During one of my recent bouts of insomnia (and by recent, I mean last night, obviously) I found myself watching a series of programmes about diaries on BBC4.
The first was about a hoax set of Hitler Diaries, the second a dinner with Michael Portillo about political diaries, and the third an investigation into diaries hosted by Richard E. Grant, himself a published diarist.
The first thing I found myself thinking (after the obligatory: “There’s no way I’m sitting through anything hosted by Portillo!” despite the fact I then did) was that BBC4 is actually really very good; I think I may have been short-changing it by considering it solely as a vehicle for giving me access to (the excellent) Charlie Brooker.
I find the concept of a diary incredibly interesting, keeping a written record of events and your thoughts and feelings lends a kind of permanence to the past which I often find slips through my fingers. I envy the people who have the time and patience to do it every day. I have a few volumes lying about with the occasional entries, often spaced apart by months; delving back into them is fascinating, and reveals often how little I’ve changed, in spite of how I may have thought I’ve grown or changed as a person.
The real vexing question at the heart of a diary is the purpose of keeping one; are they a private record, full of intimate thoughts, actions, feelings? Are they intended for publication uncensored, or do we censor ourselves to tailor to our eventual audience (even if that audience is only ourselves)? Are they an inherently self-indulgent exercise in the ego, or something our family and friends can use to remember us when we’re gone? Is a diary a record of the complete person, or just who they are in their most private moments?
Then just when that was hard enough, today we have the blog, Facebook, and Twitter. We can share our thoughts and feelings far and wide, if we like, and if anyone will listen. I know I’ve personally struggled with trying to find a soundbite to describe why I find a medium like Twitter valuable; there’s a lot of people out there who think it’s all about what was had for breakfast, or the like.
That’s the heart of my vexation: why the heck am I writing, and what about? What’s my manifesto? I realise that I have some unspoken parameters into which I confine myself. One of the guests at Portillo’s dinner was the former MP Oona King, who wrote in her published diaries about her feelings around being unable to conceive a child; I couldn’t possibly share that kind of emotion in anything public, at least not without being terribly oblique about the whole business.
I’ve certainly noticed that my output here has mostly become articles about my opinions and thoughts on politics, book reviews (incidentally, there’s probably a summary of my thoughts on Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman coming up) and a very factual account of (selected) events in my life, with precious little analysis of what I actually feel about these things. I just don’t think that’s in my manifesto, the face I present to the world. I suppose for that kind of emotional catharsis I’ll just have to start writing a diary.
If you want me, I’ll be in the corner with a note-book and a pen with green ink.