writing

The Women Always Wrote

Gerard_ter_Borch_-_Die_Briefschreiberin_(Schwester_Gesine)
Gerard ter Borch, “Woman Writing a Letter,” ca. 1655, Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague, via Wikimedia.

The women in my family always wrote. Journals, mostly.

Many women fill their hope chests with clothing, linens, dishware. My mother filled hers with journals. They came in all sizes and types. Some were small enough that I could curl my palm around them. Others were large enough that they had to be held in two hands. Some were plain. Others, glorious and embossed. My favorite resembled an illuminated manuscript.

My grandmother also journals. One day she told me that she either wanted them burned when she died, or she wanted them to go straight to me. She doesn’t want my mother to read them.

That reticence comes from her having read my great-grandmother’s diaries, I think. My great-grandma was a lovely woman. A lovely woman full of secrets. Most families have them, and some keep their secrets so tightly that they forget they exist at all. When my grandmother inherited those bits of writing, it reminded her that she had secrets of her own as well.

Maybe there are some things daughters don’t need to know about their mothers.

So the women in my family always wrote. I suppose I carry on that tradition. My writing is more public, more digital than theirs, but it still binds us together.

I suspect most writers have words in their blood.

—     —     —

This article was originally posted on August 23, 2016.

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26 thoughts on “The Women Always Wrote

  1. Exactly, Kristen, must be inheritable, like blue eyes. Now my granddaughter writes–she just turned 18 but has filled volumes since she first learned to write. My mother expressed herself in letters. It was her father’s manuscripts that were left with me because he knew (out of the others), I’d be the one who’d try to get them published. He was right.

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    1. It’s funny how these things travel through the generations, isn’t it? I’m glad that those manuscripts ended up with you, and maybe your granddaughter will look into publishing her work someday as well!

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      1. yes, I hope she will! we got ahold of one of her journals years ago when we were sitting around the table together and read something that just blew us away. way beyond her years, we sat open-mouthed and stunned. I went on a campaign shortly after to get serious and look into publishing (she was watching me do it after all). but no, she didn’t. I’ve kept up the encouragement. she really is good (and certainly, better than I).

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    1. I’m sorry about your grandmother. Even though mine lived a long life, losing her was still hard.

      There are so many people whose personal thoughts are gone either because they didn’t write or because whatever they wrote disappeared with the passage of time. It’s great that you are creating some new pieces of history.

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  2. This is a fascinating post. My mother didn’t keep a journal or diary, but we, my three siblings and I, exchanged letters with our mother–tons of letters-back in the late sixties and seventies. After she died in 1979. the letter writing stopped. We were all over the south–Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and we pulled into our own personal worlds.

    I still have a few of my mother’s letters, and they are like gold to me. Like most women born in the early twentieth century, she had a beautiful cursive writing style. I wish I had more of her letters, but moving all over the place, things got lost and/or thrown out.

    But what’s interesting is that while letter writing has diminished over the years–we all email and twitter now-a-days–the culture of journal writing, I think, has maintained if not increased. That has to be a good thing.

    Thank you Kristen for a great post!

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    1. It’s wonderful that you still have some of those letters. They sound like extraordinary pieces of the past.

      Things like email, Twitter, and Facebook have definitely taken the place of traditional letters. My problem is figuring out how to create a personal archive of them so that decades from now I can see what my mother and I wrote to each other. I’ve actually printed off a few of the emails that I suspect will remain important to me, which felt silly to do.

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  3. I burned several of my teenage diaries in my 20’s and later regretted it, specifically because I’d written about the boy who would later become my husband and the father of my child. I’m still not sure I want them all to live on indefinitely, though. It’s an interesting idea to ponder.

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    1. I understand the impulse to get rid of dairies. Sometimes they are just too personal. Other times they include parts of our past we would rather not remember.

      And every once in a while I wonder how people from 100-150 years ago would react to knowing their journals were being read by historians. (Probably not well.)

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  4. It is inspiring to see that people are still writing, handwriting in journals. I used to write in my diary as a teenager to a young adult and then I stop. My lifestyle changed and then I had children but I would love to go back to the writing again because I felt like it gave a place to express everything that I may not be able to tell others about. I enjoyed reading this, thank you.

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    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it! It really is amazing to see how some people still write. And I’m perpetually jealous of those with beautiful penmanship. Technology has changed the way we record our thoughts, but there is something special about the physicality of journals that online records lack. (…Says the woman who is writing on her blog.)

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