One recent evening while undertaking my nightly habit of channel flicking, two thirds of myself rather than a more optimistic half being sure that I would find nothing worth investing more than a passing acknowledgement and shrug of the shoulders in, I stumbled across a rather interesting programme on BBC Four entitled Dear Diary. Within minutes I was simultaneously engrossed and proved wrong in my dismissal of an average Monday night’s televisual output. The three part series sought to explore matters including what makes a good diary (and indeed, a good diarist), why diaries are so important the people who write them and, perhaps the most intriguing point of all, what we can take from reading diaries (of course, that is the published variety – I don’t think you could take much from rifling sneakily through another’s secret scribbling other than a major dent in your conscience).
I admit to being fascinated with diaries as a form for a number of reasons. The diaries of famous historical and literary figures are rewarding on many levels; they quench voyeuristic thirsts, reveal the first sparks of creative inspiration and open up veritable time portals into the public and private past. While the aspect of immortality – and thus leaving an indelible ink stain on the world – that comes from keeping a diary is appealing to anyone’s sense of vanity, I believe the most worth anyone can get from maintaining their own journal comes via its offering of entirely personal, won’t-cost-you-a-penny therapy. Where else can you be as brutally honest as you dare or come across as self-absorbed without having to worry about being seen as utterly egotistical? Venting using the tools of pad and paper is not only socially preferable to smashing your fist against the nearest inanimate object and/or bursting into uncontrollable tears, it’s pretty damn good for your soul. As a therapeutic tool diaries can be especially useful, being ongoing and allowing us to retrace our steps when needs be. In short, they enable us to look back at segments of our lives and learn more about ourselves through ourselves (even if it is only to realise how utterly misguided and completely cringey you sounded as a teenager).
I’ve chosen this particular poem by Thomas Hardy as I think it relates well to the subject – a diary can be very much like a mirror, reflecting us and perhaps reflecting back more than we realise if we care to revisit. In times afterwards, they do produce ‘moments of vision’, letting us in on secrets about ourselves that at the time we might not have consciously considered. It really does make us transparent. The most interesting question is once it has caught all of our thoughts, onto what else will the ‘mirror’ be reflected?
Moments of Vision
Which makes of men a transparency,
Who holds that mirror
And bids us such a breast-bare spectacle see
Of you and me?
Whose magic penetrates like a dart,
Who lifts that mirror
And throws our mind back on us, and our heart,
until we start?
Works well in these night hours of ache;
Why in that mirror
Are tincts we never see ourselves once take
When the world is awake?
Can test each mortal when unaware;
Yea, that strange mirror
May catch his last thoughts, whole life foul or fair,
Glassing it — where?
Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)