Sunday, 17 January 2010

Do You Keep a Diary?

Hello again. Been feeling a tad lethargic lately. Must be the weather; the grey skies. the S.A.D. effect perhaps, (Seasonal Affective Disorder). I've heard that mid-January is when we have a surge in suicides. Don't know how true this is; not something I've ever investigated - just heard it mentioned a couple of times on radio.

I shall be 75 on Tuesday 19th January and have outlived my father, mother and two of my younger brothers. I'm the eldest of five boys, all born twixt 19 Jan 1935 and 6 June 1945, so I guess I've been lucky thus far. Had some close calls over the years, what with Herr Hitler's Luftwaffe bombing Croydon for five scary years and various other events. Falling off a roof at age 12 and breaking my right wrist instead of my neck is an example.

We remember so many happenings in our lives but also forget much. Would a diary be worth reading had we kept one from an early age?

The answer is probably a resounding yes!

Blogging is a 'sort of' diary. Many millions now write a blog which, almost by definition (web log) is a diary. But it's a newish thing. Neither is a blog a personal diary (usually, that is). I am now reading a superbly engrossing book entitled 'Our Hidden Lives', which is a collection of personal diaries kept by 'ordinary' people during the post-war period in Great Britain. I find it fascinating and quite engrossing.

The award winning writer Simon Garfield has woven the diaries of five ordinary people, confronting the uncertain years following WW2 into a wonderful and evocative patchwork. (That sentence is an extract from the 'blurb' of this book).

The 5 diarists are Maggie Joy Blunt, a modern young woman who is bored out of her mind in a metal company in Slough.

George Taylor, a curmudgeonly accountant from Sheffield who gets annoyed when woken by fireworks celebrating the end of the war.

Edie Rutherford, Sheffield housewife and Socialist, who is always arging with her hairdresser.

B. Charles, a gay antiques dealer in Edinburgh and a horrific snob.

And finally Herbert Brush, London pensioner, active for his age, forever creosoting his garden fence and author of ambitious but appalling poetry.

None of these people knew each other and their diary entries are beautifully brought together to make a great book.

I kept a couple of notebook diaries for about 5 years. Not that I religiously made an entry every day, but never more that a gap of a week between entries. I have not kept a diary since 1983, but wonder if I should have done.

Perhaps I stopped because I sometimes wrote entries when I was in a dark mood, the 'black dog' mood that afflicted Winston Churchill to name but one such sufferer. Reading some entries now is quite a reminder of how 'low' I felt at times.

I recall that a well-known actress (whose name escapes me right now) once said: "Keep a diary, and one day it might keep you". That is a truism for many diarists - Pepys being the most well known, along with many politicians of course!

I love reading diaries of all sorts of people. I think they are fascinating. One of my favourites was the late Kenneth Williams, a comic actor and raconteur. His diaries were honest and so very sad as well. He took his own life a few years ago, pills and a bottle of spirits. His final entry: "What's the bloody point?" - meaning the point of his life. And what about the wonderful writings of Ann Frank? Such a lovely young girl, recording her days in hiding in Holland before being dragged off to a concentration camp where she died so cruelly young.

I wonder if YOU keep a diary?

22 comments:

Monkey Man said...

I have never kept a diary or a journal as some like to call it these days. I would love to write out a capsule of my life to leave behind including philosophies, but who knows if I will ever get around to it. I would also like to interview my mother who will be 80
this year, just to keep her memories alive.

Brenda said...

I can relate to the winter blues. I have those also. The book sounds really interesting. I used to keep a diary, but blogging is so much more fun. I think I would be more open in a private diary. Knowing everyone else could be reading the blog diary makes me cautious. Not overly so...but still...it does make a difference.
If I don't get back to you on your Birthday....Happy Birthday!!!

Barry said...

Kenneth Williams' final diary entry: "What's the bloody point?" reminds me of George Sanders suicide note where he explained he was committing suicide because he was bored.

It would seem keeping a diary may not be an adequate substitute for psychotherapy.

Maybe that's why I never kept one, or had psychotherapy. lol

The Bug said...

I've sporadically kept a diary (by sporadically I mean, made entries for a month or so every 10 years or so LOL). At the time I felt boring, but when I read them later they were more interesting to me. Especially the one from high school. Boy I really WAS that self-absorbed!

P.S. Happy Birthday! (in case I forget)...

Land of shimp said...

I don't, Philip but I read journals of historical figures, authors, just about anyone who could write reasonably well, and then their journal saw print? I will read it.

