A couple of weeks ago The Guardian’s Do Something supplement had an article about keeping a diary as a ‘something to do’. Being a regular diary writer since 1978/79 I thought I would be safe reading the article without feeling guilty that I wasn’t doing whatever the article in question was about – usually physical exercises or impossible challenges or a whole bunch of other activities I have no chance of achieving. Diary writing, I thought, I can do this, I already do it and although the front cover had that all-time-great of diary keeping – Michael Palin who started his diaries, the article said, in 1969, and has been writing ever since – I felt comfortable with the comparison. I have 37 volumes as the photo right proves, well I suppose it doesn’t prove there’s any writing in them so you will have to take my word for that, but there they are. Maybe the question for this blog is has diary-keeping become more or less important to me since I retired. Good question, uncertain answer. I’ll see how my thoughts develop as I write this blog.Both Michael Palin and another diary writer, Tracey Thorn, talk about diaries in the context of helping a person be in control of their life. Michael writes, ‘diary keeping is often prescribed as a therapy for those with depression or those who feel their lives are somehow out of control.’ Tracey suggests that ‘it (diary writing) is a way of trying to assert control over events which can seem overwhelming. Diaries have been my way of making sense of things.’ If you are a regular reader of this blog you will know that I have been banging on about the importance to me of feeling that I am in control of my retirement life. I have always been a control freak and you can double that now I’m retired. I very much want to avoid a sense of everything having gone to hell in a handcart since I’ve retired. So my diary is my way of making sense of the sometimes massive jumble of thoughts in my head, getting these, often nasty, little thoughts out of my head and onto the page in front of me. I can almost hear them sighing as they tumble out – thank God we’re out of there, the guy’s a nutter. I close the diary and they go to sleep until I might need to revisit them at a more considered or better-balanced time. Diary writers, as Michael Palin suggests, use them as a form of therapy and that’s what works for me. I just cannot carry round all the crap that’s in my head, it has to go somewhere, hence my diary.
The writers in the article in The Guardian, also refer to the connection between a diary and a blog. The fact that I had kept a diary all these years and always found something, no matter to what degree it was unmitigated drivel, to write about each day, gave me the confidence I needed to start this blog. Particularly given I told myself, at the start of the blog, that it would be a very similar skill to writing a diary in that I was writing it for myself rather than an audience. It hasn’t quite turned out like that but that’s another story, but it’s similar particularly as I can read back through a week’s entries and revisit the little notes I have made about potential subjects for the week’s blog or even coming weeks’ blogs.
The diary writers in the article are at pains to point out that writing a blog is not like keeping a diary because if you think somebody is going to read your diary (or blog) it makes it much more difficult to write honestly. Rae Earl (another contributor) reckons that ‘blogs will never replace diaries. As soon as you know you’ve got an audience, it’s very hard to be honest, warts and all’. I think they have a point but, for me, that honesty doesn’t so much relate to my foibles and peccadilloes, I’m quite proud of them, but it does relate to my thoughts on the actions and behaviours of others. This week has been a great example, I can’t write, yet at least, about the events of this week because it could, not to put too fine a point on it, drop somebody in the shit, but I desperately need to write the events out of my head and hence into my very own private diary (as Peter Sellars might have said in a French accent in a Pink Panther film – substitute diary for moustache), because they are affecting me and Mrs Summerhouse very deeply. And as all the shit and drama was going I, and not for the first time since starting this blog, said to myself over and over, particularly in the middle of the night, well, at least it will make a good blog. But in this case I could not even comfort myself with these thoughts, so into the diary, for now at least, they go.
Is there a danger for me that, as Alan Bennett cautioned Michael Palin, ‘if you’re not careful you start living for the diary, rather than the other way round’? Do I do this? Certainly not in terms of the events this week. Overall I would say rarely, although as I think I have already confessed, I did go along to the WI centennial thinking well, it will probably be crap, but at least I might get a blog out of it. It was and I did. And maybe I’ve done one or two other things in this spirit, but only one or two and funnily enough, maybe no bad thing. Being encouraged, for whatever reason, to try different things in retirement – like the jazz workshops – is probably no bad thing although there have been quite a few times when the workshops have felt like a very bad thing.
But back to the topic of this blog, which broadly is something like, has diary keeping become more or less important to me since I have retired? I suppose the question behind the question is – do I need to do what I’ve already suggested a diary facilitates – keeping control, being more organised (having more structure) at least in your thinking if not your actions, using writing as a therapy, making sense of my life – more in retirement than I did when I was working? I think the answer is, yes, I probably do. Remove the structure that work provides, the self-esteem that a job well done provides, a sense of identity of who you are as a person, remove those and a number of other things I can’t think of right now, and a person needs some method of replacing all these important life ‘conditions’. When I put it like that I realise that expecting a diary to bear that heavy load, is quite some ask. All I will say is that, in retirement, my diary (and in a different way, this blog) does take some of the strain. Not all of it of course, but it helps. As I’ve said before, retirement is a funny old experience and you need to do what you can.