I don’t keep a diary.
I’ve tried to keep a diary at various times in my life; there is a scattering of them, a pile of mostly blanked lined books with useless locking mechanisms and one or two pages filled in here and there. The ones with actual days of the week and month are the worst; there is the most distance between entries. Once or twice, if I look hard, I can see places where I’ve lined a year out and written in the next, or the one after, with the best of intentions.
I don’t keep a diary. Except that I do.
There’s a cardboard box under my piano, taking up space I need for my legs, the stool, the pedals. Dog hair collects around its base and it’s a bitch to clean around. When I mop the floor I have to set it on the piano stool or move it to another room. I should really put it in the basement.
In that box are awkward poems in the straggly printing of a five year old, an eight year old. Self-conscious stories in a teenager’s writing, seeking after a more dramatic form of poverty than the mild, pressing anxiety that constantly surrounded her: She smokes Marlboros – reds, not golds, in the hard pack. Poetry written after one too many Phil Collins songs. Acts of creation are a form of diary-keeping, too.
I should move the box to the basement, except it’s damp down there sometimes, and I’m irrationally terrified that the contents will be damaged while I’m deciding how to get rid of them.
I don’t keep a diary, except every day and online.
Writing is an act of diary-keeping, even when it’s not a list of events or feelings. Facebook is a diary. Livejournal (when that was a thing. Is that still a thing?). Blogs started and discarded, notes to friends. All the tiny daily records of who we are in that moment.
I carry these words with me in electronic boxes both lighter and heavier than the cardboard box under the piano. They take up space in my thoughts. Physical diaries have a tempting flammability to them. There’s no drama in the delete key, no cathartic pyre burns for the deletion of an account or an entry.
I don’t keep a diary, but the physical act of creation is a record too.
Ask any knitter what they were thinking when they started that chartreuse scarf and they will tell you “it was snowy, it was grey, I needed color.” An artist can pick up any object they have created and tell you who they were when they made it.
Physical acts of creation carry weight, but it’s a weight you can put down. Not like the pixels that follow me around, the bits and bytes and gigs of data that are my lost and forgotten diaries. I can’t pick up the book, tear out the page, let the paper become strips and feed them to the fire, a sky-lanterning of the person who wrote that entry, that poem, that sketch.
I have to let go of my diaries.
It’s a slow death, fire. It’s old-school assassination, looking yourself in the eyes. The delete key is fast, quick, clean, irreversible. A gun, a sniper rifle at ten thousand yards. You don’t have to face who you were, you can just sign off, sign out, close the account, be done with that person. But that person isn’t done with you.
3 : to maintain a record
5 : to confine oneself to
Am I keeping my diaries, or are my diaries keeping me? If I grow beyond the person I was when I wrote a blog post, a story, an entry, drew a picture, what happens when I am confronted with it later? When I am and am not that person? How do I honor that person without being confined to her boundaries? How do you become you, when you are chained to your old selves?
How do you find the courage to live, when the ghost of who you were is still sitting there under the piano, because you miss her sometimes but you are ashamed of her? You are ashamed of her but you aren’t ready to kill her yet, to commit her to the fire.
I don’t revisit my journals with nostalgia. More than anything I do not want to go back to those times, to be that person. But I honor what I learned by being there, by being her, and just hitting enter seems somehow anticlimactic. I want to give that life a Viking funeral, to push it into the sea afire, to watch its ashes rise.
But I can’t yet. And so the cardboard box sits under the piano because I’m afraid it will be destroyed before I can destroy it myself. And so the blogs and journals and accounts sit undeleted, their passwords half-remembered. It’s a type of forgetting, this slow destruction by entropy. And it’s terrifying in the way that realizing that you and your sister remember the same day differently is terrifying. Reality is mutable, and diaries are only capable of recording your own subjective reality at any time, a spin-up-spin-down quantum thing of feelings and needs and experiences and perceptions.