The road ends, but the journey continues...

September Soaking Spurs Questions

Labor Day Monday I awoke to a moderately toned


coming from the bedroom closet.

Yep. Our hot water heater bit the dust.

I’d say we got off easy, though not without cost. Over the years I subtly prepared for this eventuality by adjusting clothes and boxes for the least amount of damage once the dreaded occasion arose.

All that to say, due to a unique ricocheting leaking process, water puddled on top of the big red plastic bin as well as on the floor beneath it.

Fine. Except not really.

I placed a sturdy U-Haul cardboard book box filled with my latest & most special composition books, journals and pieces of writing atop that big red plastic bin in order to keep it from being soaked in the event of such an eruption.

Best laid plans…it was soaked.

However, no clothes or shoes were ruined (big sigh of relief) and the damage to the notebooks numbered three journals soaked, with manageable wetness on another handful.

Honestly, minimal damage on that front. Though of course, those three notebooks soon became the most important of the entire lot.

At first, I thought, ‘Okay, time to just let my decades of journals, Morning Pages, etc go. At the very least, grab the earliest entries, skim and toss.’

But then…let’s just say that one of the soaked three was nearest and dearest to my heart. It contained my Summer of Dad entries – including those made during my last days with him.

The other two, though not as poignant, proved hard to let go of for a different reason:

The Pandemic “lockdown” and its historic if not creative significance in my myopic life at the time. One even contains pre-Pandemic scenarios morphing into the unrelenting reality of the early months of the Pandemic. Thus, easily highlighting the contrasting paths of life interrupted in one compact composition book.

Last page, last paragraph taken from the 1/2020 – 4/2020 journal:

“The myriad turn of events and the speed with which they’ve occurred is phenomenal…Just within the pages of this compo book we went from being in business negotiations poised to buy that new business in San Diego, to finding a rental home in Austin to be closer to business partner, to changing plans & gearing up for a move to Las Cruces, NM fully pre-approved and in pursuit of purchasing our chosen home, to being packed and ready to move once all i’s were dotted and t’s crossed, to almost death by Symbicort*, to dealing with the cold reality of life in the time of COVID.”

4/21/2020 (annotated)

I spent most of that day blow drying those three drenched journals. Focusing on my Summer of Dad one, which emerged a questionable save. The other two are reasonably saved. But what of those now puffy, ugly, hard-to-read and unwieldy three? What of those outer visual reminders of the broken times contained within?

Some practical things I learned:

  • School glue-sticked articles, photos, magazine pictures and other creative extras used to decorate and punctuate the pages release their hold once wet and then blown dry.
    • Of course – that’s why it’s for school use!
  • All except normal Bic type pens are subject to performing the disappearing act when exposed to drenching water.
    • But even then, writing on both sides of the paper becomes all mixed together and harder to decifer.
  • I’m not ready to go through those accumulated journals (which were in that big plastic bin) and am no nearer a resolution on what to do with them all before I die.

This singular event spun off re-dedication in going through ‘important’ papers, projects, not just the journals. The ephemera of a life mindfully collecting said ephemera!

To clarify, I am a periodic purger, so it’s not like this stuff hasn’t been scrutinized and gone through multiple times over the years – organized and available for use if and when needed.

In my case that includes many published articles in complete, virgin condition magazines and other publications. Plus, multitudes of concert programs, printed reviews, promo materials, permission to record requests, proof of said permissions, etc, etc, etc.

In short, the curated files of a life’s career before, during and after digital replaced paper – which actually added to the paper and created the Rabbit Hole of associated computer files.

On top of those considerations, I keep hearing the mantra: Purge your Portfolio. Which means making certain that whatever is kept, should reflect best efforts at the very least.

Seriously, I do purge old recordings, score attempts, early drafts of anything on a regular basis in order to clear the clutter of creative thought. But sometimes, it’s handy to see the progress of the process during a certain project’s creation…

Is it vain of me to feel like I just can’t chuck it all?

How do you reconcile the legitimate stuff to keep?

Input? Ideas? Help!

*my doctor casually handed me free samples of Symbicort to supplement my asthma rescue inhaler treatment, to which I had an immediate life threatening serious reaction…obviously I survived.


