Writing my Diary

“For now, feeling as though my own brain were unhinged or as if the shock had come which must end in its undoing, I turn to my diary for repose. The habit of entering accurately must help to soothe me.”

Excerpt From: Bram Stoker. “Dracula.”

The distinct moment I began to write a diary is hardened upon my memory. I was fourteen years of age in Fourth Form at boarding school, St. Andrew’s College in Aurora, Ontario. My parents and only sibling were several thousands of miles away in Stockholm, Sweden where my father had been commissioned as Attaché to the Canadian Embassy. As Her Majesty had earlier that summer generously paid to ship our entire family from Montréal, Quebec to Le Havre, France by first class service on the S.S. Arcadia I did not return home for Christmas that year but instead visited my maternal grandparents in Northeastern Ontario in the small, remote Town of Mattawa at the confluence of the Mattawa and Ottawa Rivers.

To this day my mother regularly expresses remorse that I will not be home for Christmas (a tradition which in later life I chose to forgo in favour of capitalizing upon the slow business season for a brief southern vacation).  I believe (without having any proof of the speculation) that my mother was deeply hurt by having to leave me at St. Andrew’s College.  I doubt that she knew then that I would never return home.  My subsequent studies at undergraduate university (Glendon Hall) and law school (Dalhousie University) would ensure my perpetual separation from family.

It was the occasion of my first absence from my family that Christmas that I began to write a diary.  My sister had given me as a Christmas gift a small but inordinately thick diary measuring about 4″ X 5″ bound in padded dark green plastic embossed with gold lettering, containing blank, lined pages. While the size of the diary made it preposterous for writing, it was nonetheless convenient for storage and transportation both of which elements were material upon my first Christmas away from home when I visited my grandparents and subsequently went even further north to the Township of Metachewan to visit the parents and grandparents of long-standing family friends from Don Mills, Ontario.

I recall that I immediately took to the custom of writing my diary.  To this day I cannot fathom the psychological motive for this so-called literary or historical bent but I know without hesitation that it was (and continues to be) an instinctive predilection, akin to the artistic manifestation of playing the piano. Although I always wrote as though for a reader, I never imagined its publication nor any audience other than myself.  Mine was a private expression destined for my amusement only. It broadly reflects upon my hesitancy to be a team player, preferring instead self-expression (though whether the product of excessive competitiveness or none at all I am yet uncertain). The contents of my diary were, even if not insightful, at least honest and perhaps as a result tiresome and bland. It is equally probable that, being as I was in a constant corporate environment of roommates (which continued through boarding school, undergraduate residence, as a Don at Devonshire House, University of Toronto and later in law school),  I likely cultivated the precaution of writing reservedly about what had transpired daily.  I know that at times I wrote in code to avoid being blatant about what I considered highly private though memorable instances, such as are the exploits, awakenings and discoveries of any youth. Were the record to include a chronicle of what others had done or said, I made certain not to identify the source. To say there was anything lascivious, prurient or criminal about the narratives was impossible; at best there may occasionally have been a laughable attempt at romantic poetry but otherwise the accounts were strictly prosaic.

Until I retired from the practice of law in 2014, and before I had then conducted a huge process of downsizing and discarding of superfluous possessions of every description, I harboured all the personal diaries I had written since the age of fourteen years.  The writing continued unabated on a nearly daily basis through boarding school, university, law school and roughly 40 years of the practice of law in Almonte. But when I retired all those sentimental texts went to the garbage heap. I had no hesitation doing so whatsoever. I knew that the value of the records was its performance not its substance.  I couldn’t imagine that anyone might delight in reading my diaries. They even bored me except to the extent that one chortles upon seeing an old photograph and I had long ago given up re-reading them. The unglamorous account of one’s life can be quite diminishing!

Lest it appear that this destructive event meant a discontinuance of my personal diaries, I should clarify that I had promoted the vernacular from handwritten or typewritten text and computer generated files to the more modern web-based blog which in turn was magnified to include a personal web site complete with domain name and yearly web hosting fees. In July, 2011 I was honoured to be asked to contribute a weekly column to our local e-newspaper which initially caused me much concern as I had to learn to walk the line between personal account and public delivery. Though I have adapted to the communal forum, I continue to write my diary through my blog and web site. The upshot is that, in spite of the change of platform, I still write almost daily and the motivation is as undiluted today as it ever was.

I reiterate that long ago I abandoned any misguided opinion regarding the value of my diaries or any wistful longing for preservation of personal accounts. It would amount to sensational understatement to confess the mediocrity of my life. Besides there is already too much for people to read, not to mention that almost everyone I know has a blog or web site, each only moderately more scintillating than the cryptic and usually inane messages abounding on Twitter and Facebook. To achieve anything approaching the interest of an article in the New York Times or even a well-researched piece in a small urban publication is an ambition to which few shall succeed.

A frank admission of this sort would seem to imply that for most people writing a diary is a redundancy and that one would be better counselled to confine one’s comments if any to one’s health and the weather. And yet there persists that “soothing” product of the “repose” of writing a diary. The reiteration of detail bestows an odd fermentation upon one’s life. The gathering of the particles of activity can magically accomplish a compound of reality which might not otherwise have existed. Whether it is the folding of events one upon the other or their dissection which creates or reveals the product I do not know. Might the act of writing be likened to photography for example? Both are designed to achieve a construct distinct from that which is being viewed.

Shamefully I attest that part of the persuasion of writing my diary is, with the benefit of technology, the ability to create a near-perfect production, immaculately justified, incorporating media (sound and images), spell-checked and skilfully formatted. Perhaps it is nothing more than the modern castle in the air, an expiation for lack of sensible profession.