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“Things Which Are Not of Worth” by Jeanine Bee

I was eight years old when my mom, channeling the ghost of Spencer W. Kimball, declared that the time had come for our family to get serious about record keeping. Henceforth, every Sunday afternoon would be dedicated to writing in our journals. “The prophet said that angels may even quote from them someday,” she said, “like scripture.”

My mom handed me a blank diary with a square, brass lock. I imagined myself like Nephi, keeping the sacred records of my people.

In the beginning, my parents had rigorous expectations. Every Sunday, I was not only required to write about what I had learned at church that day, but I was expected to do so before I could watch the Sunday evening broadcast of The Wonderful World of Disney on ABC. My diary entries from this time read like an oddly religious TV guide:

The Sunday night movie tonight is Hook, only it’s starting at 8:00 instead of 7:00! Also, did you know that Saul tried to kill David but Jonathan saved him twice?

Before long, my parents relaxed their standards. My first journal fell by the wayside, a half-full record of every Sunday night movie I’d watched in 1998.

When I turned twelve, my Young Women leaders presented me with a new journal, and I dedicated myself to keeping a mature, serious record of my life. My journal became a therapist, a sounding board, and a planner. But mostly, it was a record of my crushes.

I took crushes seriously. At some point, between all the church lessons about marriage and family, I said to myself, “Welp, I’d better get to it,” and I dove into the world of romance. My journals from that time reflect as much. In seventh grade, I waxed poetic about the time Jordan Green touched my hand when I passed my homework forward in science class. In eighth grade, I went to Derek Fischer’s house to work on an English project. Later that night, I drew a detailed map of his bedroom, down to the small Batman action figure perched atop his window frame.

Occasionally, I had crushes on more than one boy at a time. Knowing that my religion no longer practiced polygamy, I dedicated dozens of pages to choosing which boy I was going to “like.” Pro and con lists, describing such essential qualities as plays piano, funny, and nice hair. Sometimes, when choosing was too hard, I eschewed those well-coifed boys and instead just printed out pictures of Orlando Bloom to paste into my journal.

I faithfully kept a journal through all of my teenage years. My record bled from one book into another. Through boyfriends and band competitions and bad poetry. The pages are warped from angst and long-dried tears. The spines are strained from rose petals and wallet-sized photos pressed between the pages. I took them with me when I went away to college—lined them up on my desk like a nine-volume encyclopedia set—because I felt the need to be able to consult my writings at a moment’s notice. Quick, I need to know the name of the boy I sat next to at the county science fair in 2002!

I got married after my sophomore year of college. (Orlando Bloom was unavailable, but I did find a man with a fantastic head of hair.) As I prepared to move into married housing with my new husband, I took each journal from my desk, flipping through it before loading it into a cardboard box. I had loved writing in my journals, but reading them now, from the precipice of adulthood, was different. I cringed at the times I wrote out the lyrics to the Les Miserables soundtrack as a response to heartbreak. I scoffed at multiple pages filled just with a written representation of a boy-band-style shriek: AAAAAAAAAAAA!

These were supposed to be my small plates, my life story. But I didn’t want the angels to read these journals. I certainly didn’t want my husband to read them. I didn’t even want to read them. So I packed them away, relegating my life’s record to the dark shelf in my closet.

Years later, I saw my six-year-old daughter unlock her own unicorn-clad diary. She opened to a blank page and started drawing a series of bubbles that became a chubby tree frog. When the drawing was finished, she sat back and examined her work. I could almost see her forging pathways in her brain, her head cocked to one side. Then, in her careful, first-grade handwriting, she added the words, “I hate frogs.”

I chuckled. Why would she bother drawing a frog if she hates frogs? But then it occurred to me—maybe she didn’t know that she hated frogs until that very moment, as she sat back and considered the picture in front of her. Maybe her little purple diary was writing her just as much as she was writing it.

Nephi was a grown man when he sat down to write his record. His small plates were written with help from the spirit and a heavy dose of hindsight. He already knew what the ending was when he wrote the beginning. My daughter and I, though? We weren’t so lucky. Our records were full of scribbles. We wrote and erased through the messiness of discovery. We had to learn the end when it came, deal with the consequences in real time.

That night, after I tucked my daughter into bed, I opened the flaps of that old cardboard box and pulled out my journals, one by one. I stacked them on my bookshelf next to my scriptures. And I wondered if maybe Nephi ever wished he had this kind of record. The dramatic ups and downs of his teenage years. The nonsensical thought-processes of a twelve-year-old. Whatever a six-year-old decided was important to write down. They’re not the kinds of things that angels want to read, necessarily. But it’s how we’re eventually made holy.

This piece was published in 2024 as part of the 13th Annual Mormon Lit Blitz by the Mormon Lit Lab. Sign up for our newsletter for future updates.

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