When I was ten, I wrote in a fluffy pink notebook and addressed my epistles to ‘Hattie Malteser’ – I was inspired by Anne Frank’s nickname of Kitty towards her diary. When I was fifteen, I poured my whole life from May to August into this jam-packed A4 notebook, boy drama, dreamy musings and all. There were pages now and then when I felt the need to somehow put my life into furious, charged words – during my last few years at school, these usually took the form of bemoaning my lack of love life. Then there was one last unsuccessful attempt when I was eighteen which fell apart after a number of months because I simply didn’t have the time anymore (I’m pretty sure a holiday to Zante got in the way). Now, I’ve keeping a weekly diary for the past two years and it’s become such a staple routine in my life that I struggle to remember a time before I began.
Diaries can take many forms: everything from long emotional outbursts about the direction of one’s life, to a quick, sparse sketching of the day’s activity. They can be invaluable historical resources for discovering information about daily life and personalities, or can act as a much-needed catharsis. Successful diarists include, famously, Samuel Pepys (his depiction of seventeenth-century London is a historian’s goldmine), Anne Frank (for a very human portrayal of the Holocaust) and, um, Bridget Jones, who hopefully needs no introduction. Although the activity itself does smack a little of unnecessary self-absorption, it’s far removed from its stereotype of angsty teenagers scribbling away about how much the world hates them. (But if you do have a teenage diary, then read it now. It’s bound to be hilarious)
For me, there were manifold reasons as to why I decided to begin a diary. Growing up, I had a tendency to start diaries, get extremely invested in them, and then obtusely maintain that I was committed even when I hadn’t written anything in weeks. I started the diaries partly due to a desire to offload niggling things on my mind and partly to make a small imprint upon the world, long before I ever considered writing opinion pieces or reviews. As a history student, I am permanently fuming at all the people in the history of the world who had direct interactions with the most illustrious people, or the most amazing of events, and had the audacity not to write their experience down. Of course, I don’t know anyone particularly important or monumental but just as I would give anything to know how Anne Boleyn experienced life (me and my friend get very angry when we think of how no one thought to record the birthday of a queen consort), writing about my experience of the early twenty-first century makes me feel somehow part of a grander pattern. More prosaically, along the lines of the advice that many a famous writer has issued to their younger, eager counterparts, I hoped that writing regularly would encourage me to dedicate more time to my creative pursuits.
There’s the famous John Lennon quote: ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’. Similar to many somewhat dissatisfied teenagers, I often felt as a teenager that I was waiting for life, real life, to start; that my experiences at school were a prelude to beginning the life that I actually wanted. Writing a diary helped me to realise that I was actually living life – that those ‘empties’ and movie nights and trips to the park weren’t just activities to be dismissed and forgotten about. This is something that is especially clear when I re-read my old diaries, as I did recently: occasionally my fifteen or nineteen year old self impresses me, summarising things that I didn’t even know I needed to express. ‘But most of all I like the feeling when I write a story down and I feel like it slots together, like the words form an intricate pattern across the page of their own accord’ – a statement that I don’t even recall writing down, but one that so succinctly sums up everything I feel about writing creatively. I’d also forgotten about the way in which my friends and I interacted with each other – the obsessive, continual analysis of every slight alteration in our frankly tragic love lives; the hilarious jokes; the sharing of every little thing that occurred in our lives. The manner by which we constantly imagined our future lives and selves; but also simultaneously remained firmly in the present. It’s a small slice of my life that I would have completely forgotten about if I hadn’t happened to be in the midst of a writing frenzy at that moment – a sad thought, considering how many of these moments have passed by without recording them, but an auspicious one too, that now I have these memories to share with my friends.
After all, things often change so imperceptibly that you don’t really notice their absence until long after; and with that thought in mind, I renew my commitment to my current diary – as inconsequential as it may seem, one day I might be glad of the numberless pages amassed in the task of recording my thoughts and pursuits.