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Dear Diary

Posted in Life & Love

diaryA hot Summer evening of 28 years ago, at dusk, I picked up a bright blue plastic covered exercise book, and I started writing.The first line of the first entry reads:

Spiti Penelope
Skiathos
July 13, 1988
“It’s 9 pm and the girls are sleeping.”

The exotic location is a Greek island in the Aegean Sea. The girls in question were sofagirl, our friends Jane and Silvia, and my sister. I was 26.
Long before Airbnb was an inkling of an idea, Sue and I managed to rent a two-storey house in a charming square, on top of a hill, on this Greek island, and invited some friends to tag along.

There is no clue as to why I decided to buy a Greek exercise-book and pick up a pen. There is no clue why all the girls would already be asleep at 9 pm – shouldn’t we have been at dinner, getting ready for a club outing? Re-reading the first four pages – the whole of the first entry – I encounter an extremely detailed and vivid description of the village and its inhabitants. I can see it again. I can see the tiny balcony I was writing on. I can see the view to the sea, the shirtless neighbor across the street, the dogs chasing a tiny cat. I can see I knew how to write.

If you have the misfortune of boarding a Greek bus at its point of origin, you can rest assured the wait will be much longer than the trip” reads the beginning of the second entry.

Nothing particularly momentous happened on that vacation, save for Jane eating an ice-cream from a truck, and getting salmonella which prompted a close encounter with an emergency room so dingy and dirty we ran back home and let Jane throw up to her heart’s content. And Silvia’s penchant for the nudist beach, with photos to prove it. I have no idea why I picked that day, that Summer, that moment to start writing. The journal offers no clues but I haven’t stopped since.

All my journals, dozens of them, are lined up on two bookshelves, chronologically organized and never re-read. Aside from the blue Greek school book – the same blue of Greek window shutters – my predictable journal of choice is a black lined Moleskin, which I discovered before it was hip and pricey. I write long-hand, otherwise known as an impossible to decipher chicken scratch that can be impenetrable even to me, and strictly in Italian, even if my Italian began to crumble years ago, even on those days where I beg myself to switch to English, the language I think in. I soldier on, no doubts cramming the pages with English grammar constructions and loosely translated words.

Skiathos today
Skiathos today

For the longest time I wrote at the end of the day, a Victorian recap of what happened that I felt I needed to record or unburden. If I had to re-read the journals, which I will not, unless struck by an impossible longing many years from now, I will no doubt encounter peripheral characters that occupied my thoughts but of whom I have no memory.

Over the years, my writing habits have changed, my writing has become more inward, less structured, free-flow, disjointed – less narrative and more stream of consciousness or, what I inelegantly call, “brain vomit”.

Anyone familiar with Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way will recognize what she calls “morning pages”, three or four pages (or about 1,000 words) she invites any type of artist to write first thing each morning, in order to empty the brain. It’s not a bad exercise. I don’t stick to a set number of pages or words (although Ms. Cameron claims it’s important to push oneself past the point of having something to say) but I have been writing in the morning for many years now, as soon as I get out of bed, before coffee, before gadgets, with only a desk lamp on so I won’t wake myself up completely. Once it’s all out, dreams, worries, plans, thoughts….vomit, I am ready to start the day, a bit more of a blank slate.

I have no idea why I picked July 1988 to start writing on a regular basis (I wrote stories all the way through high school and college): maybe the beauty of my surroundings, the warmth of the women around me, the need to make sense of a budding life. I couldn’t see then memoirs would become more ubiquitous than romance novels and I most certainly never wrote with publication as an end game. Nobody but me would find my life interesting. I just wrote. My life is at the ripe stage now and writing still helps me make sense of it.

Nobody in my immediate circle of friends journals on a regular basis. Maybe a couple of writers  – it seems such an outdated and leisurely occupation, even narcissistic, especially if written long-hand, no selfies or apps. Are there more of us out there?

Have you ever kept a journal? Do you still? What are your writing habits? What do you get out of it? Do you ever re-read it?

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19 Comments

  1. I am so glad I’m not the only one who never re-reads her journals…

    May 31, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I am actually quite scared of what I might find in there…

      June 1, 2016
      |Reply
  2. I had a journal when I was in school, but I never wrote anything really significant in there, so I think I threw it out later (shredded it, I assume). I don’t keep an actual journal any more, since I kind of feel like my blog suffices as an outlet for my thoughts, etc. It has the added bonus of being easily searchable – I often go back and reread entries to see if I’ve changed, or if I’m reliving the same problems. Sometimes it’s just fascinating to look back at times long ago. It’s interesting that you’ve kept all your journals but have no intention to reread any of them

    May 20, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      What I write in the journal is a lot more personal and raw than what I could ever write in the blog but I think you are right, it could be useful to re-read what we write. I am sure there are lessons to be learned. Maybe one day. Not too soon.

      May 20, 2016
      |Reply
  3. silvia
    silvia

    You write like you breathe. Someone once said you were meant to write and I find it very appropriate.
    And you can do it, successfully because you’re the most disciplined human being I ever met.
    My memory is starting to assist me less and less and I believe that my deepest regret would be to acknowledge the impossibility to have vivid images of what it was.
    The penchant for nudism still exist and I’d give a hand to take a glimpse of ourselves back in July 1988. Even though I must admit that the essence of whom we were has not changed that much.

