Not many people keep handwritten diaries anymore, but I do. I’ve kept diaries for as long as I can remember. I don’t know exactly what I’ll do with them in the future, but for now, they sit sleepily in drawers in my apartment and a chest at home in my parents’ house. I think it’s sort of wishful thinking in a way that someday, someone will want to read my diaries and someone somewhere will be intrigued or impressed or who knows what.
My favorite diaries are Virginia Woolf’s. They are so interesting and intriguing and I often long to be a fly on the wall in her Bloomsbury. Through her diaries, I can be. I often find inspiration for my own poems in her letters. The title poem of my manuscript comes from one of her diary entries. Now that I think about it, I own quite a few journals and collected letters of writers I admire such as, Sylvia Plath Emily and Charlotte Bronte and the great, Anais Nin. Sometimes essays also have that tinge of intimacy that journals entail. Some of my favorite essays are Carole Maso’s Break Every Rule¸ Jeanette Winterson’s Art Objects, and basically any of Marguerite Duras' books.
I like the feeling of being brought back in time through someone else’s thoughts; it’s quite different than reading someone’s novel or biography. It’s intimate and tender. I remember one of my favorite classes as an undergrad was on the Brontës and one of my favorite books we read was Elisabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë, which was the first biography ever written on Brontë. What I love about Gaskell’s book is that Gaskell herself was a famous writer and so we not only get Brontë through the eyes of another woman, but Brontë through the eyes of another Victorian woman writer. Through visiting Charlotte at the Parsonage in Haworth, Gaskell was privy to so much first hand information about not only Charlotte, but her siblings (living and deceased) :
"But now to return to our quiet hour of rest after dinner. I soon observed that her habits of order were such that she could not go on with the conversation, if a chair was out of its place; everything was arranged with delicate regularity. We talked over the old times of her childhood; of her elder sister's (Maria's) death, - just like that of Helena Burns in Jane Eyre; of those strange, starved days at school; of the desire (almost amounting to illness) of expressing herself in some way, - writing or drawing; of her weakened eyesight, which prevented her doing anything for two years, from the age of seventeen to nineteen; of her being a governess; of her going to Brussels; whereupon I said I disliked Lucy Snowe, and we discussed M. Paul Emanuel; and I told her of ----'s admiration of Shirley, which pleased her; for the character of Shirley was meant for her sister Emily, about whom she is never tired of talking, nor I of listening. Emily must have been a remnant of the Titans, - great-grand-daughter of the giants who used to inhabit earth. One day, Miss Brontë brought down a rough, common-looking oil-painting, done by her brother, of herself, - a little, rather prim-looking girl of eighteen, - and the two other sisters, girls of sixteen and fourteen, with cropped hair, and sad, dreamy-looking eyes. . . . Emily had a great dog - half mastiff, half bull-dog - so savage, etc. . . . This dog went to her funeral, walking side by side with her father; and then, to the day of its death, it slept at her room door; snuffing under it, and whining every morning. We have generally had another walk before tea, which is at six; at half-past eight, prayers; and by nine, all the household are in bed, except ourselves. We sit up together till ten, or past; and after I go, I hear Miss Brontë comedown and walk up and down the room for an hour or so." (Gaskell, Chapter 29)
Here, if you're a Brontë fan or not, the details are still so interesting. If you haven’t read Jane Eyre, you’ve surely heard of it, or seen one of the many movie adaptations. (You should know that Meryl Streep, in last night’s Golden Globe acceptance speech for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama did give a shout-out to Mia Wasikowska’s performance in the 2011 remake of Jane Eyre- which I thought was pretty fantastic).
I’ve always found it so intriguing that the Charlotte and Emily Bronte had two sisters (Maria and Elizabeth) who died early on, a brother (Branwell) who died of Tuberculosis like so many of his time, but was also quite the alcoholic, and a little sister, Anne, who barely anyone ever talks about. Her novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is one of the most powerful and feminist novels I’ve ever read, and if you thought that Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights were impressive, try Tenant. Here, in this except from Gaskell’s letters, you get a glimpse of life and death at the Parsonage. When I first read that Emily Bronte had a mastiff, it was like discovering a small little path on a treasure map, because I immediately thought of the other Emily (Dickinson) and her love for Mastiffs. It’s hard to not feel close to another person when you are privy to their letters and diaries.
So, today, I’m left thinking why people keep diaries as I know tonight, before I go to sleep, I’m going to write about this guest-blogging experience. I wonder why it is I’m one of the few people I know who actually keeps a diary. I’m obviously a huge supporter of the internet and especially of the blog as I have quite a few blogs, and tumblrs.
I remember when the blog first surfaced. Originally, people were using them like an online diary and it was revolutionary in the way that suddenly people felt inspired in their lives. I was all for it, but I prefer the actual page (which could be tomorrow’s posting) People realized that they had something to say and wanted to share it with whoever was interested and online. I think more people should keep blogs – after all, you are adding to a literary continuum, a electronic time capsule, if you will. (Isn’t that somewhat thrilling?)
Our lives in 2012 are so public, especially if you are on Facebook or Twitter, like I am. Yes, of course there’s privacy, but so many people don’t know how to use those settings. In all honesty, if you are my Facebook friend, chances are you know more about me than I’d like to admit, so I wonder why I even both keeping a diary. My poems alone are often revealing, which sure, is my own prerogative, but I’ll be the first to admit that I wear my heart on my sleeve.
In Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion, one of her most famous lines might solve the puzzle I’m trying to solve: here, “what you risk reveals what you value” (43).
Writing in any form is a risk. We take risks every day. You are revealing some part of you whether you want to admit it or not. Frankly, you may not even know what it is you are revealing, but you are baring some part of you on one level or another. Actually, it’s kind of a beautiful thing.