A diary is hope, measured in blank pages. It is all the possibilities of the year, waiting to be recorded. Whether the most exquisite notebook or the simplest planner, it is all the anniversaries yet to be celebrated, all the friends to be met, the meals to be eaten, the holidays to be taken. It is all the things that might happen as well as the things that must.
My reading this year has been illuminated by the minutiae of other women’s days. Susan Wittig Albert’s explorations of writing, place and climate change; Alice Walker’s memories of The Color Purple; Valerie Davies’ sensual descriptions of life and landscape; Joyce Carol Oates’ philosophical musings on writing. Through their journals, I have peered into their lives, if only for a moment. I have always loved reading diaries, generally those of women and preferably accounts, not of great achievement (though the women may be highly accomplished), but of the more prosaic events of their lives. Through fiction, we can experience a thousand imaginary lives, but through journals, we can glimpse the truths of those lives.
While a new diary is full of hope, a completed diary is life with all its joys and disappointments. It is a snapshot of who we are at that time, because we don’t know any better. Whereas memoir has the benefit of hindsight, a diary just is. There may still be an element of self-censorship or invention, particularly in those that go on to be published. But a journal is perhaps the truest of our writing about ourselves. It lays bare our darkest thoughts, our bitterest comments, our silliest fantasies.
I have kept a diary for as long as I can remember. Sometimes diligently, sometimes sporadically. There have been times, in recent years, where I have made only a handful of entries. I love buying that new notebook for the year, love the potential of those blank pages. My younger diaries faithfully recorded the events of each day, as well as hopes and dreams and lists of things I wanted to do in the future. My more recent journals are less concerned with transcribing events, and more about my view of life as it happens.
Sometimes, I find my journals disappointing. Filled with uneventful days and things not achieved. Sometimes, they delight me, with the quality of the writing or memories I had forgotten. Diaries are a record of life, so whether they disappoint or delight is dependent on how that year was lived. Recently, I tried to re-read my teenage diaries but had to give up, because I cringed at the things I had documented. Yet the person who wrote those diaries is the person I used to be. If I wrote my life story, I could edit out the bits I no longer wanted to read. With a diary, I can’t do that – I must accept myself as I was. In this past year, blogging has become a journal of sorts. There must be a temptation for some to publish online all the thoughts they might once have written in a diary – I’m glad that temptation didn’t exist when I recorded the immature concerns of my younger self.
There are as many kinds of journals as there are reasons for writing them. This year, I have taken a different approach to journaling. I began just after Halloween, at the turn of the ancient year. This year, I am not diarising my life, but my creativity, focussing on the cycles of nature and how these influence the way I create. The events of my life will come into it, of course, like the times of stress that curtail inspiration, or those joyful creative maelstroms. Already, I am more aware of the patterns of my creativity and am clearer about my creative goals. The pages of this diary are not filled with hope, but with certainty that the stories not yet written and the pictures not yet painted will be born before another journal is complete.