The unwilling diarist’s diary.
I’ve tried to be a diary writer from early on. My Christmas stocking always had one of those little Letts diaries with the tiny pencil in the spine. But, beyond putting my name in the front with dire warnings to prying eyes, entries tailed off around Jan 4. What I did write, wasn’t the stuff of Anne Frank or even Adrian Mole. Mine were more like ‘Breakfast: scrambled eggs’ and ‘Bike ride with Brian’. But, still I hankered to keep some kind of record of my journey through life. Keeping a journal was something I wanted to want to do and kept having a go at. But the results were much the same. Over ambition was a pitfall. I wanted to write a literary journal; something Orwellian perhaps. And, I wanted to write a Jungian psychological journal. Sadly, the sheer effort it took to be so clever, quickly put me off.
What I finally found, years later, was a way of keeping a journal that demands neither great thoughts, nor penetrating insights, but only small observations. I’ve been surprised to find that brief notes of something I saw or heard, smelt or felt, can conjure a moment of time and space in a way that a very conscious effort to express my thoughts never did. My journal is a series of snapshots that seems as random as they are. For some unfathomable reason, a passing moment had left an impression on me that spilled out later as a little memo to self. Every page is headed ‘What I noticed today’. One page reads:
“A man in a bus stop with his hand on his hat”
“A tree in a pedestrian precinct felled by wind… Nobody knows what to do.”
“You always know when you’re near a branch of Lush.”
What sits on the pages are crystallised bits of noticing. Fresh impressions, juiced into few words. They tell me what I’ve noticed. What remained, through all the millions of slices of noticing in my day. I can trace my interest in people, and weather and light. I don’t notice smells much, but I often catch street performers singing. And, I can feel the empathy in my gaze.
My noticing doesn’t work if I put effort into it. Somehow, looking round for stuff to notice actually stops me noticing anything. So, it’s a lovely reflection at the end of a day, to simply relax and ask myself the question, ‘What did I notice today?’ and without judging or filtering, or even reaching too hard, just allow the fragments to present themselves. I rarely add adjectives. It seems that the act of conscious remembering, then making the note, so unites the two that a vivid memory still conjures from the scanty words. And that makes sense to me. My note isn’t about any man who ever had a hand on his hat, but that man, on that day, in that bus stop. What was it about him that struck me so?
My journal supports me in another way. It’s as if the conscious recall of impressions has made me more open to impressions. In a way, I’m more aware of noticing, even when I’m not trying. There’s more sense of inner spaciousness, as if I am noticing the noticer as well. And that feels like a proper diary!
Good luck, if you want to try it. And crucially, don’t put effort into it.
© Phillip Ellington January 2021