I’ve kept a regular journal since I was twelve years old. Does this mean that I was destined to be a writer, or that I had no social life? Both, probably. It’s true that as a teenager I often felt I was doing things in order to write about them afterward. Skipping school. Kissing a boy at a party. Drinking until I puked. I did these things not habitually but systematically, in order to check them off my list.
I don’t mean “list” metaphorically here, either. Besides the diary I had a little box, decorated with Smurf stickers, across which I’d written the words “Time Capsule.” Inside were notes I wrote to myself, masking-taped into band-aid-sized parcels and marked with “Do not open until age 16” (or 18, or 22—you get the idea). Each note contained a brief list of things I’d hoped to have done by the target age. “Know what career you want.” “Driver’s license.” “Got an orange kitten and named it Marmalade.” “Speak French fluently, and have eaten escargots.”
When I went away to university, the Time Capsule went into a box with other childhood doodads, and by the time I rediscovered it, I was so old that all the notes were fair game. How minor the so-called accomplishments appear to my adult eyes, now, and how many of them have to do with sex! It doesn’t matter, in retrospect, exactly when each thing actually took place in my life, or even if it took place at all. I never did get that orange kitten, but only because by the time I had my own place I didn’t want one anymore.
There’s something a bit sad about the Time Capsule, and the obsessive journaling, too. I’m not actually big on going back and reading about years past: I find it depressing how uptight I was, how worried about things that have since passed without incident. And I can’t help but wonder if some living is lost in all the writing about it.
And yet: there’s nothing more soothing to me, at the end of a busy day, than curling up in bed with a pen and spilling my guts onto the page. If I write that I’m pissed off at so-and-so, I close the diary feeling a little less pissed off. If I’m worried about something, writing it down allows me to let go of some of the anxiety. As I fill the page in my book, the page in my brain becomes blissfully blank.
Fine, but this doesn’t mean I’m quite ready to recycle the result. Some part of me still clings to the hope that when I’m famous, this pile of diaries will make me rich!