Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Dear Diary

One of the Christmas traditions I most enjoy is the afternoon when two good writer friends and I meet, raise a glass, and exchange presents. This year I gave them each a five year diary. Neither of them had ever written a diary regularly before, but they seemed excited to try it. I am curious to hear their experiences after a couple of years.

I have always kept a diary of some sort. I often keep a journal as well. The diary, the five year diary, only offers a few lines per day, and turns out to be a great challenge. Is this something to be written for posterity--or will I write exactly what I want? I think most people feel an onlooker, often judgemental, peering over their shoulders when writing a diary. The convention of addressing it with the word "Dear" implies this. Who out there is Dear--Dear enough to read my secrets? Or is the Dear meant to be ingratiating, to protect myself from harm? Do I tell Dear what it wants to hear and keep the truth to myself? Over time, I have evolved from one to the other. Dear now likes me or not. The question has become, what do I tell myself?

Much of it is dull: I went here, I went there. Some of it is pure emotion; I felt, I hated, I wept. All of it indulges use of the word "I"; a counter to how I was raised not talk about myself. (Like George H.W. Bush!) The diary is allowed to be about me and my reactions to life; my inner Anais Nin. Narcissicitic and self-fascinated. Where else does this fly?

The journal is more complex. It's mainly about writing, but every so often I take an hour or two to record a conversation or an event that I want to remember fully. The writing portion is notations for how to make whatever I am working on tighter, how to pull a metaphor through the scenes; it is an architect's notebook. Very messy. Notes for a map. When I have enough I draw the map, which is prettier, enough so that it can go up on the wall. That's late in the game, though. Mainly it's the wild notebook--quite unlike the tidy chemistry notebook that Gale Boetticher kept on Breaking Bad. Golly, that blew me away. Lines from Whitman, too. He didn't deserve what he got.
From Gale Boetticher's notebook...

Mine looks like this.
Though I don't write it backward as it appears. I don't imagine anyone is looking over my shoulder when I compose this--it is work, and only work. Capable of being immediately junked when I move forward with the project.
The diaries are meant to last, at least until I die, when I hoped they will all be burned, or go in the coffin with me. That would serve me right! If I am buried alive, as my grandfather always feared he would be, at least I'd have some reading material for the last few days. Though what could be more stultifying than reading about oneself while fading away?

I've gotten fairly comfortable with my diary, and tell it a lot. In fact, it's a record of how comfortable I felt writing things down. When I sit with it at night, it makes me aware me of what I choose not to say--how reticent I am. It's good to know my limitations. Keeps me honest.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this idea of the five-year diary, Alice, as well as the idea that "Dear now likes me or not." At least in exchange for a few wrinkles we are gaining wisdom.