In 1963 when I was thirteen years old in my first year in boarding school at St. Andrew’s College outside Toronto I received from my sister (who lived with our parents in Stockholm, Sweden) a small, green plastic bound diary with a lock and key for a Christmas gift. I used it consistently and hauled it about with me for quite some time before I abandoned it for a larger writing format. When I began studying and practicing law I initially wrote by hand with a fountain pen in large hardback volumes with blank, lined pages; then graduated to smaller tomes of a similar nature. Eventually I began typing on blank pages which I housed in a custom-made leather bound three-ring binder with my name emboldened in gold lettering on the front. Finally just before retiring from the practice of law in 2014 I translated my ramblings to the internet, initially a Google blog then this more private web site (which I had intended for use if I pursued my election and career as a municipal councillor). When I retired all the historic handwritten and typed diaries were sent to the shredder with the mass of old files inherited by me from my predecessor R. A. Jamieson QC. What remains as a written account of my life is captured in my blogs and this web site.
I don’t for a minute presume or expect that my diaries are of any consequence. Although I occasionally amuse myself to re-read some of the entries, it is unquestionably the initial performance – the writing of the details – which captures the true merit of these editions; namely, the cathartic effect upon me. Between writing a letter to The Times or scribbling something about one’s past, both are primarily entertainment. I like to count writing among my other amateur hobbies like piano and photography – though I confess that does little to elevate their dignity.
Dear me, my wound’s going to trouble me to-night.”
“What do you do for it, Major?” asked Puffin.
“Do for it? Think of old times a bit over my diaries.”
“Going to let the world have a look at them some day?” asked Puffin.
“No, sir, I am not,” said Major Flint. “Perhaps a hundred years hence—the date I have named in my will for their publication—someone may think them not so uninteresting. But all this toasting and buttering and grilling and frying your friends, and serving them up hot for all the old cats at a tea-table to mew over—Pah!”
E. F. Benson, Miss Mapp
With the exception of the diaries of German-born and Holocaust victim Anne Frank and famous people my experience is that diaries are generally tarsome to an Olympic degree. To those who write diaries the last thing on their mind is history; rather the motivation is normally either an obsession with particularity or – as in my case – an attempt at personal expression to slow down the passage of events long enough to reckon their detail. Admittedly that’s not a very helpful explanation but I can think of no better one.
As persecutions of the Jewish population increased in July 1942, the Franks went into hiding in some concealed rooms behind a bookcase in the building where Anne’s father, Otto Frank, worked. From then until the family’s arrest by the Gestapo in August 1944, she kept a diary she had received as a birthday present, and wrote in it regularly. Following their arrest, the Franks were transported to concentration camps. In October or November 1944, Anne and her sister, Margot, were transferred from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where they died (probably of typhus) a few months later.
As a purely literary exercise the diary is evidence that the most prosaic activity is of moderate scrutiny to others. Like the dogs of Buckingham Palace we inhabitants of our singular platforms regularly assume that everything we do is either normal or just plain mundane. We haven’t any expectation that one’s daily undertakings – and the resulting tribulations – are remotely intriguing. Commonality at least has the attraction of being normally comprehensible. Assuming one isn’t going on about a meeting with the Governor General or the Prime Minister, it is fairly certain that the absorption surrounds everyday information which is nonetheless peculiar to one’s own experience.
Diaries – like window dressings and interior decoration – reflect the changeable and sometimes serendipitous ingredients of society and are therefore of interest to the purely curious mind. It does however require the elapse of time before such matters are especially pertinent. Otherwise the prospect of reading someone’s diary is forbidding. Getting to a level of excitement in a diary presumes the author had the narrative courtesy to add the necessary refinements. This at best is an inductive leap. In my own instance for example I routinely avoid intimate details or at the very least cloud them in putative philosophy or poetic dilution; and most certainly I do not mention co-conspirators by name.
There are those who seek to purify their contribution to society by writing and publishing what are considered either historic renditions or in-depth analyses of arcane subjects. Behind those veneers it is rarely possible to discern the competing visceral expressions which always attend such erudition. But like any other account – whether touted as either personal, fact or fiction – there is invariably disclosure of private appetites and biases.
Some fashion a diary as the last post of their earthly obligations. This regrettably is an ambition which – unless aided by a ghost writer – usually fades into the sunset. The attraction – and the customary avoidance of it – are typical. The adages about “write what you know” and “Just do it” are well known but equally disregarded imperatives. This doesn’t mean that for me there is anything approaching duty to perform my daily articulations. For me writing is unquestionably both a release and a nod to custom. Nor does it diminish the allure to recall that when all else fails there may still remain the latitude to write. This – along with tricycles and diapers – is perhaps a consideration not entirely irrelevant to aging.
As evidence of the trifling significance of my daily events I am intent upon recording that a recently as last evening I deleted from my iPhone all useless Apps – predominantly those called “social media” which I translate from my limited experience to include largely childish or commercial activity. Among these I include Facebook, Tik Tok, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr, all of which I have tried in order to satisfy my righteous fear of being left behind in the unfolding universe of technology. Yet just as I have altered my writing formats from the archaistic modes of pen and paper to the computer and internet, nothing much has changed.