|journal of Wm. Godwin, about his first meeting with|
Mary Wollstonecraft--at a dinner with Thomas Paine,
Nov. 13, 1791; they would later marry and have
a daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley,
author of Frankenstein
I recently let an anniversary slip by, unnoticed--no, not that one. Earlier this month was the twentieth anniversary of the birth of ... my journal.
February 1997. I had recently retired from pubic-school teaching (mid-January 1997), and I was working pretty much full-time on a YA biography of Mary Shelley (The Mother of the Monster: The Life and Times of Mary Shelley--available from Kindle Direct--link), a book that took me quite a few years to research and write. I decided to publish it directly when I got some cancer news, figuring I didn't have a lot of time to fuss with agents and publishers, who tend to go by clocks that run very, very slowly. My clock was ticking much more quickly.
Anyway, I was working on that book--entirely in the research phase--when I realized I should keep track of what I was doing.
And so I did.
In those days I was still using WordPerfect (a program I still prefer to Word), and, at first, I used a calendar template available on WP--which allowed just the briefest entries.
And I should add this: I got the idea to keep that file window open all day, enabling me to add things as I thought of them--or as they occurred. And that idea I got from Mary Shelley's father, novelist and philosopher William Godwin, who kept his diary open on his desk all day, adding things as the days went along. He wrote in it every day, practically to the day he died. He kept it for forty-eight years, filled thirty-two notebooks.
So ... the scan below shows you February 1997--with my first entry on the 8th. (Lightly edited for embarrassment's sake.)
Time went one. Years. Decades. And now each month's diary entries consume much more space. Last month for example, (January 2017) I filled thirty-four pages.
So what happened?
Well, for one thing, I started pasting into my journal the letters I had written during the week (several), and I waxed rather than waned during each entry. Mind you, my journal is a record of what I've been doing more than a record of what I've been thinking--although there is some of that. Mostly, I want to have a record of where I've been and what I've done.
This has proved essential in my other writing. Being able to find--quickly--when I last saw Melville's house "Arrowhead," when I saw a certain movie, a play--what Joyce and I gave each other for our wedding anniversary--when I read Infinite Jest--what plays we saw at the Stratford Festival--etc.--all of this is somehow crucial to me now and then.
For example: When I was working on my memoir about reading and my dad (Turning Pages: A Memoir of Books and Libraries and Loss--also on Kindle Direct: link), I was able to be very specific about the events leading up to my father's death in November 1999. I had recorded some of the last things he did and said--to me and to others.
A digital diary also allows a big advantage: Unlike Godwin, who had, back in the 1820s, to do a seek-and-find operation by turning pages, I can do a computer search and find in seconds what I want and need..
I very, very rarely miss a day now--when I do, it's mostly due to illness or travel (though I can keep up by adding to the document on my iPhone or other smart-device).
I print out each month's entries and keep them all in fat notebooks. And I've got numerous online and other digital backups. (Paranoia strikes deep, as Buffalo Springfield once sang.)
Our grandson Logan turned 12 last week, and I read to him from my journal about the day he was born. About what I felt and saw and experienced.
Over the years, I had kept journals--always too briefly--for a variety of reason (one big one: I assigned my students to do it--so I did it, too). But nothing very long-lasting. Joyce has a little diary from her girlhood (it's pink!), and, oh, do I wish I had some writing from my boyhood! What I would give ... in a blue diary?
I now have in the house the diary my great-grandfather Addison Clark Dyer kept during his travels to the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898-99. Priceless--especially when I was "into" Jack LondonLand and when I twice traveled to the region. My son and I found, in 1986, the vicinity of his old gold claim on Bonanza Creek. (It's in other hands now--still active, by the way.)
So ... I'm more than glad that I've been keeping this record. I'm ecstatic, actually. And, like Godwin, I intend to keep doing it until I can't.