BFB #5: Please Read My Diary
by Michele Dale
I understand why people write about this age or this precipice so often—there’s a lot to say.
When I was little I had an entire drawer full of empty notebooks. I had one shaped like a butterfly (impractical), a few from the MoMA and the Met (serious), and some that didn’t have any lines at all (I don’t draw). I collected so many notebooks and accessories—elaborate pens, pencils, art sets—that my mom dubbed the drawer “the Staples center.” It still exists today.
Each time I bought a new notebook the same thing would happen: I would write in it for about a day, maybe two, and then promptly forget I ever had one.
I remember one time, I was ten, and I found an entry I had written when I was eight. I had carefully transcribed the juicy third-grade drama I had witnessed that day, drama I had completely forgotten about as a sophisticated fifth-grader, and was earnestly rereading it. I liked reliving what already happened, remembering how I felt. It was that day that I recommitted myself to keeping a journal and it was a week later that I forgot all about it.
Like almost every other female, wannabe writer, it was Joan Didion who brought me back. In 11th grade we read On Keeping a Notebook in my English class and I was hooked. I’ve kept a journal off-and-on ever since, the contents of which I’ve decided to share with all of you.
I wonder how much longer he’s going to find my shoulder dancing amusing.
Didion, ever the master of language, wonderfully describes the freedom that writing gives you when discussing your own life. By writing it down you can slip in details that may or may not be true, and no one is ever the wiser. These are your memories, they way you want to see your own life. You can shape them to be what you want.
I ordered the cheapest sauvignon blanc they had. I must have said it with so much authority that they didn’t feel the need to card me.
I’ve certainly done that in some of my journal entries, or in more formal pieces I’ve written about my life or my experiences. I’ve added fun details, taken intimations of why something happened and turned them into fact. It can be hard to reconcile what actually happened with the story you tell yourself, and others, about what happened. Especially with sad experiences.
I watched him as he looked for me. Like a man on his wedding day: anxious, excited, but still wondering, “will she show up?”
It’s such a lie. It’s such a fucking lie.
In my most desperate moments I often turn to my journal to process and understand exactly what’s going on. Physically writing something down, as opposed to typing or yelling, takes a lot more time. Your hand can’t keep up with your brain. You have to be precise with what you say and it’s harder to word vomit all over a page. As a result, the story on the page ends up being a more polished version of what’s happening. You embed meaning in whatever situation you encounter.
My life is a beautifully empty question mark. It’s not too late for anything, if I wanted to be a doctor that could still happen. I don’t want to be a doctor.
Case in point, I think I wrote the above quote after failing a biology test and thinking about an ex. But, that’s not what I’m going to remember.
Something about being dunk-tank wet in your work clothes is amusing.
I write down my happiest moments too—those moments that already had so much meaning and too much raw emotion. They would’ve lived on in my memory but having them written down makes them concrete. I remember small details about my happiest days and recreate them in my mind. The day is remembered as the beautiful story I write down and I forget that I also had to wake up early that morning, go to class, and put up with the incessant obligations that come with life.
I remember the day well because a man with an upturned mustache poured me coffee that tasted like cigarettes and our knees touched under the small table while you laughed at me as I turned in an assignment late.
I appreciate more about my life by writing it down. Once you become a writer, which I am hesitant to even call myself, your perception of the world changes. I observe more, I analyze more. Truthfully, I think of the people in my life as characters in their own respect. I like to figure them out, recognize their own narrative. I draw lines between events and people and knit them into one fabulous story that becomes my life. I bask in the significance of small wonderments, like a mind-blowing Bossier submission, a hard-earned A, or a night in with friends, because I think about how I would write it, how I would tell the story.
It was one part of my life that was straight out of a movie. There was nothing in that scene that was real, it was all magic.
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about what living a meaningful life entails. We’re living in a precarious time. We inhabit a bubble of a campus that dictates rules I don’t know how to follow. We spend more time looking at our screens than at each other and I’ve encountered more personal problems in the past month than I have in the past 19 years. All I know is that writing has helped me with all of it and the stories I have to tell right now are some of my best.
I wonder what we’re all doing here.
Am I, in some ways am living a lie? I’m not sure, but I don’t think so. Joan Didion says, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” That is probably much closer to the truth.
Photo: Lana Nauphal