The thing is that I write a great deal, and am able to look back at those things, and get a good sense of what was going on. Sometimes I'll run across something and think, "Well, that's actually decent." but often it's a case of, "Oh god, that's appalling, why must I misuse commas so??"

I'll tell you a little a bit about the most comprehensive set of journals I read, by the Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery. She kept journals throughout her life, from fifteen until she died, although there were a few missing years in there. At some point she became aware that her journals would likely be published, and had a habit of going back to edit, re-write, hone her words over, and over.

The result is that her journals, in multiple volumes, present a picture of her that she wanted the world to see. Of course, this didn't work out quite as she had planned, and she still revealed things while trying to adhere to an "image".

In one instance she made herself appear more high-strung, and easily flummoxed than she was. Her eldest son was a nightmare. Truly, I wouldn't wish that particular boy on anyone.

Knowing that her journals would be preserved (she was quite famous within her lifetime, and knew she would be a figure of interest)and published she tried to do a bit of spin control. She fretted obsessively about him in her journals, focusing on his poor grades at university that led to expulsion, and going with a broad fiction that he had "secretly married" a year prior to when he knocked up his girlfriend. She made herself seem terribly neurotic. She made his problems socially acceptable, but her own reactions were to his actual ones. So she would write about how she wished she could be dead, rather than having to deal with this, and how there was no life worth living.

It wasn't until I read a biography by one of the editors of her journals that I found out the truly horrible things she'd been concealing. It turned out she was having an entirely proportional response, her son was basically a sociopath. He was very ill, in a myriad of ways.

Now, that's an extreme case, but a bit of that exists in any journal. People write in them with an eye towards how they will wish to view themselves in the future...or like you, end up writing when they are convinced the future doesn't matter much, and giving a skewed vision.

I think journals are very interesting things. The moment we start writing about our lives we also start honing the view we want to see, not just now, but in the future.

I think diaries are fascinating. Definitely there's a lot going on in them. It isn't just a view into yourself, but it is also you, providing that view for yourself in the future, knowing that it is part of what is being done.

If time travel is possible, perhaps it exists in diaries. Written in one time period, for another, knowing that is the case.

Good to see you, Philip, and a very happy birthday to you!

Pauline said...

Happy Birthday!

I kept journals for years but like Brenda, I find blogging to be more fun, perhaps because there is an immediate audience. I can type faster than I can write out by hand, too, so that's a factor.

I miss the quiet half hour with book and pen first thing in the morning though, so perhaps I will start keeping a diary again...

the walking man said...

I write my diary in the memories of them who will survive me and when I pass it is fine that the winds of time will wipe out the prints I will have left behind.

While I will on occasion look back at places my feet have stood I find them of little import to me now for I have yet to come to a place where past, present, and future converge in relevance.

Barbara's Spot on the Blog said...

I very much enjoyed your post. While reading at the beginning about your boyhood experiences I was intrigued and wanted to hear more. I thought, I should ask you to write about those experience in your blog. Then as I read down you wrote about how people recorded their experiences. :)
I do journal on occasion and there are large gaps in between writings. Sometimes I read back over and am surprised at the wisdom recorded there. I keep little notebooks every where to write thoughts or ideas into for my book and it often ends up becoming a journal of something I'm working through personally.

Still, I'd lover to hear more about that 12 year old boy who fell off the roof.

Cliff W said...

Happy birthday first of all to you for tomorrow! My input was just that I wanted to record for posterity the sad passing of a wonderful lady called Miep Gies who helped the Frank family and friends during their time in hiding in Amsterdam during WW2. She died at the age of one hundred years old. Ironically, we had been watching a programme about Anne Frank the night before she died and it had featured her in a lot of footage. We had both been amazed by this women. Were it not for her courage we would not be blessed with such a wonderful piece of writing and insight in the living conditions that those poor people sufferred. The next day she died.

On a lighter note - pardon the pun ;) - I will give you some feedback from my S.A.D light when I have completed my trial. My fiancee got me one for Christmas although I am not sure exactly what that says about either of us!

By the way, I think it was Mae West who said those words about the diary.

Like another of your commenters (or is it commentators?), I frequently discover things I wrote in other periods of my life (university student days for example) and I'm often surprised that it's the same person.

Anyway, keep well and here's to another memorable year!

Lynn said...

Happy Birthday, Philip. Just celebrated my 58th. Very cool people are born in January, heh!

