Keeping a Diary

WHY KEEPING A DIARY?

I found an old diary that I had forgotten about. Being in a zealous decluttering mood, I was about to throw it away but leafing through some pages made me sit down to read a few old entries. Surprisingly, I enjoyed it. I had mistakenly assumed that I had fallen prey to what A.S. Byatt warns against: diary whining. Encouraged by my old diary entries (it showed no whining) I decided to keeping a pandemic/lockdown diary assuming that years from now I -again- would find it interesting to read back how my loved ones and I sailed through this unusual time.

My Paperblanks Diaries

I bought a pretty Paperblanks notebook (which is such fun because oh-my-God- there are so many beautiful Paperblanks notebooks). However, as soon as I sat down with a blank page staring at me, I felt again apprehensive about keeping a diary, afraid that my writing would be seen as pathetic. And I had good reasons for that, because of the Corona pandemic! (What on earth is not whiny and negative about living through a pandemic?) How can one expect grand and compelling entries when one is living a lockdown life? I opposed self-sabotaging doubts by remembering Brother Lawrence, a monk in the 1600s, who wrote on mindfulness whilst being confined to a monastery. (Not that I compare myself to Lawrence, only comparing and contrasting our voluntary and involuntary ‘lockdown’ in a monastery and at home).

I concluded that for a diary one does not have to have an epic and sweeping life. A confined life amidst a clear and present danger that shakes our world, the corona-pandemic, has intrinsic value. So, no reports on being chased by the three-headed Cerberus, I am not surviving Odysseus’ ship-wrecking storms, and I am not discovering prehistoric cave paintings, but -instead- I report on thoughts, progress on drawings, on the joy of reading, and setbacks during lockdown. Also, on the growing anger in our society, cutting ties, the intensity of lockdowns, the pressure of staying at home, a home that has turned into an office, studio and library. Just the best solitary scribbles I can think of. The beautiful thing about writing diary entries is that one is part of the world but one is also a distant observer, reporting on the human predicament.

Book cover of Dorothy Wordsworth by Edmund Lee. This painting shows the two main actions involved in keeping a diary: the thinking part consisting of evaluating, musing, playing with memories, and the second part, finding a voice and penning down diary entries.

And what blessings are there to report! It makes you cringe realizing how many have been affected by the pandemic far more severe than me and my family. This leads to gratitude. That said, nobody is the same anymore; we all have changed profoundly. Our lives have changed and our priorities have changed. I have seen ill people becoming more ill; angry people become more angry, despondent people growing depressed, ambitious people becoming overworked. Everything has been or felt exaggerated, hyperbole I dare to say, due to a lack of social engagement.

Should you have doubts whether or not to keep a diary, please take my advice and do it. Do not think big; think about the small pleasures of life.

So, how does my diary look like? I write in my diary most days, often before the day draws to a close. I have a stash of washi tape that I use to support pages that I often use. These pages I use for recording my book list, new vocabulary that I pick up from reading, how much Iron, Vitamin D & Vitamin B12 I supplement I take (I am vegan for 12 years now), and here and there inspirational pen sketches for new compositions. I mark some pages (like my book list) with stickers as tabs. Sometimes I let my daughter or husband write a line, like a Twitter tweet, when they have a witty remark or a smart one-liner. All in all, a colourful and engaging diary. Make it a handy dandy notebook. Make it your best friend.

Diary keeping is not working on a book. It is nothing big. It is one of the small pleasures of life.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

At Etsy

At Instagram

At Linktree

Keeping a Pandemic Diary

OLD DIARY LOST AND FOUND

During our series of lock-downs, de-cluttering has become a beneficial home bound activity. I found an old diary that I had forgotten about. Being in full de-cluttering mode, I was about to throw it away. But before I knew, I sat down reading a few entries. Surprisingly, I enjoyed reading my own musings. That is interesting because when I was young I read A.S. Byatt’s warning against diary whining which instilled a fear to keep daily notes. But encouraged by my old diary entries, I decided to start a lockdown diary assuming that years from now I -again- would find it interesting to read back about how we lived during this unusual time.

A Home Bound Life

I bought a New Romantic 1980s Paperblanks. But soon after, I felt again apprehensive to keep a diary, afraid that my writing would be irrelevant, a waste of time. But then, how can one expect grand and compelling entries when one is living a lockdown life? I opposed the self-sabotaging thoughts by remembering Etty Hillesum’s diary. I also remembered Brother Lawrence, a monk in the 1600s, who wrote on mindfulness whilst being confined to a monastery. (Not that I compare myself to Hillesum or Lawrence). I concluded that a diary does not have to report an epic and sweeping life. A home bound life amidst a clear and present danger that shakes our society, like the 2020/21 pandemic, is equally of value.

An old diary entry that I found at the time we were travelling abroad: ‘Exotic lands offer challenges and strangeness, a feeling of anxiety and excitement. Against the background of a new landscape we project ourselves as vulnerable, which results in a sense of awe and wonder. We dwell in new landscapes testing ourselves and feel an urge to settle and domesticate the land in order to feel free of anxiety, to feel safe. When we explore new lands, we feel so vulnerable and lonely that we search for gods or goddesses in pools, on the tops of mountains, in caves, near old trees, like prehistoric peoples did. We do all this to feel less naked, less exposed, more at home. We create sanctuaries but the land itself and all that comes with it was sacred before we arrived. We set up altars, shrines, and hang flags in trees. We feel a need for divine or ancestral support when we feel exposed to new horizons’.

My Mandarin duck stickers for an additional splash of colour
Nothing Grand or Epic
Now I write an entry almost every day and instead of writing epic and sweeping reports of meeting remarkable people, being chased by Ceberus, surviving Odysseus’ ship-wrecking storms, or discovering a new Lascaux, I report progress on drawings, on the joy of reading, and the small pleasures and setbacks of a lockdown life.

Should you have doubts whether or not to record your lockdown or pandemic life, please take my advice and do it because it is fun. Like me, you might find pleasure it in and it might be of use as a primary source for further family members who wonder what the Covid-19 pandemic felt like ‘back then’.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

At Etsy

at Instagram