A controlled burn

Last week, I wrote about my decision to burn my journals. The conversation that emerged from that post here and on Facebook was wonderful – people on both sides of the journal-burning divide explaining their point of view… which in the end is the only point of view that matters.

This week, I decided to illustrate what the burning was like for me because, well, you know how I am.

Okay, here we go!


On the day I decided to burn my journals (which was a few days before I actually burned them), I felt a rush of YES-fueled adrenaline.

Journal Burning 1

The five  journals in question were written over a 4-year period. They were full of guilt and hurt and confusion and misplaced anger, and some well placed anger too. To be fair, they were also full of growth, however ungraceful and one-step-forward-two-steps-back it was. But I’d moved on. I didn’t need them to remind me of anything. And even as I gave them one last look-through on the day of the burning, I didn’t have any second thoughts, no sense of panic. The journals were redundant. Unnecessary. All the lessons in those pages had been written indelibly on my heart.

Journal Burning 2

I tore out all the pages – there were hundreds! I put them in a box and carried them out to the backyard, where a roaring fire waited, along with the biggest full moon of the year… which I took to mean the universe was giving me a big high-five for my decision.

Journal Burning 3

My husband and sister-in-law were there. (They brought stuff to burn too. It is my opinion that everyone in the world over about age seven probably has stuff they could stand to burn.) I went first, and since my posse was there with me, I said a few words.

Journal Burning 4

And then I started tossing pages into the fire, slowly at first, but pretty soon I was throwing in handfuls at a time. The fire got wild, the night air crackled, I watched the ashes floating skyward, and I felt… exhilaration… closure… release… forward motion. In some fundamental way, it was like I’d just stepped into myself.

When we were done, we held up our margaritas and toasted the burning.  My sister-in-law (who had just come to live with us three days before) said, “To new beginnings.”

Yes, my insides hummed.


Journal Burning 5


I’m sending pictures of the burning out to everyone on my mail list. If you’re not on the mail list, I want to invite you to sign up. In addition to linking to the new post each week, I delve a little deeper into the topic at hand (and occasionally take side trips into uncharted territory). Some of the best conversations I have are with people who reply to the weekly emails. I’d love to have you join in the off-blog shenanigans.



  1. Naomi Wittlin on June 27, 2013 at 6:30 am

    I adore that YES drawing! It makes my heart leap. I want to buy a print of that from you!

    • j on June 27, 2013 at 6:38 am

      Aw! Thank you! I’ll get her into the shop. Stay tuned.

  2. Karin on June 27, 2013 at 6:37 am

    I love the moon doodle 🙂

    I’m so glad for the release you got from burning the journals. I think whenever we hang on to something that only has bad thoughts for us, then we are encouraging ourselves to revisit those negative moments. Burning the journals is a big step (and I’m sure everyone in our class is proud) 🙂

    • j on June 27, 2013 at 6:42 am

      Thank you, Karin. I agree with you on the hanging on to bad stuff. I’ve definitely been there, unable to let go of my sad story. And though I’d thought I’d let go of the particular sad story covered in those journals, the physical act was powerful. It really did feel like I stepped out of what wasn’t fitting and into myself.

      And yay! I’ve been doodling trees lately. I’m glad you liked the moon doodle!

  3. Deborah on June 27, 2013 at 6:41 am

    I know how I felt a few days ago just burning a handful of pages…and I’m looking forward to a bigger ‘event’ now. This is so powerful and full of good energy! Love your illustrations of the big burn!

    • j on June 27, 2013 at 2:16 pm

      Thank you, Deborah! I really do think that when it feels right for you, there’s nothing quite like a ceremonial burn. It feels very cleansing… very Phoenix-y. 🙂

  4. Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) on June 27, 2013 at 7:04 am

    You ARE an amazing badass, j.

    • j on June 27, 2013 at 2:18 pm

      That made me laugh. xo

  5. elizabeth marie on June 27, 2013 at 8:06 am

    I missed the journal-burning conversation, darn it! I love these illustrations of this process, and now I’ll go back and read the post and the discussions and to think about my own plastic tub full of old journals with sad stories I keep thinking I’ll “humor up” and weave into poems or novels…..

    • j on June 27, 2013 at 2:23 pm

      You know, I think if I’d been journaling my whole life, I’d have felt differently. it was because these journals were so tied to a very specific time in my life that I was able to burn them. And should I ever want to write a story based on any of it, I wouldn’t need the notebooks to remind me.

      It sounds like you have more to weave. One thing I can say with certainty. It’s a pretty final decision. You have to make sure you’re okay with it. I’m interested in what you decide!

  6. Christie on June 27, 2013 at 11:08 am

    That moon doodle is Ah -Mazing! I am such a moon girl so it spoke to me heart :^)


    • j on June 27, 2013 at 2:24 pm

      Totally going to doodle you a moon piece… for your birthday! It’s perfect! <3

      • Christie on June 27, 2013 at 3:02 pm

        That would be an awesome present – yippee!!

  7. Nina Badzin (@NinaBadzin) on June 27, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    I’m so glad you did these drawings. And I love that you brought some family along. How true that everyone older than seven probably has something they can stand to burn!

    • j on June 27, 2013 at 2:28 pm

      It’s funny because I wasn’t sure if this was something I might rather do alone, but I was really grateful for their presence. I think they added to the sense of celebration.

      Right? It’s sad we start storing up our burnable experiences so early, but we do. We’ve been having “family” ceremonial burns on New Year’s Ever for the past two years. I wish I’d thought of doing it when the kids were younger. I think it’s a good lesson for children – that we write our own stories more than we think, that we chose what to hold onto and what to let go.

