I’ve been sitting on this post for a long time now and I deliberately did not publish it in the run up to Christmas or in the days immediately into the new year for fear that it would be brushed aside as just another one of those NY resolutions posts.
Keep a diary is so often on the lists of new years resolutions that I have either seen published online or else overheard in conversation and I have a thing or two to say about it. I am qualified I think to speak on this topic because for the last twenty-one years, since the age of seven, I have kept a diary.
I have my mum to thank for it in more ways than one. She bought me my first diary and I remember filling in the first page from a Burger King in a shopping centre which had just opened back then, in 1997. Of course the details are childish: I went here, I did this, my school friends are called, my brother is tired, my dad bought me a bottle of Coca-Cola. Likewise my spelling isn’t up to much. My handwriting evidences the fact that I had only been in school for two years and spent much of that time tracing and coping letters from a handwriting book. I imagine I must have concentrated quite hard to jot down what I did.
Mum is a serial diarist. At 54 she has close to 41 years of diaries. When I was a teenager I remember fondly the time we sat in the attic of our old home and she showed me those teenage journals. It amazed me at the time to think she had experienced many of the worries and stresses that were then bothering me and to read about her first impressions of my father, whom she met when they were both 15.
I don’t think it ever clocked with me that I by keeping a record of my thoughts or actions, year in and year out, I would be setting myself up to feel proud of what I’ve done.
When I returned home during the summer holidays in July 2018 I went to the garage and took my old diaries and journals out of storage and I read them. It took two days to get through them all. I couldn’t tell you how I laughed at much of what I’d written or how much it hurt me to read over the times when I had been let down or feared rejection. My best friend enjoyed reading snippets of the first time we sat beside each other in Maths; my boyfriend enjoyed reading my first impressions of him. Even the pages where I had written nothing spoke (often painful) volumes and it led me to realise one very significant thing.
Time makes everything.
Not that time makes everything good or time makes everything bad but simply that time is the final ingredient without which it is impossible for us to see what we have done or how we have grown.
If I had looked back on my diary in 1999 I might have thrown it out because it didn’t seem worth keeping (the ramblings of a 9 year old); as an 18 year old I might have discarded all my teenage journals, embarrassed by what I’d confessed or how emotional I’d been. My first year in Barcelona – all the small, seemingly huge cultural differences that I recorded – might have embarrassed the more well-travelled me. And so on.
For some reason I never did throw them out and how thankful I am for it now.
Yes, they are embarrassing, they are moody and petty and sarcastic and cruel. Alone, they might well say nothing but together they represent my life as I interpreted it and later, the world, as I saw it. There are years where I have only managed to record a month and then very sporadic comments or observations from then on. In university I failed miserably at keeping track.
Those blank pages aren’t really blank though are they? They speak of the stress I was under, the worries I had about finding a job.
So whenever I read or hear someone say that they could never keep a diary because they’ve nothing to say, I want to shout at them! Neither did I! Neither do I! But it’s not what you write – people so often think they should make their diaries “intellectual” and “not full of crap” – that makes it great, it’s time. Time gives meaning and identity to those seemingly meaningless interactions or significant moments that you can only see once you take a step back.
In a world so obsessed with perfection it is easy, so easy, to think that a diary needs to reflect the best of you and to want to quit when it doesn’t. No matter what you write, time will step in and, thankful that you’ve chosen to do anything at all, add some sort of magic to those ramblings.
It’s the kind of magic that makes the 28 year old me very, very, very grateful that the 7 year old me once sat in the kitchen and wrote I am the first person awake in the whole house and I am eating Frosties.
Keep a diary. Trust me, your future self will love reading “all the times you had nothing to say”.