I beginning to think my blog is my diary. It's becoming, for me, a way to tell my granddaughter what I was doing as she was growing up. Everyday, she is spending more and more time with me in the garden and around the bees. I hope she will remember these times with love.

I understand about the SAD. Sometimes I'm tempted to start another blog just so I can get up in the middle of the night and ask "Is there anybody out there?" Spring can't come soon enough this year. Take care.

PhilipH said...

MM:Why not make it your 2010 'to do' job? I think leaving part of your life history, even just snippets of it, will be of much interest in future decades. Every person's life is unique.

Brenda: I seem to start feeling below par as Christmas approaches. And it seems to get worse as the years pass by. I am not a 'merry Christmas' person now that the kids are all grown up.

Barry: I hope you are in the best possible shape; you've been a real inspiration and your blog IS a good diary and you share so much in the way of good writing and really good photos.

Bug: You've hit on one of the reasons a diary can be good for the writer. Reading back it seems that even mundane happenings can be enlightening and interesting.

Alane: I reckon you would be a diarest par excellence, I really do. It does not matter too much about punctuation, spelling and even grammar: it's the thoughts and events that become so engaging in the notes of one's life.

"He knocked up his girlfriend..." Now that's an example of how our English language means different things in different countries. In olden days there used to be a local 'knocker upper' employed by factories. His job was to use a long pole and knock on the windows of all the factory girls. He would knock up all the girls in the surrounding roads every morning - but not in the way you mention!

Just writing down your thoughts, memories and events - not thinking too much about anything other than what's been going on, in and around you.

You could call your diary: Slap Him Fond (Land of Shimp anag.);->

Pauline: I do agree; also I can type at about 50 wpm or more and if I write at that speed my words would be like shorthand written in Arabic or Russian! So, blogs are far more legible.

Mark: You must have a myriad of memories, places, happenings which would be a best seller. Agreed, once the coil has been well and truly shuffled off it means zilch to the writer. It might, however, be of great interest to whomsoever happens upon your words.

Barbara: I do hope your 'ladies' are doing well and recovering from their labours of the summertime.

Keeping notes of one's life is, in my case, a stop/start thing too.

Falling of a roof! Hmm ... mine was a very impecunious family and I would earn money in any way that I could as a kid. Our landlord in Croydon was a Jewish chap, Mr. Richman, who owned many houses in our area. He showed me how to fix slipped slates on his houses. I would be paid sixpence or a shilling, depending on how difficult the job was. It involved climbing the ladder, scrambling to where the hole in the roof was (taking the loose slate from the guttering first) and then, using a short strip of lead, nailed to a roof slat, I'd slip the slate into place and bend the lower half of the lead strip upwards to stop the slate sliding down again.

One day I was playing football (using an old tennis ball) with my school friend Bobby Clarke and the ball ended up on the roof of a large garageand workshop. I clambered up the drainpipe onto the roof. Crawled to where the tennis ball was lodged by a chimney piece, threw it down and then slid down the roof, feet first. Failed to grab the gutter and my friend Bobby made a grab for my feet as I came down. This didn't help me! I landed on my outstretched right hand. In some pain I clutched my wrist, which was bleeding and had nasty lumps sticking up. Ran to Croydon General Hospital and, after the FIFTH break/reset I got fixed! Took nearly six months to heal properly. Kids ... huh! Who'd have 'em!

PhilipH said...

Hi Cliff: (no pun intended by the way!) Thanks for your good wishes and I hope the Xmas present lightens your life.

I too saw that interview on TV the other day. A truly remarkable lady. We too are watching the Anna Frank's diary programme again; it is so well done. I cannot begin to imagaine how I would have coped with being crammed into that small space for so long, especially with that Mrs. Van Daan to contend with!

I think that the new energy saving bulbs don't help with the duller days of winter. They give off a yellowish light, not white. I've just bought a much whiter/brighter energy saving light from Amazon. It is quite amazing in that it does not have to 'warm up' - it reaches full bright white light immediately. They cost £10 each; originally they were £15 each. I think they are a bargain!

Lynn: Nice to hear from you again. I am thinking of suggesting that my grandson, Jake (9.5), starts a diary. Just a simple 'what I did today' sort of thing. Granddaughter Ellie (8) might not be too interested in such a thing but Jake would probably try it - and I'd love to read it if he did.

I'm pretty sure that one's grandchildren WILL be interested in what their grandparents lives and events were about, even little bits of their life.

Argent said...