  1. Mary

    That’s a hard one. I have been purging too, hoping to make our daughter’s inevitable task easier when the time comes. I wish Mother had saved Granny’s diaries but not her china, but she used her best judgment. Hard to know what our daughter will wish for.

    • laura bruno lilly

      I figured you’d been purging, too. It’s hard to figure, isn’t it? But at least we’re trying!

  2. Khaya Ronkainen

    “Is it vain of me to feel like I just can’t chuck it all?” Not all, Laura. I’m so sorry to hear about your hot water heater biting the dust, and on it’s way out ruining your special notebooks, journals and pieces of writing.

    I sincerely hope you can salvage what you can. Those you can’t, let them go! Perhaps, easier said than done. But really, the most important and cherished memories of/created with our loved ones will forever live in our hearts until the day we die. I hope this offers a little bit of consolation.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Yes, indeed it does, dear friend.

  3. Cheryl, Gulf Coast Poet

    What a disaster! I am so sorry about your journals, Laura.

    I had a similar experience when my treasured photo albums became infected with a white mold to which I am very allergic. I had some photos digitally preserved. Not quite the same! Some are now in plastic bins in the garage along with infected documents like birth certificates. If I ever need them, I will just have to suffer the consequences!

    • laura bruno lilly

      Oh wow – toxic photos and important documents. Very sobering. Thank you for adding your experiences to my questions, Cheryl.

  4. Sorry about the hot water heater disaster and the soaked journals. Thanks for sharing a snippet of one of your journals. I am thinking about starting journaling and I never thought about where to store them and then how many do you keep, but your post got me thinking. I read Mariss’ comments and they got me thinking too. I appreciate this dialogue!

    • laura bruno lilly

      Please don’t let my misfortune or our collective concerns about amassing volumes of journals cause you to hesitate in following through with journaling!!! The benefits far outweigh any consequences of having them as a faithful companion over the years!!!

      • Okay 🙂
        I saw some amazing journaling examples of a friend’s journal and she really got me interested it making the kind of journal that is like a mini scrapbook.

        • laura bruno lilly

          I always have pasted in items, write with a variety of instruments, choreograph the written word, add stuff to make the page sing. It’s also the place where I add odd bits that I don’t want to throw out, but have no where else to go (ie-some Summer of Dad bits) – yet it is more a journal with embellishments rather than scrapbooking of a journal. Interesting delineation, wouldn’t you agree?!
          Enjoy your new creative venture into journaling, Tierney.

  5. deborahbrasket

    I’m so sorry for loss of your personal journals, and hope you’ve been able to salvage them, especially about your father. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my own journals, whether to toss them or hold onto them. Somehow it almost seems like a burden to leave them to my kids to have to pour through and decide what to keep or toss. I’m leaning toward tossing. Shredding maybe? Or maybe burying in a bucket of water. From your experience, it sounds like that will work.

    • laura bruno lilly

      It’s the burden aspect of my journals, as well. I remember being very disappointed that Ma cleared out a lot of ‘ephemera’ (journals, artworks in process, etc although she kept all letters/cards!). After her death, I read Terry Tempest Williams’ “When Women Were Birds”. It opened my eyes that as I began sifting through the ephemera left of her life, I gained a better perspective of her than if I’d been reading through decades worth of journals. If you haven’t read WWWB, the first 3/4 of it is compelling.
      Yeah, let’s have a dunking party, if not a bonfire! HA!

  6. Marty

    Oh, this is heartbreaking to read. It sounds like your did your level best at saving things at least (the Bic pen anecdote is interesting, btw), and it also appears that you’ve at least done due diligence over the years at pondering what to keep vs. removing. It’s all a tough process, though. Just the other day I was mourning a collection of greeting cards from my parents that I tossed during lockdown. Those sentiments are hard to just forget.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Thank you Marty for your comments.
      Perhaps the timing of the ‘tossing’ was premature…but I’m thinking it was mostly **due** to lockdown that pressurized the action of doing so. Hence even more regret.
      So sorry for that – yet, like you said, those sentiments are imbedded in our hearts regardless (obviously not a direct quote!)

