On Keeping A Diary


The first one had blue Hello Kitties on every page. I was 12. I didn’t really know what Hello Kitty was but I wanted to be the kind of girl who was into Hello Kitty, and every purchase matters immensely when you’re 12. My first diary entry was about my first day at school, I listed the names of the girls I met and walked home with and what I thought about them. 2 years later I would go back and write, in red pen, what I really thought about them. The endless benefits of hindsight.

That was a terrible diary. What do you even write about when you’re 12? I’m so troubled, I like listening to Hole, Kurt Cobain seems like he was a pretty cool guy, I wish boys liked me but they don’t because I don’t have boobs yet (more benefits of hindsight: 10 years on I still don’t have boobs), I don’t even know any boys because I am 12 and go to a convent school. I threw it out in shame a few years ago. I moved onto school notebooks next. I glued string to the spine and threaded raver beads along it. I didn’t know that these were raver beads at this time. I wrote about my first cigarette and dedicated a page to the names of all the boys I kissed. I went back to this page to fill in more names until I was 17, when I realised what a stupid thing it was. I didn’t even remember those boys then. I read their names and thought ‘Adam? Which one was that?’

I filled the pages, needed new notebooks every 6 months. I signed off with ‘love Ana’, then it turned into ‘love light peace’ which I probably used because I read about someone famous signing off their letters with that. I had repeated nightmares about people stealing the diaries while I slept. I hid them when going on holiday with friends so my parents wouldn’t find them and discover what strange ways their daughter had of passing her days.

Someone gave me a Moleskine when I was 15 or 16 and this marked the beginning of my multimedia diarying phase. I’d write ‘I skipped lunch today’ and illustrate it with a watercolour of a skinny girl with long hair. I had no idea how pretentious this was. I thought I was being creative. At this point I no longer listened to Hole. I now knew some boys, and lusted potently at them from a distance. There were tear stains on some of the pages. My favourite album was Blonde on Blonde and there were a lot of drawings of skinny men wearing scarves with curly hair. I glued in pictures I’d cut out of Nylon and wrote song lyrics in bubble writing alongside them. Train tickets from summer nighttime adventures. Made lists of things I considered lucky – found pennies, foxes at night, red squirrels, clouds that look like people. In my final year of school I started writing down every drink I had. I called it The Alcohol Diary. I would put stars beside quantities that were too much for me. I counted it all up at the end. 160 cans. 1.8 litres of Malibu. 2.3 litres of vodka. 7 cocktails, unknown quantities of whiskey and tequila. I worried about my teenage binge drinking, then decided I didn’t care because I was 18 and immortal.

It’s funny how you don’t actually write the important things. You can go back through diaries looking for details of your grandmother’s death, or your best friend’s breakdown, or your parents’ divorce, and instead you get ‘It’s hard sometimes. I drank 5 beers last night. So drunk. I wonder how many calories that was. I really hope my skinny jeans fit me next Friday because Matt will be there. I love Bright Eyes so much. ‘The Calendar Hung Itself’. Love Ana’. And lists of calories consumed versus calories burnt. Bizarre fragments of nights out and detailed descriptions of what I wore to a party. Things that genuinely, in the grand scheme of things, do not matter. I realised this when I started college. What’s the point in trying to document your life if you inevitably end up documenting all the wrong things? I took long breaks from the diaries, only to return and try to cram everything into a page, like inside jokes that will inevitably lose all meaning and relevance and seem foreign to even you: ‘being rude in nightclub queues, secret sex worlds, singing in taxis, the January blues, silver nail polish, John Berryman, drive-thru McDonalds….’ If it’s not this, it’s 4am drunken scrawl that I can’t even decipher now except for ‘I AM A DRAIN ON SOCIETY’ in block capitals. I decide to give up entirely on the 10th September 2008 – the last entry reads ‘everything weird seems weirder on a smaller scale’ which is probably true, but might not need to be immortalised in my diary to be dredged up after I die and there is an immense amount of scholarship dedicated to me.

But I couldn’t stop for good. I came back nine months later, with a new one, a soft black Moleskine and a wet blue pen. The first entry is a plea to myself to lose weight, because ‘I’ve rounded out like a tom cat in front of the fire.’ The entries are infrequent and usually only when something terrible happens, but it’s different this time. There are no more obsessive lists of foods eaten and boys kissed. No visualizations of song lyrics and magazine collages. I’ve let go of the need to preserve every little thing so I can revisit it in years to come. Facebook and Twitter can do that for me, I guess. I figure that reading over old diaries is humiliating, because it shows you what you erroneously considered to be really important at a given time. So I’ve stopped trying to catalogue all that crap. My diary is now just secrets told to me little gems of wisdom that actually can stand up out of context and of course, cathartic endeavours of sharing the things I can’t, or shouldn’t, tell the internet about.

I’ll defend diary-writing to the bitter end. Not necessarily for hilarious and embarrassing trips down Memory Lane or to define a clear picture of what your life is like at any point in time – reading back through this current one would falsely lead you to believe that my life is a whirlwind adventure of sex, napping and dancing in nightclubs – but for the opportunity to spill all the juicy secrets about your friends without getting in trouble. To focus on one topic for longer than you’re allowed to in actual conversation. To write candidly about your sex life without everyone around you reading it and shaking their heads. To ask important rhetorical questions like ‘how will I remember this moment in years to come?’ and ‘what does he really think about me?’ And, of course, the indisputable life lessons learned that end up slipping through in the cracks. After all, they’re the only bits that are really worth preserving.

You should follow Thought Catalog on Twitter here.

image – Barnaby