I have a bit of a storage issue. I have diaries lying around, written from the time I was sixteen till present-ish, that I don’t want to look at and don’t want to throw away either. I also have this fantasy/fear of dying before I’ve made up my mind about them, and suffering from post-mortem embarrassment when someone else reads them, if they can cognize my glorious handwriting, and laugh at my pathetic life. Believe me, those thousands of barely legible pages will not serve as inspiration for a moving eulogy. They’re destined for the bin.
Which is why I decided a few weeks ago to be done with diary writing altogether. I justified the practice to myself as some sort of communion with the self over the years. As if my dialogue with myself, about myself, was important to me. I’m glad and relieved to report I had no greater ambition for my diary writing – it was truly for myself, and always certifiably abysmal enough to never be potentially entertaining for anybody else. Many storms have been divulged into them over the course of my life, but written in the most undeliberate manner, so as to never seek an audience. Even I rarely look back at what I write there, whereas I endlessly edit everything else.
I don’t know why, maybe it’s age or depression, but I don’t feel the need for it anymore. I still have feelings, strong feelings and reflections from time to time, but there’s always Netflix to sort that pain. I’ve had the same diary since 2016, and I’ve barely reached September on it. It’s been lying under my pillow for two years, next to my small daily expenditure diary, which sees more inkage than it.
I am more interested in how much I spent on milk than how I felt about a life-changing situation.
Some people laugh at diarists, think we are, as Harry from When Harry Met Sally would say, people who “dot their i’s with little hearts”. Sentimental people. People swimming in a current of feelings all the time, because they find themselves unable to get on with life. Being a diarist, of course, means I don’t have to tell anyone about it. I could be the butchest person out there, and scribble in pink glitter in my bed.
There are people who often wonder, what do you actually write about in a diary? What you had for breakfast? While that would be a perfectly legitimate thing to do in our age (I am not going to use the word Social and the word Media next to each other because it’s too banal), the whole idea of a diary is anything you want it to be. Over the years, mine have been a profusion of feelings, events, plans, dreams – lots and lots of dreams – and in general, whinings about how life could be better in the past, present and future. I don’t always put everything down, and many large events have gone undocumented simply because I did not want to make them real by writing them. I did not want to ruminate in the mire of insurmountable pain – only bearable pain ever makes the cut. The everyday often finds a way, and my diaries would be great for me to account for my cultural life in the past ten years or so. What I read, watched, listened, participated in, made, dreamed, wished.
But, I have a more straightforward and practical reason to not throw them away. There might be stuff in there that’s good. There’s some popular writing advice around concerning free writing – write whatever you like for a stipulated period of time and word count to get the creative process going, and in general to get better at writing. Like any skill, you only get better if you do it more and more. Because it is the freest form of writing I ever do, and have done for a long time, I believe there might be an interesting phrase or sentence here and there that might be good. That I could use out of context in something else.
But, I’m not emotionally prepared for the task, and I haven’t been for the past several years since I’ve been thinking of doing it. It’s not just embarrassment. Everytime I open a random unit, at a random entry, and come across a random piece of emotion – hurt, joy, anything – there goes my evening. I reminisce, because I seem to have mostly forgotten my life, and I find myself wanting to protect who I was, that vulnerable, younger person feeling that thing, and all the writerly excavating that I was doing just goes out the window.
The thing is, if I do have to suffer from post-mortem embarrassment at some point, the person reading it would not know what I thought while I was reading it. I could do a React YouTube video to my own diaries but, you know, I’m not hip enough. And if I did write about what I felt while I read them, it would be like regenerating my memories, my writing, my life.
When it’s not even my complete life. It’s just what I chose to share, to think, in those few minutes of that day. And yet, I do miss the faith I had on the system. I’m not big on talking about my feelings. I’m not really uptight about them either, I just think of unloading my sea of emotions on someone as equal to asking them for help, and I don’t like asking for help. Of course, that is exactly where the seeds of a real relationship lie, but we’re all screwed up in our own ways. You may not lie, but you may not always tell the complete truth, or feel, like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, that everyone can handle the truth. Especially, when you certainly can’t.
Even if I’d rather have an appointment with my dentist than read my own diary, I would like to restore the faith I had in writing one. If anything, it certainly helped my craftsmanship. With my writing, the element that is strongest is my own, authorial voice. Anytime someone I personally know reads a piece of mine, that’s what they talk about – the ease with which I can simply start a conversation (for ALL writing is conversation) and carry through. It is suited to the personal essay, but it works in other forms as well. Or, it distinguishes them.
Also, writing longhand is just good for you, period. I struggle so much with spellings and handwriting and grammar these days. I was always good with two out of the three (I was a steady D, sometimes C, with handwriting at school), but always typing has severely affected how I think about things. Previously, I could just brainstorm with pen and paper, looking up stuff after I’ve come up with something substantial. And now, I stop and start and google and stop and start and …, you know the deal. If not for my feelings, then for my intellect I need to be writing longhand again. I’m certainly NEVER writing an online, or even offline computer diary because I don’t want to be entertaining some employee of Mark Zuckerberg with my laughable but private foibles.
Do you write a diary? How do you store old diaries? Did you know people buy random old diaries off ebay for ridiculous prices?