  7. Jennie

    Oh no!!! The journal of your dad is a heartbreak. While I do periodic purging, each summer I alternate between major purging of the basement and the garage. We did the basement this summer, and thank goodness, as we had the ‘ten year flood’ a few weeks ago. Everything was up and off the floor, but we lost the carpeting in the front room. I feel blessed that my school work was spared! I know how you feel….?

    • laura bruno lilly

      Oh my goodness! Such timing does not go unnoticed. Whew. You certainly can relate with this, Jennie. I’m glad your teaching materials were spared…yikes!

      • Jennie

        Yes, I can relate. My teaching materials and writing pale in comparison to your losses.

  8. marissthequilter

    I have been pondering on your questions since yesterday and still don’t have an answer.
    But first let me sympathise with you about those wet journals. Sods law that your three most precious records should get soaked.
    Should we hold on to the ephemera collected during our lives? I don’t think so, unless the material is worthwhile to a) your family and/or b) the world at large. But how does one measure that? And so the questions spiral around in circles.
    Forgive the essay (!?) but you have hit a bit of a nerve. I too have been wondering what to do with my journals. I certainly don’t want anyone (except myself) to read them. But the problem is what to do with them. I have even thought of glueing them closed and then wrapping them to make exhibition plinths (ha ha). Burning paper is not as easy as it sounds. Perhaps I will bury them in an unmarked grave.
    This week I helped my 92-year-old morther move to an assisted living facility. She has lived a frugal life but, even so, there was so much sorting and discarding to be done. So, your questions are particularly pertinent to me right now. Stepping back a bit, when I worked as an archivist at a literary museum I had to sometimes read author’s journals in order to write a catalogue description. It sometimes was too close to the bone. But I guess lack of privacy is one of the prices of being famous. Best burn your love letters and personal diaries. Or bury them.

    • laura bruno lilly

      I was hoping you’d chime in, Mariss – especially with your archivist background. Your thoughts have helped clarify ‘classifications’ of how to deal/answer my posted questions.
      The spiral questions, I think, can get resolved in increments rather than in bulk. ie-what was deemed worthwhile 10 years ago may not be so at this time…so just have to keep up with the purges. Your final advice on love letters & personal diaries enforces my initial thought of going through the journals with an eye of what I don’t mind being ‘exposed’…rip out the ‘legitimate stuff’ from my journals and throw (burn sounds like a fun party idea, like Jane suggested!) away the rest – but maybe not just yet…
      As to the end-of-life sorting through of your mother’s personal bits – always heart-wrenching. I feel for you, Mariss. Such a tender time in both your lives.

      • marissthequilter

        Thank you for your thoughts (heart-wrenching is what it is) and for the clarifications

        • laura bruno lilly

          (Imagine heart emoji here)

  9. Andy

    I keep all sorts of stuff from the different eras of my writing (eras as in from around the time different collections were published. Even though they may have been considered at the time and then rejected, I sometimes return to them, later resurrecting them either in whole or, more often, in part. There are a few lines in Fifty that are decades old.

    As for water – we have had nothing but trouble with our shower, over several years and still not fully rectified. Some time back our kitchen ceiling came in. This was a matter of weeks after our dog had been put to sleep – he used to sleep in that kitchen. A young James said at the time, “It would have fell on Rydal, but he’s dead. Luckily for him.”

    • laura bruno lilly

      Yes, that sounds like my system, too – mostly by project, though. And, I like your ‘era’ category – I might add that – especially to the printed concert programs, printed reviews/quotes and other evidence of my active performing career. Because as you say, extracting portions of content for other applications (literally as in grants) and/or finishes is part of our craft (music and writing), it all needs to be handy and retrievable.
      I guess part of what I was dealing with was the large amount of my work that was actually published/finished – case in point several articles/reviews/interviews I wrote that were published in various Soundboard issues. Of which I was given complimentary copies of etc etc etc. Other magazines, too. Plus the extras of anthologies, cds, pubbed scores, etc.
      Writing this, I realize this is really a good thing! While doing this uncovered a large volume of ‘legitimate stuff’, perhaps the question is not if/when it should be chucked but more of how to better archive with the sense of still being accessible – all with an efficient use of space, etc etc etc. And when I die, it’ll be consolidated enough for my lucky kids to deal with!!!!
      Thanks for adding to the convo, Andy.

