The Good/Bad Girl

“Only good girls keep diaries. Bad girls don’t have time.”

By the time I first heard that quote by Tallulah Bankhead I was already a seasoned diary writer.

I instantly related to it and for a long time felt torn between being a bad girl – living my life to the full – and being a good girl – religiously documenting it.

I started keeping a diary when I was about 15 years old and I have never stopped. I’ve never thought it was weird. Some people photograph everything in their life, I write a diary.

I have written in longhand in exercise books, on loose A4 sheets of ruled paper, in quaint travel diaries. In 1995 I realised that typing was quicker than handwriting, so my diary became a series of documents on my computer, but I still kept hard copy diaries when I travelled until I bought my iPad in 2010.

I write a lot. When I wrote in standard A4 or A5 diaries I would have to tape extra paper onto each page as there was never enough room for what I had to say.  To give you an idea, my 2012 diary is just over 135,000 words long.

I know. That’s a lot of words.

handwritten diary fragmentscreen grab of diary fragment

Mind you, my 2012 diary is not quite finished. In fact, all of my diaries from 2006 onwards are unfinished. It’s the whole good girl/bad girl dilemma: when my life is at its most interesting is exactly when I don’t have the time to write about it.

When this happens I take very short notes that I use as prompts and I go back later and fill them in. I can only remember one time in my life that I was actually up to date in my diary. It lasted about three days and then I started falling behind again.

handwritten diary fragmentscreen grab of diary fragment

At times my diary comes in handy to remind me of events I’ve forgotten. In 2006 a young relative visited us from overseas. She had come to stay with us ten years earlier but while I remembered that she was very spoilt and difficult at that time, when my brother would refer to things that happened in 1996 I had absolutely no recollection of them. I looked up the period of her stay in my diary and amazingly found detailed anecdotes of events that I was part of but had zero memory of. It was like reading a story about someone else. The events had been so traumatic that I’d wiped my mind clean of them, but my diary was still there with all the gory details.

Having said that, I’ve discovered that my diary is neither a comprehensive nor precise substitute for my memory. There have been times when friends and I have referred to it as the bible of our shared history to clarify an event in our past only to find that my diary does not capture the detail we were looking for. This has been disappointing some times and heartbreaking at other times. When my father died I raced to open my diary and read what I’d written about him the last time I’d seen him, only to find I had barely mentioned him.

handwritten diary fragmentscreen grab of diary fragment

Why do I keep a diary? Because it complements my memory. Because, as a writer, I know it’s an invaluable source of material, a goldmine of stories. And, perhaps most importantly, because it helps me to understand and make sense of myself and my life.

I can’t imagine not keeping a diary. Even though I’m now documenting (and sharing) aspects of my life through Twitter, this blog and even pinning ideas and opinions on Pinterest, there are still things that I only write about for me.

As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve learnt to relax and not mind so much about falling behind in my diary. I’m finally more comfortable with being a good bad girl.

Multiple handwritten diaries

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5 thoughts on “The Good/Bad Girl

  1. Oh I so relate to this … I started keeping deeply detailed diaries as a teenager – till other people began reading them ( yes the diaries were hard copy and hidden ) and then using that information against me!

    • One sentence????? Wow. I admire your restraint! Something for me to aspire to, perhaps, though I’d probably make it a really really long sentence!

  2. Great post on the power of the diary! Whether lots of scribblings, too much typing or even just one sentence –all ends up capturing the nitty-gritty of life that can be tapped into for different reasons (check facts, write more). Now where is my bundle of post-it notes…

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