I have never kept a diary before. Or rather, not a diary that I have ever opened up to, as you might blether away to another person.
When I was younger, I would always carry around these tiny notebooks with me. They were coated in crumpled leather. I recently came across one of them again amongst my papers. It is roughly the size of a cigarette carton and I am guessing that it was in use during the late ’70s. It was originally a blank notebook and I had needed to write in the individual dates myself, at the top of each page. I had written the day and the month, but I had naturally thought it unnecessary to add the year. Below there are often figures scratched in biro, usually the number of hours that I had worked per week (back then, I had taught at a school in Edinburgh) or the hours that I was due for overtime.
Occasionally, I have self-importantly recorded a cocktail party or a romantic assignation. I can remember feeling conscious of how empty the diary was and being primly anxious to provide ongoing evidence of the various things that I was doing. Evidence to defend myself in the eyes of somebody who had picked up the diary and who was sceptical about how successful or worthwhile my life really was. Or else evidence to reassure a future version of myself that I hadn’t been wasting all of this youth that I had been given.
When handling this diary, I felt like I was peering down a microscope into my younger days. The lens was too cloudy, though, or I could not satisfactorily whir in on the details. I brooded over a date in September that was marked only “Pere Ubu.” The thread had been long since cut between these two words and my memory of whatever they would have represented to me. Presumably, Pere Ubu had been a band. I must have spent an evening watching them in concert, absorbing two hours of their songs and their banter, going to the bar in between and admiring the surrounding venue, hanging on the arm of some brainless lout or blethering with my pals. But I have been since inattentive in returning to dutifully remember this evening. It and all of its fronds are like a plant that I have failed to water, so that it has now shrivelled and curled up into nothing.
Sometimes such an apparently dead memory can be still reactivated into feebly sprouting again. Perhaps I shall wake up at three in the morning and rejoice, “Oh yes, Pere Ubu! They looked like this and they sang a song that went like that! And I was there with so-and-so and afterwards we went to his flat where we did such-and-such.”
My new diary – this diary – is a beautiful object. It opens stiffly and its fresh pages almost seem to creak as you turn them. It is like crisp icing on a cake that it will feel like a small sorrow to finally cut. At the moment, this diary is possibly the happiest that it will ever be. As soon as I start to write – indeed, already in fact – it is spoiling and filling steadily up with my dissatisfaction and my mediocrity.
I am not writing this diary to record anything. I am actually putting the cart before the horse or even using the cart to lure some horses. This diary will impel me to get out of my cottage and do or find things for me to record. Every gap or blank page will be like a stabbing pain. There can be no nothingness.
Maybe my fretful younger self had been not so silly after all.