On Keeping a Diary

I recently saw a Tumblr post (yes, friends–I am officially on Tumblr!) asking readers about their diary writing habits. I’m inspired to respond.

For most of my life, I’ve been a compulsive journaler. The habit started when I was still in single-digits and, until recently, I took offense to the word “diary.” Diaries were for little girls writing crappy entries about elementary and middle school crushes. My journal, I assured myself, was much more grown up than all of that… even if the first one was fuzzy pink-and-black cow spots with a lock on it. And even if I did tape a picture of my first crush to one of the pages, in which I prattled incessantly about how he was “so hott” and “I wonder if he even knows I exist”–which he did, since we were in the same class for three years.

I liked the romantic notion of hiding my journal, even though it was unnecessary. My sisters aren’t diabolical–and, at any rate, I wasn’t writing anything that they didn’t already know. I grew out of it eventually, favoring the convenience of keeping it on my person to the romance of hiding it under my box spring. I wrote at every opportunity: at home, in the car; during study hall, play practice, and class. (I was an honors student; my teachers either assumed I was taking notes, or didn’t care because my grades were good.)

It didn’t take long for my friends to figure out what I was doing. They tried to peek while I was writing, so–thinking myself very clever–I changed all the names, fashioning myself Faith MacRae and the boy I liked (a different boy by then, as I’d switched schools) Andrew Beomor. Not that it mattered; my interest was anything but subtle, not matter how many times I claimed indifference. But that was high school.

In college, my journal finally became something with literary merit. The best bits happened during my sophomore and junior years, during which I chronicled a romance that was doomed from the onset. It was dramatic and tragic, and shone spotlights on my naïveté–but who doesn’t love reading a good flirtation? This is why Jane Austen still has an audience! For once, I was an undeceived narrator, if an unreliable one at times. I misread people, squelching through a swamp of mixed signals–but the story was easy to tell. I liked telling it. And, somehow, I was comforted: even though it failed, something about that romance was right.

Aside: I’ve never been much for writing poetry, but my words were especially fertile during that time. Poetry was as abundant as prose–and, occasionally, superior to it.

Journal entries became sparse during my senior year, and they continue to be. Blogging has filled the need for written expression.

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There was a time (in 2010) when I thought I should be an artsy photographer type. *Scoffs* Freshmen.

The Tumblr user asks if the diary was addressed to anyone. In my mind, I was writing to The Reader, whoever that was. It was as if the book itself was listening, the paper sucking up more than just ink. Sometimes I wrote epistolary entries, letters addressed to actual people in my life. Those were reserved for times of particularly intense emotion: anger, sadness, objection, loneliness. Rarely, they were prayers.

I like rereading my college journals. The writing is actually pretty good. They’re vivid and poignant, transporting me to 2011, when a new cast of characters was introduced into my life. I like reading about being walked home, and the budding of that new romance. It doesn’t matter that it failed; I still got my happily ever after.

Journals from before that time are a different story, if you’ll pardon the pun. I am ashamed to remember myself at seventeen and under. I was shallow and clingy and desperate for love. I attached easily, and was easily stung. It was an ugly time during which friendships could make-or-break based on a crush. I didn’t like it then, and I hate it now.

The beauty of rereading those journals is that I can see how far I’ve come in five years. I suppose, if I had to be the Leah of 2010 and before, I’m glad she led me here.

2 Comments on “On Keeping a Diary

  1. I too started journaling very young! I sometimes dread reading those very shallow journals. As a matter of fact, I’ve gotten rid of some of them- there was just no substance in them. I’ve even contemplating getting rid of a few others! But as you said, they’re a great way to look back and see how much we’ve grown! Thank you for sharing 🙂

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