I often have an anxious feeling when I reread the very vain and pretentious passages of my adolescent notebooks. I wonder why I scrutinised my male high school crushes with their burgeoning facial hair and broadening shoulders so obsessively. I wonder why certain events are sidelined – on the day I came out to my family, why did I decide to write about ‘gay anthems’ and not about that momentous experience?
In another entry, written sometime when I was seventeen, I opened with ‘I feel shut in’ but quickly moved on to discuss the imagery of eggs in one of Anne Sexton’s poems that I’d recently read. Why did the sparse words of Sexton’s poetry eclipse my inner introspection that afternoon? Was it because I saw eggs as a sort of metaphor for my own fragile mindset, scared that divulging more about my sense of claustrophobia would make me ‘crack’?
Now, in the age of the overshare, the idea of keeping a physical notebook is largely considered by the wider culture as an antiquated option. We are instead encouraged to engage with our peers in the modes and means of social media, channelling our doubts, fears, successes, and failures through the internet, instead of through private, unexposed writing.
Our culture coaxes us to digitise – not physicalise – our inner thoughts and ruminations. It prioritises self-exposure and self-promotion, not the solipsistic indulgences of a journal.
But I still beg to differ. My hand may continue to cramp after a fourth page of ramblings in which I write about a magazine article rejection, an unfulfilling and transactional sexual encounter, and the ‘frustration’ I suffer as another straight friend asks why I am still single and not ‘matched’ to another boy, but I beg to differ.
What elevates the pleasure of keeping a journal today is our age’s preoccupation with over-exposing and digitally recording every aspect of our lives. Facebook affords us a place to record our academic, social, and working successes; Twitter is a sort of dumping ground for our ideas, thoughts, doubts, and networking; Instagram is the photo-album to record all aspects of our life and indulge in some cheeky narcissism.
Journalling is a solitary exercise. Social media provides us with a sense of connectedness and community approval; it gives us a place to disseminate news and views and receive validation for our achievements. I use Facebook as a place to share new pieces of published writing that my journal would be entirely apathetic to. This is what is edging out the currency of journal writing – people instead blog, post on Facebook, or (like me) share their bad op-ed articles.
But there is a part of me that wants to resist this ease, this availability of audience. I want channel my frustrations through a private space not mediated by technology.
For me, my journal is a small solipsistic bible. It is an account of who I am or who I want to be. I feel lost whenever it is too far from my side. Even when I go to work, uni or to the gym, I insist on carrying the slim volume of my brief recorded history with me. Perhaps it is because of my sense that a truer self is found between the bound crisp and clean pages than in any ‘public’ piece of writing I have published.
My recent trading in the economy of online op-ed pieces has compounded the importance of my journal. It’s deeply ironic that I have found many of the recent opinion pieces I’ve drafted to be the most inauthentic pieces of writing I’ve ever penned. For instance, last year I wrote an article about queer theory, firmly arguing that it should strive to be less esoteric and more democratic in its central ideas (it really shouldn’t). In another, I said Madonna was my ultimate diva idol (she isn’t).
But because websites loved trading in op-ed articles that offer contrarian opinions or controversial positions (clickbait for many of them), the pieces often become an artefact of the time, rather than an opinion from that author. I really don’t know why I wrote those pieces. I think it boils down to the belief that expressing an opinion contrary to my own would be an exercise in artifice that would challenge me as a writer – or as a diarist.
In my brief experience of trading in these pieces, when an article or op-ed I’ve written (mostly on the current trends in gay male culture) enters the interwebs it quickly becomes an alien work, condemned by vicious online trolls. My journal has thus increasingly become an important and necessary outlet. My unguarded and unedited introspective offerings are less about confessional exposure and more about solace.
There is something immeasurable about the satisfaction I get from writing and the realisation that my prose will not be distributed, is not and will never be public, and is at its most basic a collection of words and thoughts to understand my true feelings, writerly ambitions, and sexual identity.
Of course I am acutely aware of the irony in discussing the working habits of my diary writing here. Since diaries are mostly seen to be about privacy and secrecy, to discuss them so publicly and openly violates the diary’s cultural and epistemological status.
But the diary is my own modest amulet against the passage of time, as anyone familiar with the difficulties of writing online knows. Preserving some private and unpublished writing is increasingly becoming a necessary tool to cope in the digital age of sharing everything.