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What’s Off-Limits When I Die

Who gets to decide what of yours gets published after you’re gone?

Who says that your journals, your letters, your doodles in the margins get to be publicly shared posthumously?

I assume the obvious: Your next of kin. Your estate’s executor.

But I wonder — those of us who read the words of the dead without their explicit permission (The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, The Diary of Anne Frank, Kafka’s The Trial) — do we care whether or not the author wanted the materials published and read? (Kafka apparently vehemently did not. Tough noogies for him.)

Sure, it’s fun to discover that Tolkien had a “semi-secret” talent for sketching. And Jim Morrison wrote psychadelic poetry.

Fun for us.

But for them?

I’m not so sure.

Of course, one could argue that they’re … um… dead. That would be a pretty good argument for why it doesn’t really, truly matter.

But why, then, do we respect the dead in other, superstitious ways? We wear black, hold our breath, cover our mirrors. Shouldn’t we think twice before reading their private journals?

Presumably their material was published in the name of art by someone who had something to gain from the publication: money, fame.

But does this mean we have to read it?

I think about this a lot as I go through my cardboard boxes.

At the end of the day, I save stuff for me. I might think I am saving it for my kids, but I’m really saving it for me to share with my kids. Not for them to discover on their own with no historical reference. No filter. No explanation.

And I wonder, what would I be okay with them sharing after I’m gone?

Anything marked “FINAL DRAFT,” I’d be good with, I guess. All files tagged “SUBMITTED_2_2013” or any such combination of publication name + date, I’d be good with.

But the other stuff? My journals? My notes to self? My letters? My teenage angst poser poetry?

I don’t know if I want those aired out in public by anyone else but me.

I might change my mind when I’m famous. (I’ll let you know.) But I doubt it.

What about you? What are your thoughts about publishing rough work or private writings posthumously?

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