When Thomas Mallon walked us through his anthology of diaries (A Book of One’s Own People and Their Diaries. Ticknor & Fields, 1984), he provided a peek into the back room of many a creative soul. For some the keeping of a diary or journal has been their way to record and reflect on the daily events of their lives. Many of the entries are mundane and boring, except for the person doing the writing. Other travelers or notable historic figures chronicled events and occurrences that transcended their own lives. And then the artists and writers keep journals, as they do today, as something requisite for the craft; their idea books continue to be a source of material, a record of thinking.
In his introduction Mallon makes an observation about a not so obvious but clearly true dynamic. It has to do with the purpose, the motivation for writing in a journal or diary at all. He says something that I believe is true, namely that we journal and write our notes not only for ourselves. Anytime we write more than a key word or so we are writing to an audience imagined, a listener or reader present or future. We want to communicate the meaning of life not only to sharpen our clarity or retrieve that which shouldn’t vaporize into forgetfulness. We write it to share worlds, to record and archive a mind and heart for others. The fact that these diaries are frequently read much later, most commonly after the death of the writer, only adds more gravitas.
And that, of course, is what a blog is, or a tweet or Facebook entry or electronic column. It’s an online journal or diary with a social thrust. The difference has to do with the audience and the time. The audience could be anyone who cares to follow us. The time is now and not later. Similar to a sermon in real time the electronic medium broadcasts in the now. Its archives become the the semi-lasting record.
The question for this time, it seems to me, is how many journals or diaries can we stand? Whereas in previous times we may have only read some pre-screened body of diaries and been spared all the pedestrian and vapid ones, now we are barraged with updates on what kind of toothpaste the writer has found on sale.
As in everything else now we’re having to screen the data stream, deciding what comes in and what stays out. And that seems so important to me that I think I’ll jot a note about it in my diary. No, you can’t read it. It’s locked up and I’ve got the key. If you like, you can read it after I’m dead.