Tuesday, November 28, 2006

On Diaries and Diarists

Been meaning to muse on this Elgin Street Irregulars post for a while now.

I quote liberally, and hope the Coyote doesn't mind:

...many, if not all, [journals and diaries] seem to be written in a spirit of self-exploration. Stated bluntly, diarists flow most when issues abrade 'em, and ebb again when things smooth out. Human nature. The sincerer sort of diaries and journals are attempts to work out that most vexing of problems -- "What the f*** makes me tick? How do I fit into all of this?!".
I've kept a journal off and on since I was about 15. It's been obsessive at times. My entries during library school were pages and pages of 10 point type. I have a mouldering suitcase full of notebooks that I'm too embarrassed to open.

All along, even though I was careful to hide the notebooks and .doc files, I was always writing for an audience. When becoming a Famous Writer seemed reasonable as a career goal, it was for my biographers. Then it was for my future self. Every once in a while, I'd go back over the past year or so (any further back is just too too embarrassing) and see what I'd been thinking and doing. Occasionally, this prevented me from repeating patterns. Leastaways, it sometimes let me know I was doing that again.

Part of me always wanted to have the journals found: the part that felt like maybe some of my best, most truthful writing got done when no one was watching. The excessive part of me that desperately wants to flay herself open and have strangers reverently pick her bones.

You'd think I'd have fallen on this blogging business like a fly on shit.

Blogging was, however, something I came to gradually. I heard rumours about this new-fangled trend a few years ago and was immediately dismissive. Exhibitionists, I thought; self-serving, I thought; a goddamn tentacle of 15-minute celebrity culture, I thought. Who fucking cares, I thought.

And then I happened upon Jennifer's blog. And got hooked. I loved the small stories about her neighbourhood, her friends. Since we live in the same 'hood and know lots of the same people, it was kinda like getting to see my life from someone else's eyes. But she's also a great writer with a keen eye for a good narrative, even if it's only a couple paragraphs long.

It made me realize that blogs could be art.

So I started, just to see where it would go. Unsurprisingly, it went pretty personal. In almost all my writing, I seem to gravitate to subjects that expose me, sometimes quite painfully. But therapeutically. I justify this to myself by believing that we need to hear each others' stories. We need to know that other people experience what we experience. I am not a beautiful and unique snowflake.

In the past few months, I've seen two of my favourite blogs close up shop: Not Well Planned, Matildazine. 5th Muse, the Elgin Street Irregulars' initial raison d'etre, has shut down as well. Jennifer and Musie cite happiness, or at least contentment, as the main reason.

Do I keep writing because I'm not happy? I have a pretty sweet life. A great apartment, the best friends ever, a lovely beau, a good job, a nice cat. But I'm still vexed at a more fundamental level. I still don't quite understand how I fit into all of this. I'm still fascinated by my own life, by trying to figure out what the key moments were and how they set me down here in Ottawa, mostly happy. It's likely a fascination that makes me a self-serving narcissistic tentacle of the celebrity machine.

But hopefully a sincere one.


coyote said...

Or maybe you're a writer, compelled to write for all of those internal reasons that writers have. Some people just are.

And thank you, ma'am. Don't mind at all if you quote me...

Asteroidea Press said...

Glad you don't mind, Coyote. It's been simmering in my head for a while now.

Maybe I'm a writer. I don't know. It's not a label I've ever been completely comfortable with. Seems too rarefied for what I manage to hack out. Or too much pressure?

This venue certainly gives me an audience I wouldn't have otherwise. But many people don't consider blogs real writing, I don't think. So I can be a little sloppy here and figure that people will be pretty easy about it.

How blogging fits into my writing; how it's changed me; and the nature of the blogging community are all things that are currently vexing me. Maybe you ESIs need to have a meeting and come up with something entertaining to counterpoint my eventual blather.

coyote said...

Well, then. If you don't think you're a writer, here, go with what others say. How 'bout I call you one? Sometimes all it takes is permission from someone else. Comfortable with that?

You raise interesting vexes. But 'writing' has a lot of purposes, and forms for most of them. ("I imagine only obsessive-compulsives write their grocery lists in perfect quatrains, because cryptic jots fit that form very well", the talking dog says facetiously...)

