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

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