It's the small blue journal in my second desk drawer down
January 5, 2013 12:30 PM   Subscribe

If you keep a diary or other secret papers, do you have a plan for what happens to it if something happens to you?

For example, if you keep a journal or diary that you would rather your family not see, do you have a trusted friend in charge of getting it and destroying it in the event that something happens to you and you can't get to it?

I've seen some previous AskMe questions about what to do with old diaries but this would be a current diary that you need to keep going and need to keep the pages, for whatever reason. (Keeping it in a digital format is not an option for various reasons.)

I keep mine at work so that's good for keeping it away from prying eyes at home but I'm thinking about asking my boss or my best friend to come and clean out my office if something happened to me and make sure that particular journal gets destroyed.

I'm not interested in ways to encode the diary or change how I keep it since it's really working for me the way it is now.

I was just curious if any of you have any plans like this in place.
posted by dawkins_7 to Human Relations (25 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I figure that, once I'm dead, whatever people know about me isn't really my business anymore. If you keep other peoples' secrets written anywhere, you have to assume that at some point (probably an inconvenient time when you're, you know, still breathing) someone may find it.
posted by xingcat at 12:40 PM on January 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

Not that you asked, but I would strongly urge you to not mention any part of this to your boss. Not the diary, not your family, not anything to do with this. Why plant the seed? Keeping it at work is not a good plan, actually. Rent a storage locker or a mail box if you're that worried about it.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:42 PM on January 5, 2013 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm not going to threadsit but this is something I write in throughout the day. Renting a storage locker seems a bit much (stop in the morning, pick it up and then stop on the way home and lock it up?).

It's nothing super secret, just my own thoughts and feelings that I'd rather my family not see.
posted by dawkins_7 at 12:45 PM on January 5, 2013

What about a lockbox, the combination for which you give to your attorney, to give to a particular person?
posted by xingcat at 12:45 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My mother journaled daily and always asked that I destroy her journals without reading them upon her death. I did as she asked (as much as it pained me to do so from the archival, bibliophile and personal aspects). So maybe don't rule out a family member you can trust.
posted by jamaro at 12:47 PM on January 5, 2013

Best answer: Back in the day, when men had porn mags, the person you nominated to go in and retrieve the stash before your mother or wife found it was known as your porn buddy.

In short: you find someone you trust, and who can plausibly access your work/home or wherever your diaries are and you give them instructions.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:52 PM on January 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

If it's a physical book, not digital or online, I think you are asking for trouble by doing it at work. Can you keep in your car or in a locked box or at least keep it locked? Writing in a personal journal at work is far more likely to have negative implications if you're caught than what happens after you get smashed by a truck on the freeway on your way to work.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:55 PM on January 5, 2013

Don't ask your boss. It may seem unprofessional and damage your reputation (now, and regardless of what it actually says in there).

Can you move it to a password protected blog or something?
posted by J. Wilson at 1:00 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Seriously, I'm not interested on advice on where and how I keep my diary. I know my workplace and I know my boss. That's not the issue I'm asking about.
posted by dawkins_7 at 1:06 PM on January 5, 2013

You can buy a small fireproof safe to put in your office where you use a dead man's switch email to send the combination to someone in the event of your demise.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:21 PM on January 5, 2013 [12 favorites]

I have stacks of personal journals that I would rather not have people reading at the moment, but I don't really have a plan for their disposal when I kick the bucket. I suppose I'd like my family to make that decision for themselves, if the journals are still around.

That said, I won't suggest this since you explicitly aren't interested, and it's probably pretty cheesy, but if I'm writing in public or something, I do sometimes use an alphabet I made up for myself years ago. I know a few others who do the same. It wouldn't be that hard to decode these, but my working theory is that no one will bother.
posted by brennen at 1:44 PM on January 5, 2013

Could you digitize it as you go? When're you finish a page, photograph it with your phone, store the photo online, and tear out the page?

Then you'd write the same as you do now, but there'd be no physical record.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 1:48 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have years of personal journals sitting around in a drawer. I figure if anyone really wants to wade through it all to learn my deep dark secrets after I am gone good luck to them.

I've carried my journals around with me for years and I can't honestly see workmates being at all interested and they would probably just return it to your family. As that doesn't seem to be what you want to happen, I'd suggest simply sticking a small note on or inside the front cover to the effect of "If anything happens to me please don't return this to my family as the contents do not concern them please destroy it - Thank you" would be sufficient I think for any normal person to do what you request.