Blogging is by nature a bit sloppy, so looseness fits the form. But any kind of self-expository writing process has the potential to change the one doing it, whatever the form. It's all valid, I think. For you, blogging is only part of a much richer picture, isn't it? 'fraid I can't speak to the nature of the blogging community, not knowing what you mean by that statement.

I'm glad you find the Irregulars entertaining -- so do we -- but there's a lot of blather there, too. In fact, blather is the most entertaining part. Self-indulgent, I know, but it's really all about us...

Asteroidea Press said...

Funny you not knowing what the blogging community is, since I've been following your posts over on ESIs regularly, and feel like I have a sense of who you are, or at least how part of you wants to be perceived. And if you've read even a couple of posts here, you've probably got a reasonable sense of who I am. I can follow what's going on in Aggie's life or SooZoom's life the way I would get family gossip from my sister. David Scrimshaw would never have gotten glow-in-the-dark robot buttons from me without blogs.

Multiply that by all the people I know through blogging. And who you know through blogging. Were all you ESIs friends before the blog started? Are you better friends now? Different friends? Think of new live relationships, new e-relationships, or old acquaintances that have developed into something different because we're all putting our words out there. That's community, no?

And then there's blog-brain. You start blogging, you start automatically looking for discrete chunks of experience that can be turned into something amusing for the people fool enough to follow your life. I *know* I'm not the only person who does that. There's a community of us.

Something richer? I don't know. Since I've started blogging I've been more confident about my writing as a whole, and more willing to experiment. It's been good for me. And to me. I haven't finished a poem in ages, but I've been doing more writing than at any other point in my life. And enjoying myself creatively.

Though maybe that has something to do with rising up out of the ashes of a relationship that took a lot of my energy. Hard to tell.

Blather, blather...

coyote said...

I see what you mean about the existence of 'the community' -- I felt unclear on your perception of its nature. I tend to stick to a fairly small corner of it myself, and was curious about what you thought.

Yes, the Irregulars knew each other before we ever labelled ourselves that, and yes, things differ from when we started. As for your 'blog-brain', there have been times when we have spent way too much time dreaming up posts. We're not the only ones fool enough to read the blog, but we write mainly for our selves. And we like to laugh a lot, although there's a serious side too.

Your second-last para in the previous comment, although you qualify it with that self-deprecating 'I don't know ', describes a pretty rich-sounding process. Why qualify it at all? It sounds good. Sure you know. Poems may go unfinished just now, but poetry often comes in spurts. It'll come again when its ready. Always does. For the moment, other forms satisfy other needs, no? Part of being the well-rounded, compleat angler...

zoom! said...

I love this post. It captures exactly my feelings about my journals. I have a collection of notebooks going intermittently back to my teens.

Like you, I occasionally read the newer ones, going back a year or two, and they provide me with much useful information and insight. Like you, I don't read the old ones because they're so embarassing. I can't bear to read them, I can't bear the thought of anyone else reading them, and I can't bear to throw them away. (I keep mine in a suitcase too.)

I seem to have stopped journaling since I started blogging, which is unfortunate because they're not the same thing at all.

I agree completely with you about the community of bloggers, and about how blogging subtly changes the way we perceive and experience our everyday lives. The blogger always has one eye open for the bloggable.

Asteroidea Press said...

Too true, too true.

When Jennifer was blogging, occasionally something would happen and we'd turn to each other and say "You've got to blog that," or "I call that one."

It's not so different from what I did before. I think people with a bent towards writing are always writing in their heads anyway.

In some ways, I wonder if for many writer the need to set things down develops out of shyness. If you're busy mentally recording what's happening, it gives you an excuse to not launch yourself into the middle of it. I sometimes wonder how much good feeling I've missed because I've been busy thinking how what's happening might feel in a poem or post or blurb or whatever.

Why do you think you can't get rid of the journals if you can't read them, either? I've never been able to figure that out for myself.

Coyote - it comes across that you write mainly for yourselves. I think that's part of the attraction for us outsiders. At least for me. It's a non-creepy kind of voyeurism.

Though you ESIs *are* making Dwarfie bear the brunt of it these days, eh? I do hope he doesn't get a citation.

coyote said...

Too late. He's been busted already, ma'am.