    The reason why we were sleeping at 9 pm is because we probably spent the whole day burning our brains and skins under the sun

    May 20, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      You are probably right and yes, all in all, not that different.

      May 20, 2016
      |Reply
  4. Ha ha, I have a box full of “Morning Pages” – not done them in years. Good on you for persisting!

    May 20, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Just about the only thing I remember of that book!

      May 20, 2016
      |Reply
  5. I have written in a journal since high school. I stopped for a few years in my 20s. I rarely re-read them. When I was a full-time screenwriter it made sense to have one. Most writers I know keep journals (even if they had a blog).

    I have to write. I do find that I edit myself sometimes, not sure why I do that. Maybe some things are too painful or raw to put to paper.

    I need to tell my brother and sister to burn them after I die.

    May 20, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      You hit on an interesting point. I have thought about what I want done with the journals and I can’t make up my mind. I doubt I would want anyone to read them but it seems a shame to chuck them all out. Maybe it’s just my way of thinking of an extension of me once I am dead.

      May 20, 2016
      |Reply
  6. Winston Moreton
    Winston Moreton

    Three times I started a diary and looking recently each entry began with the weather. The rest was clearly designed to conceal or mislead any unauthorized reader inluding me years on. I have *always* had a hankering to write but I needed life experience. I am still working on that. Oddly I can dash off a letter to the Editor of The Gisborne Herald in a jiffy, on this phone, and he *always* publishes them

    May 20, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Could it be you are the only one writing to the editor??

      May 20, 2016
      |Reply
      • Winston Moreton
        Winston Moreton

        Seriously I’m not. I often challenge his neo liberal take on things and as an old fashioned ethical journalist I think he feels duty bound to print my contrary views so I have an unofficial unpaid irregular column which reaches 23000 souls.

        May 20, 2016
        |Reply
  7. As much as I love to write, I have never kept a journal. Perhaps I was too afraid that my teenage years of “brain vomit” would come back to haunt me. Sometimes I do regret never having documented that time in my life because there are so many things I wish I could remember with more clarity.

    May 20, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Clarity might be overrated. I believe the brain retains what it needs to. And the memories are sweeter when a bit fuzzy.

      May 20, 2016
      |Reply
  8. The only journals I wrote in my youth were travel diaries on my three trips to Europe – two in 1982, one in 1988. I’m very glad I did, because one forgets when the days are so full of new things.

    I started reading Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” in February 2000, and it changed my life. For the first time the frustrations of my mundane existence were spewed across the page with equal parts of venom and remorse, and I finally got my life into some kind of perspective and began to live it my way, not anyone else’s way, at the age of 38.

    As Cameron says, don’t read the morning pages back to yourself until about 6 or 8 weeks have passed, and she was right. It took me that long to find that I was a whiny, whingey malcontent who had never taken the initiative in finding herself, but by then the writer in me had been unleashed and I was ready to take on the world. I changed my city, my job and my attitude, and I haven’t stopped writing since.

    After a few years I began to speed-read through the boxes of morning pages and tear them up. They were a legacy I certainly didn’t want anyone else to read! I saved only notes that related to possible future writing projects. Last February when I began sorting and packing to move overseas, the daily morning pages became more of a to-do list than a journal, and I did it on my laptop instead, because I needed to keep track of where in the moving process I was, and minimize the paper.

    I still journal almost every day, sixteen years later.

    May 20, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I am sure there is a benefit to reread them. I wonder if I don’t for fear of what I will find. Unloading just seems enough (nearly 30 years later).

      May 20, 2016
      |Reply
  9. Camparigirl,

    Wow. Though I know you write in a journal, I found it fascinating that you do this before coffee or anything else! (Nothing–not even writing–can come between me and my first cup of Loumides in the morning, brewed in a briki over the fire.)

    I have about twenty journals, and used to write “important” events (like you when you first started). I was in 8th grade; my first “Dear Diary” detailed how much I hated school. Ironically, unlike you who started writing in Greece, my journal writing ended when I moved back to California after having lived in Athens for three years. I was tired, heartbroken, frustrated, and vowed to never fill notebooks with angst and ugliness ever again. I still don’t journal, but just the other day, my mother gave me hundreds of pages of journal-ish writing I had emailed to her about our six years living in Peru. I actually have the thick folder on my desk (my mama had printed each and every email!). I glanced at one last week, about the 4-day Inka trail that I hiked, and it was quite interesting because I had forgotten so many of the quirky details of that adventure.

    I don’t think I’ll ever write in a journal again, but as you know, I love love love to write. I just hope one day I can make a career of it…Ah, dreams.

    By the way, I was in Skiathos too in 1988! Imagine if our paths had crossed…

    Best wishes and filakia,
    Greekgirl
    http://Www.redgreektomatoes.com

    May 20, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Maybe our paths did cross! By the way, next time you are in Greece, will you bring me back a briki? At times I miss Greek coffee and making it in a little pot is not the same.

      May 20, 2016
      |Reply

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