  8. Clare Flourish on June 27, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    I had a lot of psychiatrists’ letters around my idiosyncrasy, and burning that was a great relief. However, when I look at my old journals I value the growth moments in it. I look back at July 2001, and the blessed trauma I felt, and as well as the lesson I learned, there is the celebration of the way I HEAL and learn. I am still healing.

    I am back on the email list, and will see how WordPress responds.

    • j on June 27, 2013 at 2:32 pm

      Oh, yay! Not that they’re all that great, but let me know if you want me to send you the photos.

      I do want to say that I value my growth moments too. I just didn’t feel that the notebooks connected me to them as much as they connected me to the mistakes that precipitated the growth. That said, I think Danielle is right. There are burners and there are historians. I’ve never been an historian, but I am grateful for the people who are. (My aunt who set all this in motion with her 90-year-old journal, for example!)

  9. Alarna Rose Gray on June 27, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    Your illustrations are just gorgeous! Being by the fire at full moon – and full moon burn offs – are one of my most favourite things… Glad you feel freed 🙂

    • j on June 27, 2013 at 2:33 pm

      Thank you, Alarna. This was my first full moon burn, I think. It did add a sense of magic and possibility to the whole thing.

  10. Pam on June 27, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    Wonderful job illustrating your hootenanny!

    I’m glad it worked the way it was supposed to work. xo

    • j on July 2, 2013 at 3:31 pm

      Hootenannies may be, by their very nature, prone to doodle representation. xo

  11. Laura Marcella on June 28, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    That is awesome! I love it that you had a burning ceremony, letting go of the old and allowing the new to enter your life.

    A few months ago I decided I wanted to burn my journals. I have so so many from when I was a teenager until now (when I was in high school I got rid of my kid diaries…good thing or else I’d have even more to burn today!). I’ve been on a decluttering kick, and dozens of journals, all shapes and sizes, gets difficult to store and find a place to keep them. And how often have I re-read them? Just sporadic entries. So I started going through them and then I got caught up in a bunch of events I’d forgotten about and want to remember! There’s some good writing in there, too. Most of the entries are rubbish, but there are little gems here and there. So I decided I’m going to re-read them and then tear out special entries to have in my keepsake box.

    I love all of your drawings and doodles!

    Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

  12. jb on June 30, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    I read your email and was completely enthralled and loved the photos. Then I got to this line “I illustrated the whole experience, from my decision to burn my journals through the act itself.” and thought – “What?!? But there are photos – why illustrate it?” (Ever the photographer, eh?) Naturally, I immediately clicked to the blog. Oooooh…. that’s why! So beautiful! Do I have to pick a favorite? I love them all. Okay, the moon a little bit more because I have a thing about the moon. So impressed, j – with the process, the sharing, the art, and most of all, you. <3

  13. j on July 2, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    Around here, you never have to do anything! (But I’d have picked the moon for you, too.)

    Thank you. It’s very cleansing. Should you ever want to hold a soul-sister burning ceremony, I’m right there. xox

  14. Clare Flourish on July 4, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    It’s the fourth.

    I am sure we would let you back into our Empire, if you asked nicely.

    • j on July 4, 2013 at 1:22 pm

      Ha! Or you could come join the rebel upstarts.

  15. Joanne Marie Firthjo on July 4, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    I’m very late to this post, which I apologize for. Yay! You did it. I had a little, tiny feeling that you might not be able to let go of all of those pages, so my pride for you is very big. You know, just becuase we write stuff down, in anger, in confustion or in any negative way that is not meant to be art, it doesn’t mean we have to keep that hanging around. Especially if all of those words were written during some bad years. Bad years which you have healed from. Words can be therapy. We write them down to purge feelings and memories that are filling us up. Taking up valuable space. And like a therapy session, it ends, work done, benefit gained and like your illustration, it begins. Cheers to new beginnings. ~/ *clink* ~/ !

    You took a huge leap with this burning. A good, strong, forward leap. I have no regrets buring up that journal decades ago. I know what a mess I was when I wrote that stuff down. I remember. So right now, I’m sending you a giant hug with thaks for sharing this very private ceremony with all of us. xo

  16. j on July 4, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    Aw, I love your little cheers icon!

    Thank you right back, Joanne! You were right there with me, a journal-burning-badass kindred spirit. <3

  17. christywilsonchristy on July 6, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    way to go Brave Badass Beauty!!! I am so inspired by you and I can feel your heart grow as I read this! way to go!!!!!

  18. I want to be seen | Clare Flourish on July 6, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    […] clutch and cling. Judy has been talking of burning journals: I am not quite there yet, though I did empty two files of hoarded emails. Not personal ones, just […]

  19. Milli Thornton on June 14, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    I did not have a ritual burning but that does sound VERY satisfying. More spontaneous than what I did. With my shredder set up in our old kitchen back in Ohio (this was near the end of 2012), I went through boxes and boxes of old stuff. And then shredded, shredded, shredded. I also got rid of old journals that way. I even got rid of my very novel manuscript, the one I’d dragged with me all the way from Australia. (Double-spaced, those things weigh a TON!) Plus I sold all of my spiritual and self-help books, CDs and related stuff. (One lady saw my Craigslist listing and came from another city to buy all of it for her used book store. Yay! Now THAT was some cool closure. Plus cool cash.) I got to leave Ohio and re-enter New Mexico with way less baggage. It was worth all the hard work.

    • Milli Thornton on June 14, 2014 at 2:44 pm

      That was supposed to say “very FIRST novel manuscript.” 🙂

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