Saying good-bye to my five-lines-a-day diaries

I recently skimmed two five-line-a-day diaries I kept; one spanned the years 2002-2012 and the other 2019-2023.

Because I love reading diaries and journals, and I have an obsesso need to document my life for some reason, I tried to make a go of them. Certainly, if I were to find someone else’s diary at a yard sale, I’d snatch it up and read every word. The thrill of eavesdropping on someone else’s life events, and thoughts, just tickles me.

But in skimming these two books, all I wanted to do was throw them away and not see them again. And to ask myself: why on earth would I want to keep them?

When I started keeping these five-liner diaries, I remember wanting to emulate the style of Pepys’ diary: did this, saw that, talked to so-and-so, thought this singer was great, and that play was rubbish.

One thing that worked against me was inconsistency: I started the new year strong, recording a few lines daily, then faded out, coming back for a week or two more, then fading out. A radio signal cresting and dying.

My first thought when I brought these diaries over from the old house was that I’d digitize the pages and keep them in Evernote or on my MacBook, so that I had a record of all those times.

As I thumbed through them, a few passages caught my attention: the days leading up to the passing of Liz’s mother, our growing embrace of the people who joined the Bull City Commons cohousing community, records of the many BCC meetings and decisions, stray things friends said.

This passage from May 8, 2021, a year and a half into the pandemic: “Our first ‘day out’ in over a year. To Beer Durham and sat outside on a beautiful, sunny, breezy day and enjoyed our beer and cider. ‘We must always remember this day!’ Liz said, several times. So good to see her happy, Great sandwiches from the food court. Watched ‘In and Of Itself’ on Hulu.” (I kept a running list of all the movies we saw in both books.)

This one from January 30, 2019: “Tom said that in graduate school, he accepted that he was not in control of his schedule and that’s ruled his life ever since. I’m believing it myself this week.”

A few times, the real world broke in: big snow or hurricane events, Trump’s election, the January 6 insurrection.

But the majority of the passages were of the bland and samey “Went to work, wrote report, met with X to plan video” or “Slept late” or whining about the hours of yard work I did (I hate doing yard work) and my losing battles with the bamboo and carpenter bees.

Then there were lots of depressing passages that droned on for weeks or months: my retinal detachment and the long recovery, the year I was out of work and my fruitless rounds of interviews, the hell-year of my Ph.D. and its long aftermath. Tell me again why I wanted to re-read this stuff? Why was I putting myself through this??

It did not take long for me to realize: I don’t want to spend any time at all digitizing or saving these handwritten logs. I don’t want to relive those days. Leave that baggage behind. Don’t carry it into the future.

So, no more keeping a daily log – at least in that fashion. For the past year or so, I have kept a daily note in Evernote that records my work activities for reporting purposes, personal events, phone calls, and also serves as a scratch pad for whatever is on my mind. I find I get along with this quite well. And when the time comes, no one has to worry about re-reading any of it or even throwing it in the trash. Just shut off the account and all the bits will go away.

Addendum: 2023-03-26: For the positive aspects of keeping a daily handwritten record, see Austin Kleon.

Michael E Brown @brownstudy