"Keep a diary and someday it'll keep you."
I have never really understood the meaning of the quote attributed to Mae West. Did she mean that if you religiously write down everything that has happened to you, what you have felt and every dirty little secret that you've managed to keep 'secret', it will one day fill your pockets and let you live in relative comfort; or did she mean that if you keep a record of every resolution and achievement, failed affair and disappointment, then one day you'll be bound to it?
If you keep a diary, your life is right there before you in pen and ink, and there is no running away from it. The mind can sometimes cloud, paint and blur the edges but if you've got it all written down in front of you and in your own fair hand, then the rosiest of rose tinted spectacles are not going to make anything bad seem better, or anything grand seem grander.
I have just started to keep a diary again.
I wrote my first diary at seventeen, my next at eighteen and then apart from a weeks worth of angst, romanticism and self-medicating prose at the age of thirty six, I stopped. I obviously didn't deem anything I was doing interesting enough to write down, or maybe I was just too busy to actually spend the time writing down whatever I was doing? It's another question I've been asking myself about my latest foray into the world of Bridget Jones.
If I'm going to keep a diary then I first better make sure I have a life to write about, but then if I'm living such an eventful, fulfilling life, how the hell am I going to find the time to write about it?
Do we truly write a diary just for ourselves or is our eye always on the reader? My teenage diaries are in turns hilarious, unforgiving, naive and surprisingly upsetting. I never knew I was that confused. I always thought my teens were full of laughs and bad haircuts, instead, it turns out they were full of tears and bad haircuts. I have friends who kept diaries of what they wore, where they went, what they had eaten and whom they had slept with whereas my diary was full of how I was feeling and an intense desire to make things better for myself. The only consolation I take from those diaries is that I've become more shallow as I've grown older and all that teenage angst went flying straight out of the window as soon as I discovered pharmaceuticals and a disco ball.
There is nothing better to rid yourself of wanting a life, then leaving your bedroom and going and getting yourself a life.
I don't think any diary should be discreet. If you are writing for yourself then let it be unmediated. Why would anyone keep a diary without writing down the explicit and sometimes the exquisite truth? I recently started to read the Richard Burton diaries in which he chronicles his relationship with Elizabeth Taylor. I'm about a hundred pages deep into the life of those two madly passionate icons and even the humdrum and benign entries seem exciting because he writes exactly what he feels about her, and she in turn, reads his diary and then scrawls her own thoughts and feelings over the top. I don't know if writing a diary in the knowledge that your nearest and dearest is going to read it is a ridiculous or an incredibly smart thing to do? In many ways it would save on therapy bills and couples counseling but at the same time surely it would be playing to an audience and a way of using your written words to aggravate or alleviate? My diary is strictly for my eyes only. But then again, I live alone and it's extremely well hidden, so nobody is ever going to see it anyway.
A diary can give you a true depiction of yourself, as long as you are honest when writing it. It's no use to anyone if you only write an exercise in vanity, if that's what you feel you need to do, then you best start writing a blog (please note, I am a blogger, before anyone decides to start throwing insults). My diary is myself laid bare, it's never going to play for laughs, dress things up or be used to get a reaction. It's not going to be record of recipes, haircuts or outfits either, unless, they happen to be particularly bad and I have no idea if it will be a record of sexual conquests, career achievements or ridiculously bad faux pas. It may be a record of insane highs and desperate lows or it maybe just the thoughts and feelings of a mad but sometimes sane man? I have no idea. A diary allows you to ramble, the only editor you have is yourself.
I did a search of famous diarists and Wikipedia has a comprehensive list, from Pepys to Warhol to the Marquis de Sade and to Anne Frank and back again. A diary can be used to tell the tale of an era in history that would never have been recorded otherwise. It can be used to tell the secrets of superstars and all the glitter that surrounds them or it can be used to show the depravity and inhumanity of and against a race of people. Sometimes a diary can be fictional and yet a whole swathe of the female population will buy into it or it will speak to every schoolboy aged 13 3/4.
Call girls, politicians, newspaper editors and rock stars have all at sometime sat down, opened the page and wrote about what was important that day. At the time, it may have only been important to them but their diary somehow ended up being published and now it's important to you and I, which just goes to prove Mae West's point (whatever it was).
"Keep a diary and someday it'll keep you."