The Diarist

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.

10 thoughts on “The Diarist

  1. I have always wanted to keep a diary or something similar, I just have no where near enough discipline. If I ever start I forget about it, or put it off, or ignore it after only a few days. Similar to the obligatory remarks about working hard next term, spending more time in the library. For some reason doing absolutely nothing useful always seems more appealing, no matter how boring or unappealing it should be. If I could change one thing about myself it would be my attraction towards nothing, and replace it with some sort of discipline or determination to do things that would be useful long term.

  2. I keep a diary and I do write in it if not every day then nearly. If I'm going away for more than one night I'll usually take it with me. It's cathartic, and also I find as I get older I, somehow, become more honest with my diary and how I feel. Very, very rarely these days I'll go for total honesty on my blog – obviously I used to be a lot more honest on the blogosphere about my feelings and so on but these days things are different. I have no idea what the purpose of my diary is – when I was younger I didn't want it to be read by anyone except me until I was long gone; now I'd be happier about it being read by family and friends as long as I knew exactly what they were reading and was happy for them to do so – so I don't know if my diary is for me, my eventual children, or what. Probably both. Anyway, a very interesting entry :). May I put a link to your blog on my Mutually Assured Perusal blogroll?

  3. Thanks, yes you may! I subscribed to your blog after you plugged it on Twitter, that was actually a pretty good idea, heh. I'll probably go reading through back entries once I have some time!

  4. Thanks :) I'm glad you liked it. It's a bit hit and miss, my blog, because I write more or less every day (or rather I write enough entries such that one appears almost every day), and I'm not sure why I do that, but I do. Thank you also for your interesting comment about polarisation and Avatar and such – that was really fascinating and I feel just a bit ignorant now…!! xx

  5. I actually haven't written anything in it for a while, so I guess not.

    Twitter has sucked up part of it's raison d'être, sure, which makes writing in the notebook itself less of a compelling excercise, which means that stuff which is unsuitable for Twitter just ends up not being recorded at all.

    I also find that Twitter tends to make me blog less, because it serves as somewhat of a release valve, so things tend to get published up one at a time, rather than amalgamating into an explosion of a blog post.

  6. You probably shouldn't feel ignorant, studying physics is supposed to be my day job, I'm supposed to know these things.

    I'm sure you know loads of things about whatever you study of which I'm entirely ignorant!

  7. @Dickie – thank you, it's funny, but that meant a lot to me :).
    @Andy – heh, I'm a biomedical sciences student and for a whole host of reasons back in the first year again, retaking two modules; I probably do know more than I feel like I do, but I don't feel like I know anything at all about anything, let alone Stuff For My Degree…!! Oh, I have a completely over-the-top knowledge about rules of grammar and English, with some surprising gaps; I think that's about it – but then that really *is* my day job.

  8. I love keeping a diary; and I would seriously suggest reinstating the notebook…! Furthermore you definitely should blog more often, I really like what you write. Weirdly enough twitter really hasn't affected how much I blog, although I probably should plug my blog more often on Twitter – that said, I have far more people reading my blog than following my tweets!

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