Tag Archives: John Cheever Envy

Dear Diary: A Note

Zadie Smith has a post up at Rookie Mag about her inability to keep a diary.

A bit later I tried again, this time concentrating only on school, like a Judy Blume character, detailing playground incidents and friendship drama, but I was never able to block from my mind a possible audience, and this ruined it for me: It felt like homework. I was always trying to frame things to my advantage in case so-and-so at school picked it up and showed it to everybody. The dishonesty of diary writing — this voice you put on for supposedly no one but yourself — I found that idea so depressing. I feel that life has too much artifice in it anyway without making a pretty pattern of your own most intimate thoughts. Or maybe it’s the other way ’round: Some people are able to write frankly, simply, of how they feel, whereas I can’t stop myself turning it into a pretty pattern.

The same childish questions get to me. Who is it for? What is this voice? Who am I trying to kid — myself?

I realize I don’t want any record of my days. I have the kind of brain that erases everything that passes, almost immediately, like that dustpan-and-brush dog in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland sweeping up the path as he progresses along it. I never know what I was doing on what date, or how old I was when this or that happened — and I like it that way.

At the end of the post, Smith says that the closest artifact she has to a diary is her email account.

As I read, I found myself agreeing with escalating intensity. I’ve never been able to keep a diary for longer than a day, but I’ve always felt that a diary, or a semi-disciplined journal at least, is simply something I should do. (Cheever did it despite pickling himself for decades!)

The difficulty of figuring out who the diary is written for is a pertinent question, one which reminds me of the predicament of blogging (or at least, my predicament of blogging). Of course, many early blogs functioned like diaries with daily entries about what went down. But a traditional private diary is a kind of talking to oneself, as opposed to the potential void of everyone/no one that the internet generously provides. One problem I have with blogging, such as it is, is that I can’t quite ascertain my audience. There’s no context for it. Or more precisely, a good blog creates its own context by virtue of the subjects it cites, the links it includes, and the regularity of its appearance. It both gloms on to some pre-existing context and creates its own.

But without this pegging — if your blogger infrequently updates the site with no real throughline in subject matter, if the only common element in all of the disparate posts is that they were written by the same person — then what do you have? A bad blog? A blog that can’t get its act together?

Which could be one reason why I’m essentially trying to fortify my blog posts into brief stand-alone essays. Or “notes.” With a lack of constructed context, the lack of an ongoing entertainment enterprise, the posts (optimistically) have to be polished enough to make some sort of independent sense, and not to embarrass me overmuch, and to keep you coming back.