Thursday, January 2, 2014


I've always said I'm not really a diary keeper. I think of myself as having made a few brief attempts at diaries over the years, and quickly abandoning them. But in the course of cleaning out my writing office, I've discovered many notebooks--many more than I remembered--with diary fragments in them. I've made a "diary" pile with which I will do--something at some point. I don't know what.

Just glancing through them, I can tell that there are three kinds of times in my life when I keep diaries:
1) When something I perceive as historically momentous is occurring. (9/11, for example)
2) When I'm traveling and want to remember the new settings through which I'm moving.
3) At times of emotional upheaval and angst.

Therefore, I have one diary of Type 1, and random fragments of the other two types scattered throughout several notebooks. Type 3 is the most embarrassing and the type I would most like to send to the shredder. Pages and pages of moaning over why some long-forgotten crush did not seem to return my interest; pages analyzing his every expression, word, gesture, and eyebrow twitch; pages dreading (and trying to head off) break-ups that I could see looming. When I read Type 3, I'm mostly relieved to be done with the roller-coaster relationships of my teens and early twenties.

My diaries give a very distorted picture of my life, because I kept them only when I was trying to remember something unusually important (travel, history), or when I was trying to analyze a miserable patch in my life. The times when I was happy and busy with ordinary pursuits, I didn't need the record or the reflection that a diary provides.

There are diarists who can do the "happy ordinary" diary well, who can write about daily life and keep it interesting. They can reflect on a variety of life events, not just the crises. But ultimately, diaries do what we need them to do at the moment. Sometimes they preserve an important moment, and sometimes they help us get through a moment and leave it behind.


  1. I've had mostly the # 2 and # 3 kind of diaries growing up. I actually still like to take notes when I travel, in fact. As for the diaries tracking the angst, I look back thinking a lot of things- one being that I had more power than I knew I did back then to deal with the angst. And two, as nerve-wracking it is to revisit Younger Me's thoughts and feelings, there is something endearing about the experience as well. It's like having tea with a much younger person.

    1. You are nicely compassionate to your former self. I sometimes want to shake mine! But I guess I'm compassionate as well. So many good things were within reach that I didn't even see then.

  2. I've always been really bad at keeping diaries, too. I do best with travel diaries for sure. Yes, I imagine some kind of interesting project can come out of the fragments of yours! Good luck!

    1. The nice thing about travel diaries is you usually don't have to keep them up for very long. ;-)