Many happy returns for tomorrow. I have tried diary-keeping a few times in my life. The most consistent one that I did was during the first year of my marriage. I get it out sometimes and have a look for fun. I like blogging though. I'm not a deep thinker and I like the social side of blogging: the interaction between poster and commenters. Also I type fast and, more importantly, what I've typed is actually legible afterwards. It does occur to me though, what if I died? Unless I print it out and put it somewhere in the house, no-one will know that my blog ever existed. Hmmm.

Jo said...

I have not been in the habit of keeping a diary, but I love reading the autobiographies of other people. And I am currently reading the biography of the Queen Mother, written from her infancy, through her childhood, teen years, etc., and it is fascinating.

I do notice that some people write very personal things on their blogs, as they would write in a personal diary, but I am too private to do that. I find blogging is more like journalism than keeping a personal diary.

Oh, heck, there is nothing interesting in my life to keep a diary about anyway... *heh*

Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday, Dear Phillip,
Happy Birthday to yoooooooooooo..... :-)

Pearl said...

I did and have kept a diary for most of my life, but the thought of it "having" me has kept me from being completely honest, especially recently.

The "black dog" you refer to, is that a common reference in your part of the world? I've had that come up in books or music several times in the last month or so, specific to premonition or depression. I'd never come across it before.

As for winter blues, sir, I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota; and it just doesn't get much more winter-y than it does here.

We make up for our winters with our sunny dispositions. :-) And our ability to tell a story.

And beer.

Lovely blog, by the way.

Pearl

PhilipH said...

Hi Silver Argent: Oooh, a record of your first year as a married lady eh. Are you going to post any of those diary entries? No, I think not, more's the pity...(wink).

Your blog will stay online unless you close it down, so it will still be visible to those who know the URL. Just thought I'd reassure you on that.


Jo: You've a great voice! That happy burfday song was pitch perfick, (as The Darling Buds of May would say). Thank you v.much.

Not very much of interest in your life, Jo? I would disagree. Even if it were true you have the knack to write about (whatever) in a most interesting way. You have to be the Queen of Bloggers imo.

Pearl: Hello and thanks for stopping by. Yes, I know all about your freezing climes and all that snow and stuff. I've just invited you, via your blog, to help out around our cottages with your ice-cracker heel technique.

Black dog days. This was one of Winston Churchill's oft quoted moods. With all the horrendous decisions he was forced to make during WW2 it's no wonder it made him feel desperately under pressure at times. He would get drunk sometimes; he would bully his secretaries and other staff; he would take it out on anybody if he was in the teeth of the black dog. I think it can be applied to periods when a person is depressed and unhappy with his/her lot.

Bipolar types, like Stephen Fry and many others, probably have their 'black dog' days when their mood swings from ecstatically high to extremely low.

Hopefully most of us will steer well clear of the demonic black dog, but if it bites ... or even barks, just try to count your blessings and look on the bright side of life.

Vera said...

I agree with you about blogs being the equivalent of keeping a diary. My first year of blogging has given me a marvelous record of our time here, and its amazing how much we have done in such a short time.
But I don't write blogs when I down in the dumps and feeling wretched with the world. But if I was keeping a personal diary, for my eyes only, then I would probably only write when I WAS down in the dumps and not when I was happy with the world: odd that!

PhilipH said...

Thanks Vera. I go along with what you say. Put interesting thoughts on your blog and keep sharing the happier instances of life and times.

Hopr sll goes well with you in this bleak midwinter Vera

thistledew said...

The snow is fast receding.
I think that the warm birthday wishes from comentators on your blog, funnelling to the Borders, may have ccontributed to the thaw here. If that is so, I, as a victim of the freeze thank you all, and add my congratulations and best wishes to you Phillip.
Keep well not S.A.D.
David,
Thistledew

PhilipH said...

Thanks David, and all the best to you too ... the lessening snow and ice is a great relief. Let's hope our winter of discontent melds gently into a Spring of rebirth of all that means so much to us all - including the hard-working bees!

nollyposh said...

Hi Philip X:-) i have kept a diary since i was 9yrs old (when i received my first one for christmas...so lets blame Santa!)... Since 2008 my written diary's have evolved into art journaling and blogging... i love the more interactive aspect to blogging and the 'therapy' of art... i'm haPPy with these developments because as you said 'personal diary's' can be self indulgent and horrible to re-read (especially my teenage ones!) and just drag you through all the pain again literally, and for that reason i have been unable to re-read many of them... If i write about painful things now i like to then burn the pages and release the emotion... and then blog about THAT of course! Lol!

nollyposh said...

(Ps) i hope you had a great birthday x