      • Andy

        I remember Lennon admonishing his Aunt Mimi for throwing away some early sketches and things that he’d done, “It will be worth something one day.”
        Whereas Morrison, on losing his earlier poetry books, believed that this allowed him to be original.

        • laura bruno lilly

          Great input!
          Proves the point of being mindful in whatever decision is made: ‘right or wrong’. I’ve done too many deletes in a fit of frustration or need for space, ya know? Morrison’s take is how I feel about mindful purging – it really does allow for more creative freedom – perhaps based upon past creations but allowed by necessity to improvise…

  10. petespringerauthor

    Oh, gosh! We can’t put a price on material that holds such sentimental value. I sure hope you resuscitated and saved that special journal with your thoughts about your dad. We’ve helped clean out the homes of my parents and in-laws in the last five years. We accumulate so many things in a lifetime that only hold meaning for us. I had some guilt, wondering if I was tossing something I was unaware of that might have held great sentimental value to them.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Oh I understand thoroughly, Pete. I felt strongly compelled to mindfully & painstakingly go through my folks’ things when that occasion arose. It took time, but was cathartic as well as a privilege to ‘sift through’ their lives – a means of honoring them.

  11. Ally Bean

    I’m no authority on what to keep, what to purge. I like the idea of having all my files of important papers be a reflection on the best I can be, but I’m also indecisive about what to keep around. And I’ll end this comment that is of little practical value by saying I wish you well.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Always happy to receive well wishes, Ms Bean!

  12. Laura

    That stinks about your water heater, Laura! Both in damage and in expense…big bummer!
    I agree with Graciela, “I do not think it is vain for anyone to keep what is important and has personal meaning.”
    I just read an article this morning about the character traits of those with higher IQs. Apparently they can thrive in a disorganized and messy environment. The brain is forced to focus more. Desks in disarray demonstrate higher creativity. Einstein, Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison, all worked among clutter. You are in good company.
    Makes me rethink the declutter, minimalist trend. 🙂

    • laura bruno lilly

      To create, we creatives need our stuff – not minimal by any standards! As a quilter I know you know this – as a musician and quilter I need stuff plus space. My space is shared and that’s where organizational skills play hard. So, yes, I agree, minimalism in the ‘snobby sense’ is way overrated and simply not one-size-fits-all. End of sermon!

  13. rl2b2017

    Hi Laura! Oh, it just breaks my heart that your journal with your Dad’s last days was wrecked. “I love you, too.” Those words, in Italian, remain imprinted on your heart so deeply that you don’t need the written word to feel them. I often have important papers that I don’t want to toss, yet where to put them?! At some point, it will all be discarded and not important at all. Buy another red bin and but those salvaged treasures inside for another day. {{Hugs}} a bunch! ~smile~ Roseanne

    • laura bruno lilly

      HaHa! Buy another red bin! HaHa – good one, Roseanne.
      And yes, you are so right – heart impressions are forever.

  14. The Wheelchair Teen

    I completely understand not wanting to throw them away. Especially the journey where you write about your dad seems very precious. I’m so sorry that this happened to you. I remember there was a leak in my room and it ruined the original copy of my childhood favourite book. It devastated my for days.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Oh Hon – no doubt your loss was intensified since you had no control over it happening. Thank you for your generous understanding.

  15. piecefulwendy

    Why save just the best of the best? I think it’s enjoyable to see some of what you wrestled with, or struggled with, too. I’m glad you saved the journals, despite their condition after being soaked. I’m not much help when it comes to purging, but I can recommend that you put stories to what you save. Write descriptions and names on the back of the photos; tell the stories. I have all of our family photos now, and some of the people’s names I cannot remember. If only Mom and I had written on the back of them all the many times we went through them.

    • laura bruno lilly

      I’m good at discerning a few of those to keep that show the struggle/evolution involved and am not adverse to keeping finals that I like regardless of if they really are the ‘best’…but how much is too much to keep even if they’ve been published/released/sold/publicly reviewed etc? Whole libraries are devoted to housing the works, output, ephemera of famous people…I’m just me!
      Your point of “Tell the stories” rings too true – thanks for the adjustment in focus, Wendy.

