Dear Diary

It’s the ultimate cliché for teenage girls everywhere: the diary. According to most movies and cartoons, every girl has one: the private receptacle for their thoughts, hand-written in purple ink and with I’s dotted with hearts, doomed to be stolen and read by annoying younger siblings for blackmail.

In real life, journals aren’t usually this stereotypical–filled with smiley faces and rants about boys–but they are serious business. I should know; I’ve kept a diary for almost as long as I can remember. At this point I don’t remember what first inspired me to start keeping one, but I know that it was just before kindergarten or first grade. My first journal had a blue cover and a painting of two girls on it who, according to my mother, looked like my sister and me. In fact, my mother thought that my very first journal had such a pretty cover that for a while, it was a decoration on top of our TV chest. I, of course, was mortified that my private personal thoughts were accessible to anyone who wanted to look at them. Luckily for my past self, nobody could have read my diary even if they wanted to, because my five-year-old self didn’t actually know how to use a pencil. I tried to go back and read my first diary a few years ago and 90 percent of it was illegible. (The ten-percent I could read was also exactly the kind of deep, personal thoughts you would expect a five-year-old to have: “I am watching Spongebob. I like Spongebob. Now I’m going to go play outside.”)

Over the years I’ve filled up at least a dozen journals, four of them alone from college. As a kid, I mostly considered each journal as a place to put the thoughts that I needed to process but, for whatever reason, didn’t want to share. I’m a private person by nature, so writing out whatever is making me mad or sad usually works better than talking it out at first. Putting my thoughts on paper just helps me organize them better. (This also means that most of my entries from when I’m younger are pretty petty: “I’m mad at my parents!” “I have too much homework!” “My friend and I are in a fight!”)

Going back and reading them, though, I can see that each of my journals is a really fascinating look at how I felt at different periods of my life. They chronicle the high points and the low points of my childhood and adolescence, from getting asked out for the first time and getting into college, to fights with friends and the deaths of relatives. It’s interesting to see how I’ve changed and grown, but it’s more interesting to see all the ways I’ve stayed the same. College is a period all about transition, so in a way, it’s reassuring to feel that who I am at 20 is pretty close to the vision I had for myself when I was ten. And some day when I’m a little older, I’ll look back on my college journals and think about how weird everything was at this point in my life, when I was young and free and simultaneously excited and terrified.

I started thinking more about my diaries a few months ago when ArtsEmerson (where I currently work) brought in a production of Sontag: Reborn. The production is essentially a one-woman show portraying journal entries of critic and writer Susan Sontag from her teenage years until her mid-thirties. The show was fascinating but one quote from Sontag about her journals stuck out to me: “In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.” I had never thought about it until then, but it’s true; my diaries are better tools than mirrors for figuring out who I am and what I want my life to look like.

With that in mind, fellow journal-keepers, here are some of my all-time favorite fictional and nonfictional diaries that might be worth checking out:

Sontag: Reborn
Though Emerson’s run of the show has long since ended, you can still buy the actual book version of Sontag’s journals. They’re an absolutely fascinating look at her development as a person and a writer. (It’s also pretty funny: fifteen-year-old Susan Sontag is exactly as pretentious as you imagine a fifteen-year-old genius would be, and a tirade after she snoops in a girlfriend’s journal when she’s a little older is hilarious.) There’s also another collection called As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh, including Sontag’s journals from later in her career, which I have not checked out but which sounds equally as awesome.

Absolutely Normal Chaos
This is a young adult book , and it’s classic enough that I still go back and read it now that I’m older. It’s a novel by Sharon Creech (and prequel-of-sorts to her Newbery Award-winning novel Walk Two Moons) in the form of the journals of 13-year-old Mary Lou Finney, who has to keep a journal over the summer for a school project and who gets a little too into the assignment. The journals chronicle what is probably the most eventful summer of her young life as she struggles through The Odyssey, deals with her first crush and gets to know her cousin Carl Ray, who is staying with the family over the summer.

I Capture the Castle
Another YA novel , this one from British author Dodie Smith (who wrote The Hundred and One Dalmatians). 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain and her family rent a picturesque, ruined castle in England–which would be much more romantic if they weren’t completely broke. When the landlord’s heirs come to the castle, the family’s life changes and budding author Cassandra captures the whole thing in her journals as a writing exercise.

The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet
Yet another one featuring a young protagonist (are you noticing a pattern?), but it’s more adult-leaning. In this novel by Reif Larsen, 12-year-old T. S. Spivet is a child prodigy who runs away from home in order to accept an award for his research from a committee that does not know his actual age. T. S. himself keeps detailed notebooks of his research, and a huge plot point is that he steals one of his mother’s diaries to read on the trip. It’s one of the most original books I’ve ever read and one of my favorite books of all time.

ItsWayPastMyBedtime and NerdyandQuirky

These are not, strictly speaking, diaries, but I’m okay with that if you are. I spend a pretty decent amount of time on YouTube, and Carrie (ItsWayPastMyBedtime ) and Sabrina (NerdyandQuirky ) are two of my favorite vloggers. Carrie Hope Fletcher is a singer and actress from England, and Sabrina is a high school student from Canada. Both regularly post amazingly funny and relatable videos that I love watching and that are definitely worth checking out.

Those are my thoughts on diaries, and a round-up of some of my favorites! Let me know if you keep a diary and what some of your favorite diaries are in the comments!

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