If you were worried about workmates reading it, you can find simple lockable document cases that just look like file folders and you could put the please destroy/throw away note on the front of the case.
posted by wwax at 2:03 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Are you asking people to reveal their secret emergency plans over the internet? Haha

But in general terms, I don't think it is unusual to have those kind of plans. Not even to "destroy" something -- sometimes you want someone to secure all of your papers and valuables immediately if you are indisposed. Think about level-headed people who might be your executor, power-of-attorney, etc. Many of us have some no-good deadbeat relatives who might want to make a grab, and can be convincing enough (in a sleezy slick-talking type of way) to get access, especially if our actual loved-ones are grieving or busy with pressing issues.
posted by 99percentfake at 2:05 PM on January 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Well, once you kick the bucket your secrets, whatever they may be, are fair game. If that's a problem for you perhaps you may wish to revisit the journalling, write your thoughts on a piece of paper that goes in the shredder as you leave for the day or something like that. Because there is no effective way to achieve what you want to achieve. Any 'solution' relies on somebody else respecting your wishes after you are no longer around and they would never have to justify themselves no matter what they decided to do. So the best you can hope for is to identify somebody who can access your effects in the event and hope that they'd do what you ask. Which, in itself, is unlikely. Personally, if I was your employer, I'd refuse to release any personal effects you keep in the office to anybody other than the executor of your will but I work for a large corporation and deal with confidential data all day long. But I really don't think there is a failsafe way of achieving what you want to achieve so personally I'd not bother. But that's just me and I really don't care what happens once I'm gone.....
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:11 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah, my best friend and I have agreed to go remove all journals and sex-related items from each other's homes if need be, even though we live in different states. Now that we're middle aged, I'm less worried, and figure people will just pitch them, but it's nice to know someone will look after things like that who are not family.

Alternately, I had a great aunt who preemptively burned her journals in mid life. She decided they'd served their purpose in letter her vent all that, and no one else needed to know.
posted by ldthomps at 2:12 PM on January 5, 2013

JohnnyGunn probably has the best solution here: keep it locked up, and the combo will be emailed to someone who can destroy upon your death.

Personally, I went through my journals and used an x-acto knife to cut out all the stuff I never wanted anyone to see a few years ago. It was really fun, and it's like there's a little trail of never-to-be-known mysteries peppered throughout them. I doubt that anyone will do more than a cursory flip-through upon my inevitable demise; they're really not all that interesting.
posted by k8lin at 2:21 PM on January 5, 2013

Best answer: My BFF knows that she is to remove the box hidden at the back of my wardrobe marked 'do not open'. She knows what's in the box, so it doesn't worry me if she opens it.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 2:27 PM on January 5, 2013

In your situation, with your stated objectives, I'd:
  • Start keeping this record in a loose-leaf binder, so that at most a week or two of journaling stuff is in your workplace (because workplace storage lockers are hard for best friends/coconspirators to reliably get to first,)
  • Keep the journal binders inside a safe/secured box of some sort,
  • Mark the safe and the outside cover of EACH notebook with a request to destroy the records,
  • Do the dead-man-switch thing with two different friends (in the event one is incapacitated,) and,
  • Include an item in my will stating that this particular record be destroyed.
Having such a plan is not unusual at all - Martha Washington burned all of her husband's letters to her upon his death, per his specific request. I believe only two or three of the letters he ever sent to her have been located, and they were all unintentionally spared. However, I find it really sad, personally.

Also, you need to be aware that there is no such thing as a fool-proof plan, and if there is something you absolutely cannot allow others to see, you really ought to rethink the plan of keeping documentation of it for yourself.

posted by SMPA at 3:01 PM on January 5, 2013

My journal volumes are marked with the dates I began and ended them, and the cities I was in during that duration, plus a request to turn them over to my executor unread. I've told him that he's "my Bobby Kardashian".

That's enough for me because mine are boring. If they weren't, I would at least use a locking box to store them in, to prevent casual snooping.

I wish my late mother had left such a directive; instead my sister has a box of her diaries and a lifetime supply of family-drama ammo.
posted by Kakkerlak at 4:06 PM on January 5, 2013

My current journal I keep around at home, because like you I write in it everyday. My old journals, five years worth, I keep in cardboard boxes in my closet, labeled "my poetry". I figure noone wants to read someone elses poetry! I wrote instructions to my executor (my sister) to destroy them unread when I die. No guarantee that she won't at least peak though, but as others have said, what do I care? I'm dead. If she ignores my wishes and causes alot of family drama, well, I warned her...
posted by SyraCarol at 4:53 PM on January 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Having such a plan is not unusual at all - Martha Washington burned all of her husband's letters to her upon his death, per his specific request. I believe only two or three of the letters he ever sent to her have been located, and they were all unintentionally spared. However, I find it really sad, personally.

On the other hand, the Aeneid was supposed to be burned after Vergil's death and Augustus ordered that it be preserved. This is supposedly why it has lines that don't fit the meter. (There's a partial line or two somewhere.)
posted by hoyland at 6:23 PM on January 5, 2013

I accepted that after I die, it doesn't matter, so I don't have a plan.
posted by kellybird at 10:59 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

After re-reading past entries, I shredded my entire journal. I found I had grown so much that much of what I had written made me cringe. I usually kept my journal in my desk at home hidden under some old notebooks from university.

As to keeping your journal at work, I'd be worried that it would become impossible to retrieve if your boss gets fired shortly after you die. Morbid, I know.
posted by M. at 4:56 AM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Rewrite the parts you want into new journals and destroy the old ones. Do this regularly. It's healthy to forget.
posted by ead at 5:41 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

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