  16. Wakinguponthewrongsideof

    My first thought is can it be easily and cheaply replaced. Then is this something I’m going to cherish and actually look at, or is it something I’ll look at for 3 seconds and then forget about for ten years. If I’m unsure I put it in a box, seal box, then add a date in the future, like 6 months to a year, and if I haven’t opened the box the box gets tossed

    • laura bruno lilly

      Hello fellow purger! 🙂
      Good advice, especially with sentimental ‘things’ that are redundant to the impact they’ve already made in my life and no longer need to keep around as ‘proof’.

  17. L. Marie

    Oh Laura!!! ???I’m so sorry that happened. Glad you were able to salvage some things. But oh the pain of it! Your post came at an interesting time in my life. Yesterday, during a mix-up with OneDrive (where my files were synched online), I deleted what I thought was a duplicate folder of files when I kept getting messages that my online storage was full and I would have to pay. Well, it wasn’t a duplicate. (And God had told me not to delete that folder.) I deleted a lot of the files stored on my computer that OneDrive used to synch online. I don’t quite understand what happened. I spent all day trying to save files and salvage them from flash drives. I felt absolutely sick because some files are gone for good. Lesson for me: listen to God. Second lesson: do a periodic purge of files not needed.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Oh L.Marie!!! 🙁 🙁 🙁
      Your accidental OneDrive ‘dump’ is way beyond the pale. So sorry that happened. I hope you were able to retrieve some files.
      I understand that prompting from the Lord about not purging certain files, or tossing certain items…sometimes my resolve to just ‘do it’ gets the best of me and then I regret it later. A great example of how He is part of our mundane, everyday, IT, 21st century life! And how doing something in a fit of frustration/passion often is not the best thing to do.

  18. cedar51

    every now and then “boxes of mostly papers” get a going over – usually comes about when I’m looking for something (which I find) and then I decide to see what else could be binned…
    I just did this a few weeks ago when I was filling an application for something, and I needed to be reminded via another paper document… only one small box but it was liberating as earlier this year, that same box had a bigger “biff out” which was needed as the information I binned was from the 1990s!

    I think the “key” is to do it regularly – store the memories either in your mind or on a computer or a photograph – OR let them go…

    I remember a friend who sailed the world – saw “new in/old out” and also everything had to have a dual purpose to be kept. but not just kept but be used

    • laura bruno lilly

      Yes, purging on a regular basis keeps the overflowing aspect at bay. I don’t think I’d do well in a sail boat as I need space to ‘do’ my (he)art but I respect those who barter that space for sailing around the world!

  19. Jane Chesebrough

    I sympathize with you. Well, I hand-tore a few journal books and have far more to go. I used one journal as an art book for a few pages and it just sits in a drawer. Maybe if I hear of a shredding event? Or a bonfire this winter? In the meantime I will procrastinate. Sorry I am not much help.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Your comment reminds me we all go through this dilemma one way or another. Now, I think your idea of having a
      ‘shredding event’ might help push some of the marginal ‘ephemera’ out the door – fun party like event, ya know? Actually I’d be partial to the bonfire!

  20. Graciela Cunningham

    I am so sorry to hear about your water heater. We are on appliance watch here, since all are about due for a change.
    Thank you for sharing the practical things you learned about journaling.
    I’m sorry about the damage to the three special journals. Even though they may be hard to read and not in good condition, I believe they are worth keeping.
    As for what to toss and pitch…that is my question also.
    I do not think it is vain for anyone to keep what is important and has personal meaning.
    I get in “organization and clean-up” mode occasionally, and I have pitched out some journals. The ones I tossed had served their purpose and I no longer felt the need to keep them. I need to give more thought on this “to chuck or not” question.

    • laura bruno lilly

      “Appliance watch” An apt & creative term, indeed!
      As is often the case in our ‘comment’ interactions, we’re of the same mind (how about a quilter’s term: cut of the same cloth?!). And reading your responsive thoughts on my post/questions is greatly encouraging, even validating. Thank you, Chela.
      ps-I hope you’re still tooting your kazoo!

© 2024 Laura Bruno Lilly

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