No need to re-write or correct reading back
through notebooks, over notes. Overlook your
diarised descriptions of precise actions.
Pronouns, dates, exact recollections –
A detailed log of the daily grind.
There’s no poetry in a list of facts.
Look instead for the angle of the hand-
writing, denoting the slouch or the strength
of posture while writing, the scrawl or script
an indication of a mood now paled,
a reminder that these things come, and pass
like pen over paper. Be not troubled.
The end is not yet and sorrow’s age
ends again with the turning page.
From Wherever Glory Dwells, sonnet series in Tear Water Tea
The rest of my life started 22 years ago with a floral pink book that smelled of talcum powder. A diary gifted to me by grandparents. Before deciding to write in it every day, I covered it in black fabric, locked it with its tiny key and kept it stashed in the drawer beneath my bed. A typically Grandad message was inscribed in the front: “May this be the start of the rest of your life.” And it was. Just as every day is, but keeping some kind of notebook or journal has been a habit ever since.
In 1994 my daily tasks and interactions were recorded in a very prosaic form: Conversations with friends, orchestra practices, boys who may or may not have smiled at me in the corridor…tedious to re-read in the future and very self-conscious as if I knew it could be discovered and read by a family member at any moment (something that happened all the time on teen TV in the 90s). But also perhaps testament to two other things: My inability to express my inner experience of the world beyond the quotidian and my not-yet-formed understanding of how thoughts and feelings could be validated, made indelible with ink and paper.
More recent notebooks can be quite devastating to re-read. They can immediately bring back the feelings they express and if these are dark and brooding, then so too can become my day. If they’re light and fluffy – well, perhaps a reminder to myself to record the light and fluffy moments in notebooks too and not just on social media (the ultimate form of public diarising).
But notebook writing is rarely for the future self to look back on. It’s a very immediate process and a way of conversing with myself, reconciling difficult feelings and making sense of the world. The diary of my fourteen-year-old self would have served a similar purpose – laying down the facts of the day and putting them in order – and what I chose to pay attention to actually says a lot about the person I was or thought I was, or thought I should be at that time. Maybe the ‘angle of the handwriting’ on those pastel coloured pages is more telling than the words themselves.