Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Dear Diary

I have been writing in a diary for nearly ten years now. It has become as routine for me to write in a diary as it has to brush my teeth. I have a shelf in my book case full of over twenty diaries I have filled with transcriptions of nights out with friends, descriptions of boring school assignments, moans about menstrual cycles and bowel movements, about boredom and loneliness during illnesses. A catalogue of symptoms.

Some pages are stained from my tears. Some words are obnoxious and illegible from nights drinking. For years I wondered if my diaries would entertain anyone but me. Then I read these great diaries and then I understood the appeal:

The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934

Anais describes her romances and her sessions with her psychoanalyst -- analyzing herself further in the diary after her sessions. She also analyzes her friends and her relationships with them. 

Anais took her diary almost everywhere with her and wrote in it throughout the day in incredible detail and candour. She was a dedicated diarist for most of her life. I must get my hands on other volumes of her diary.

Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of Emily Carr

Late in her life, painter Emily Carr wrote several great works of non-fiction. My favourite is this diary (or "Journal") in which she details her insecurities as an artist, her relationships with her animals and other artists. She writes about the natural beauty that inspired so much of her work and her ideas for her paintings. Very wise and emotionally mature, Emily muses on the choices, feelings and actions of the people around her, as well as her own. She also writes about her intimate every day life, her heart trouble and hospital visits.

Emily died of her illness a few years after she stopped writing in her diary. Her writing seemed to fill the void she felt after she was no longer well enough to go outdoors and paint. I highly recommend all of her writing and artwork.

The appeal I referred to is of getting inside someone's head, not of reading gossip about people. A diarist likely explores details most people don't even talk about, at least not in such great detail, let alone write about. 

As a diarist, I can identify with these works from Anais and Emily. We have all felt the need to explore ourselves through writing. I don't write to an imaginary audience, but to myself to figure life out. For me, writing is thinking. Of purging. Of celebrating.

I don't want anyone to read my diaries. Ever. I want them to be burned with me when I'm dead.


  1. my blog is my diary...i love that everyone reads it and shows me so much love and support!!!

  2. It's the everyday writings that are so informative to archaeologists ( See here for an example) I think I'd feel guilty if I destroyed my diaries - so I don't keep one!

    I've never thought of reading anyone else's either. But your post has made me consider the possibility. Thanks for the info.

  3. I read somewhere that a Library of Journals and Diarys exists somewhere. They accept donated collections that some families pass on, or contribute. I think this is interesting. Such personal and longitudinal writings provide a level of information of social and psychological importance. They provide accounts of the world, and life in a given time and how it was experienced.

    If I was a student of sociology, I would love to go research such a library!!

  4. I have my old journals around here. I should dig them out and read a little.

    These days I scribble in notebooks when I need to and I keep a four-line journal.

    I remember reading all the diaries of Anais Nin. I loved them! I also very much enjoyed the diaries of Ann Murrow Linberg.

  5. Debbie - Welcome to my blog! Ah yes, the blog as a diary -- something I chose not to touch on in this post.

    I have used my blog as a diary too, but I find I write differently when I write for an audience. I mean, the prose of those very personal entries is very typical of one of my diary entries, but I avoid certain diary topics in my blog because I don't want to bore people, reveal too much of myself, or alienate the people in my life.

    I'm glad that you get so much love and support on your blog!

    MorningAJ - Yes, diaries and other life writing are great artifacts for study! I'll check out the link after I finish this comment -- Blogger wants to take me to a new page in this window and I don't want to lose my comment! Thanks. I'm excited to read it.

    You're very welcome. Just don't read an unpublished diary! Ha ha.

    Mythopolis - Man, I want to check out that library! I'm especially interested because people donated their diaries... They weren't made public without the author's permission. Mind you, that complicates this if you remember that one likely writes differently for an audience than for his or herself -- If the diarist considered making the diary public later.

    I agree that diaries can have social and psychological importance. A story is more powerful when it is told by a person who lived through it. An individual can also impact change more profoundly than a statistic.

    Bossy Betty - Yeah, dig them out! I don't read my diaries much. I'm too critical and I get bored. I only go back and read if I want to try to trigger my memory.

    It's interesting that you keep a notebook and a journal: separating your "To Do" and personal lives.

    I'm glad I've found an Anais Nin fan in you! I will check out Morrow. Thanks for the tip.

  6. I think that's why memoirs are popular. Through them we meet and see the person.

    I never kept a diary. Hmm. That probably says something about me.

  7. Hi Ashley, I like to journal too --and have lots of journals through the years. When I go back and read some of them, I wonder now why some things upset me so much and other things didn't ... Life changes as we age... I've lived a great life --and am happier now than ever before... These days, my journals are mostly my daily blog posts.


  8. Actually, there are a number of such collections, but mostly of notables of their time. But the Everyman's diary. That's of interest to me. Of course it will be full of pages of trivia. "8/3/2011 Just washed my hair, think I will go to bed soon." But, then there are the other entries that speak to larger feelings. To me, it is interesting to contemplate the lowest common denominators of a culture. Diaries, personal correspondence, family photos...even little cheap toys that one finds in little plastic egg shaped cases in gumball like dispensers upon entering some store such as Walmart. These offer a whole other kind of information about a given time.

  9. Helen - I agree with you about the appeal of memoirs. Thanks!

    Betsy - Sometimes I do the same! Now we can laugh about the things that obviously almost killed us when they happened. Thanks!

    Mythopolis - Yes, the everyday is so fascinating to me too! I guess that's partly why reality shows are popular--only they aren't so real and certainly lack the substance of memoirs...

  10. Yeah, I used to write diaries. I occasionally go back to them and read them. They make me laugh. And yup, I'd rather have them burned than have anyone else read them ;)

  11. Lynda - Ya, sometimes I go back and read mine too, but I find I usually just do it if I'm trying to recall an event or an important moment in my life.

  12. Hi Ashley,

    I just stopped by again to grab your reading recommendations--thanks for posting them. I wonder if most bloggers are also journalers? I've also been told by other AIH patients that keeping a symptoms journal is exceptionally helpful for doctors, so there's just one more reason to write.