Ellen Blum Barish

Ellen Blum Barish
Ashes to Ashes



I’ve written in one journal or another for 40 years. Here’s a picture of them. You can see my very first one, a paisley print on the far left tucking out from beneath a dark blue leather journal. Fourth from the top. Amazing that before they were colorful, bound or wire-ringed books, they were trees.

But last week, with a very full glass of wine that I filled twice, I went through my journals, reading some passages, skimming others. And then, I thanked each one, ripped out the pages, built a fire and fed the pages into it.

Here’s what it looked like in its early stages:

IMG_3589 2

The fire burned for four hours as it consumed rants, to do lists, plans for the future, vents, wishes, dreams, annoyances, story ideas, rage, gratitude, doubt, praise, doubt, uncertainty, fear, doubt, whining, joy, relief, and more doubt. Me, usually with a pen, working things out. To get to here.

You can see it burn here:

I couldn’t let go of them all. I saved both of my pregnancy journals for my daughters. And I couldn’t let go of my first one from 1973.

I also kept the covers. I have an art project in mind.

But I wanted to remember the burning. So I can remember the mix of  emotions I felt as I watched: light, strong and giddy.

In the morning, in addition to my memory and the images I’ve shared with you, this is what remained. I’m going to take the ashes and bury them in the earth where they began so another 13-year old girl will have paper on which to practice her writing and work things out.







Leave a comment

  • jeremy birnbaum
    April 15, 2013

    I understand but still dont know where you found the strength.

    your old friend


    • Ellen
      April 15, 2013

      Hi Jeremy. Thanks for your comment and for asking.
      Several things led me to it. I think I’ll address those in my next blog post!
      Hope things are well with you.

  • Leslie
    April 15, 2013

    Ellen, I also let go of my old journals. I mentioned this at a writers’ retreat, and there was a collective gasp. I’m not that girl anymore; on with the new and fresh. Congratulations on your courage!

    • Ellen
      April 15, 2013

      Thanks for writing, Leslie. You said it! About not being that girl anymore.
      This is one of several things that led me to this decision which I think I’ll address in my next post.

  • Roberta
    June 25, 2015

    I understand. I read, then ripped up and threw away my journals from middle school and high school in a flurry of decluttering about five or six years ago. The same day, my son had a friend over, a student and a writer, who moaned when he heard. I had second thoughts. I went through the recycle bin in the alley and
    retrieved the torn shreds. I began to tape it all back together. Then, I stopped. I didn’t want to read it anymore. I didn’t want to hear my voice saying those words. I knew it was okay. I’ve written plenty more since then, and I reread my words from time to time. So far, they sound okay to me, but if and when I feel my cheeks redden when I read them, when I reject how the words sound in my head, out they will go.

    I knew when I started to read the post that the journals had been burned, but when I saw the photo at the top of the page, I started to mourn the loss of the covers. I was quite thrilled to see that you saved them for an art project. I can’t wait to see what you do with them.

    • Ellen Blum Barish
      June 26, 2015

      Thank you for your understanding and your story, Roberta! I’d love to consult you about how to connect those covers in a sort of patchwork quilt so that I could keep them close. More on that to come.

  • Anjum
    October 3, 2020

    Ellen, it takes a lot of bravery to let your tangible archives, go. I feel that my life should be remembered — at least by my kids. But then I thought maybe its my ego that thinks the details of my experiences are so important someone has to read them.
    Now, you’ve sparked my thinking that letting the past go is like letting your children go off into the world. They have what you have given them all of your life…let them store their own recollections of their mom.

    • Ellen Blum Barish
      October 5, 2020

      I love that, Anjum! Letting go of journals does parallel letting our children go off into the world with their own viewpoint and eyes. But that doesn’t mean you can’t offer them pieces from your life. If you are interested, check out my webinar on this very topic “Leaving a Legacy by Letter.” You can find it here:

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