book that's just taking up space? Put it to good use! You can do this by either using the book as is - writing/drawing/painting right over the existing text (or even incorporating some of it into your entries) - or by removing the entire signature block and replacing it with blank paper of your choice. For inspiration on altering books, check out Modern Gypsy's The Altered Page gallery on her website. Making Journals by Hand by Jason Thompson offers some help with rebinding a hardcover book. Whichever method you choose, make sure that the book in question is one not likely to pique anybody's interest. You might want to avoid reference books, too.

  4. Lock it up.
    While the tiny locks on the actual journal generally don't do any good, a lock box or locked file cabinet can be a great deterrent. Hide the key in another part of the house. If other people have access to your keys, it's probably not a good idea to keep the cabinet key on your regular key chain.

  5. Hide it with the unmentionables.
    Not in the underwear drawer, in the cabinet with the *cough* "feminine hygiene" products. Even if your pesky little brother knows where you keep it, odds are that he'd rather swallow live spiders than reach into the box to get it.

  6. "Watch that basket."
    Mark Twain used to say, "Put all your eggs in one basket, and watch that basket!" A journal that is under your watchful eye at all times is less likely to be perused by anyone else's.

  7. Write illegibly.
    I'm not talking about bad penmenship (although those whose handwriting makes the reader's brows furl have a definite advantage here), but rather simply writing your journal entries in a manner that makes it difficult for other people to read them. Some techniques to try:
    • Crosshatch writing
      Write both horizontally and vertically across the same page (in either the same or different colors of ink)
    • Use an ink color that is similar to the page color
      You'd have to have your nose practically on the page in order to read it.
    • Get yourself some invisible ink (or whip up a batch of your own!)
    • Reverse it.
      Write backwards so that your words can only be read by holding the page up to a mirror.

  8. Fine-tune your skills.
    Brush up on your French, Spanish, or Conversational Chinese. Just be sure to choose a language that no one else in your house knows. Even better and more accessible than a foreign language...

  9. Try writing in shorthand.
    This lost art of the business world is easy to learn and very few people these days understand it. Pick up a copy of Gregg Shorthand at any library or do what I did - thrift one.

  10. Protect only the juicy parts.
    Maybe you don't really care who reads the bulk of your journal; maybe there are only certain passages that you consider to be sensitive. You can seal the pages closed with tape or labels around the edges. Or, you can write on loose sheets of paper and seal them in envelopes. (You can even tear the pages into a few pieces before you put them into the envelope.)

  11. Turn the words into art
    Sometimes just the act of letting 'er rip on the page is all we need. In these instances, we have no intentions of ever re-reading those words again. Instead of simply burning the pages or making confetti (both very valid options), use clippings, images, and paint to create a collage. Transform venom into something higher.

  12. Write in code
    This does not necessarily have to be anything elaborate. Even if you use the basic replace-letters-with-numbers code, that would be enough to deter the average person. Of course, if you've got the time and the inclination, you can come up with something that would make the CIA proud.

All these things being said (and done), there is no guarantee that some bright, sunny day you will not come home to find your journal's security breeched. A determined person can usually find a way around any obstacle. You yourself could even have a hand in the affair. You could slip up and walk away from your writing table and come back to find your diary in the hands of a highly amused audience. Or, you could do something as mundane as lose your notebook. In any case, if the worst ever happens, find a little comfort here. It's a response I wrote to a Purple Ink member who posted about an invasion of her privacy, both with her journal and her website. Maybe it could help you, too. Scream, cry, and do what you need to do.

Then keep writing.



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© 2002 Dawn R. Vinson. All Rights Reserved.