It’s been years since I kept a regular diary. Some people write private diaries for their eyes only, but all through my teens and into my twenties I always wrote to any future children I might have. At the time I knew they wouldn’t want to actually read it, but I plodded on noting on the odd occasion what actually happened during my day (most of the important moments going completely unrecorded). The greater number of pages scrawled with pen and pencil with the juvenile voice of my brain (and blurred with the occasional tear) recount the not so exciting mental world I inhabited which usually included, “I don’t feel well today…”. I’d occasionally read back over my ramblings and every time I came to the conclusion that I was a hopeless bore. Armed with this depressing self-knowledge, around 16, I decided I needed to make myself more interesting. After some thought I decided (for some forgotten reason) that the best way to achieve my goal was to expand my horizon by reading “great” literature (instead of the regency romances I was addicted to). I was sure this would make me more interesting; if only to me. This is how I ended up reading James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
I knew nothing about the author or the book. I’d heard someone mention it being read in the AP English classes (no I was never invited to partake of these special classes for people expected to go to higher education). As I’m an artist who loves painting people, I thought the book sounded like something for me, and I suppose there was the sense that even if they could exclude me from the class, they couldn’t stop me reading the book. So I borrowed it from the library and set forth on expanding my horizon only to find I was lost in a mental fog before the end of the first page. I stumbled blindly on, page after page through a mental swamp until I came to a solid hellfire sermon that I clung to with relief, never having heard one before. Momentarily, I understood where I was and rejoiced in understanding that I was being damned or something. I finished the book feeling more stupid than when I started, but that hellfire sermon with its mention of some character named Dante stuck. Continuing my self-improving course I decided since I’d read Byron’s name mentioned in so many regency romance novels it would be good if I read some of his poetry. I was shocked when I came across a poem titled Dante’s Column. My curiosity aroused, I headed off for the library to use an encyclopaedia and there he was; Dante Alighieri, medieval Italian writer of The Divine Comedy. How could a book called, ‘The Divine Comedy’ not make one less boring? I purchased an old paperback copy and borrowed a book on the book from the library and set out on a journey with Dante through hell, purgatory and heaven. It took me three months, but I read it. My favorite part was hell, filled with real stories which have inspired countless Renaissance painters and sculptures (all of them tragic which always makes more interesting art unless you prefer Victorian chocolate box art).
So James Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man did eventually lead me to understanding more about art, but did I become less or more boring? As the only people I shared my self-improvement with were my future children, to the rest of the world I remained the same scary wench with wild hair who could never find a pair of matching clean socks. I was always so tired from staying up late reading that I could rarely give a coherent verbal response to any intelligent question during daylight hours (still can’t). Twenty-odd years on I haven’t been able to have children; my dear diary has no readers.
This past week I’ve been thinking a lot of about diaries. On Sunday at church my friend Dee held out, ‘The Diary of a Farmer’s Wife 1796-1797’ and asked me if I’d read it. I heard of it, but I hadn’t read it so I borrowed it. I was hooked from the first entry and read most of it Sunday afternoon. Anne Hughes, the diarist, recounts in her dialect-misspellings her daily on-goings which are often amusing. It’s believed this was an original diary passed out of the family to someone who’d cherish it because there was no family to leave it to and it was edited and compressed to form a coherent year. Anne Hughes would probably be amazed to know she’s charming strangers two hundred after she wrote her diary for herself and children. This week also I finished a condensed selection of ‘The Diary of a Georgian Shopkeeper’. I enjoyed both books and my only complaint is that they end too soon. In two hundred years time I suspect our humdrum daily lives will seem as quaint and fascinating as Anne Hughes and Thomas Turners’ lives are to us, but how many of us will bother to note down the humdrum and then pass it on? My diary may have been intended for my children, but I’m glad I have it, boring repetitive topics and all. I enjoy flipping through entries and laughing at myself. Every time I read it I wish I’d written more about daily happenings and not just what was going on in my head. Why didn’t I record more important events? Memories are faulty things. After a decade memories start to flow into other memories. There’s nothing so solid as an honest diary entry.
After spending twenty odd years running away from the scary girl with wild hair I find myself running back towards her; not into the past, but into me. I think I need to start keeping a private diary again. If nothing else, it’ll amuse me in twenty years time. If it happens to amuse someone else in two hundred years…well that’s just a bonus!