Diary Addiction

Zen Koan: Never did a strawberry taste so good

This entry is mostly a public version of my daily diary—diary keeping is a practice I always recommended to my writing students. Writing in a diary has been like the keel in my boat as I’ve been sailing from birth into the void. I’ve also thought of my entries as trail-blazing in case I ever wanted to retrace where I’ve been, which on occasion I have done, particularly when I’m writing about my 40+ years of teaching writing. Somewhat coincidentally, I began my diary addition about when I started teaching as a graduate student in the early 70s. 

I love when I meet someone who is also a diary addict. It’s like meeting someone with a weird sexual addiction (apologies for the metaphor—but this is a public version of a diary, one function of which is to write whatever springs to one’s mind). We get to explain to each other, and consequently, to ourselves how diary writing works. 

My life has mostly been a pleasant trip—sailing through the normal waves and occasional storms. At this stage of my life, I reflect often on how lucky I’ve been, the dominant phases marked by marrying Sarah, having our children, and choosing teaching as a profession (really, it chose me). The only serious storm was weathering Sarah’s early death. Writing was what helped me get through (as if I have gotten through) that phase. 

Writing is also the way in which I celebrate my pleasures. Although I have lost Sarah, I am in a particularly pleasurable phase of my life now. This latter phase of one’s life can be, in some sense, the result of what we have been working for in the younger and middle phases of our lives. This is the phase of reflection, when we can look back and remember where we’ve been. I love to remember or reread the many stories that have led to now. And now is what I fully embrace—this time of reflection, the somewhat contradictory purpose of which is to fully enjoy each moment as it slides by. 

I was talking about diary writing a few nights ago with a close, diary-writing friend. I think I described it like this: when I am writing in a diary, I am talking to myself, the way, I suppose, most of us think when we lie awake at 2:30 in the morning. I throw my mostly uncensored self out on the page, and then there I am (as here I am) speaking back to me, creating a real speaking self who is other than me the way children talk to their imaginary friends. T.S. Eliot memorialized this (sort of) as an objective correlative. But there is in this addiction the reward of being able to reread, decades later, the stories that led to now.

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