So the point of my keeping a notebook has never been,
nor is it now, to have an accurate factual record
of what I have been doing or thinking.
That would be a different impulse entirely, an instinct
for reality which I sometimes envy but do not possess.
At no point have I ever been able successfully to keep a diary;
my approach to daily life ranges from the grossly negligent
to the merely absent, and on those few occasions
when I have tried dutifully to record a day's events,
boredom has so overcome me that the results are mysterious at best.
What is this business about
"shopping, typing piece, dinner with E, depressed"?
Shopping for what? Typing what piece? Who is E?
Was this "E" depressed, or was I depressed? Who cares?
In fact I have abandoned altogether that kind of pointless entry . . .
~ Joan Didion ~
from her essay "On Keeping a Notebook"
This essay has been a long - time favorite of mine, ever since I worked my way through The Norton Reader: An Anthology of Expository Prose in Intermediate Composition, as an undergraduate. Many time's I've quoted Didion's excellent advice to others, but I myself am still a lazy journal - keeper: "Dry - cleaning, cloudy, leftovers for dinner, did some reading." That sort of thing
A couple of years ago , I sent my sister Peg a journal for her sixtieth year, similar to the Country Diary pictured above. Writing back to thank me, she said, "Since I've retired I've been trying to keep a diary and even though I miss some days I'm getting better. I remember you once telling me that you keep a daily diary even if it contains nothing more exciting than, Today Sam got a haircut."
It's true, I'd feel lost if I didn't make at least a minimal effort. However, every now and then, I have to admit that it is not enough. Just the other day I saw a note to myself: "30 - 31." What did I mean by that? And I wasn't even trying to recall from a lifetime ago, merely a few days. A friend of mine shared some of her more intriguing "notes to self."
1. First there was "wood people" [attempting to "disambiguate the wood people," she wonders: who are they, how do I find them, and what did I want them to do, are they people who would do something, or I hoped they would?].
2. And second, she said, "Your story reminds me of something I wrote once on my calendar for Tuesday, December 4: TUES DEC 4."
That completely closed circuit has to be my favorite!
I know that Didion is right in urging her readers to include more details in their journals; otherwise, the information takes you nowhere. For example, not long ago, I was looking through the pages of little notebook full of introspective scribbling from my second year in college. One of my entries: "Think of what Etta has told me."
I had totally forgotten that this notebook even existed until I came across it that day in a folder of old college stuff that has obviously been through at least seven moves around the country over the past thirty - five years. I was startled to think of myself becoming one of those troubled pack rats, moving boxes from house to house without even being aware of what they contain! Still, I was excited to tell my friend Etta about finding the reference to her name from that long - ago emotional time. Excited, that is, until she asked me, "Well, what was it that I told you?"
Uh . . . undoubtedly you've already guessed the punch line of this long-winded narrative. I can't remember! Oh so frustrating! Now why didn't I actually write down those words of wisdom? Darn it! Who was depressed, me or E?
"I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind's door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. . . .
"It is a good idea to keep in touch, and I suppose that keeping in touch is what notebooks are all about. And we are all on our own when it comes to keeping those lines open to ourselves . . . " ~ Joan Didion