A woman comes into my apartment, and before we sit down and have a drink, she picks up a notebook sitting on my bookshelf. She gives me a glance, grabs it, and opens it up. I think about telling her not to open it, but what could be weirder than coming over to someone's apartment and for them to have stacks of mystery books? Suddenly, I can feel myself sinking, an overwhelming wave of dread and anxiety coursing through my body as I fall.
I should admit that I've never written diaries or journals. I suppose that when I travel, I keep travel journals, notes on what I've seen, how I felt about X, that I ate Y. But these really just seem like extensions of what I write normally, which is something far less categorizable.
There is a terror is that if I write a more conventional journal, I'll feel the need to write everything down in a more linear fashion, to shape the subjectivity of my experiences into something more diaristic and descriptive. Looking back, I will simply be annoyed at my dishonesty.
And there is a second terror that what I write will be nauseatingly immediate, lacking in perspective and analysis, embarrassing for its lack of context. I have had enough trouble beating myself up over my past, and I don't feel the need to nurture that tendency.
What both cases have in common is that they make me conscious of the fact of reading what I wrote at some point in the future. And so, as a result, I'll quite likely self-censor, and write for the person I will be in the future, not the person I am.
The German physicist and writer Georg Lichtenberg kept what he called the sudelbücher, and this is the term I prefer to use for what I do. The notebooks I keep are made up of false starts, failures, disjoints, flights into fiction of a thousand varieties, stray observations, philosophical pensées, witticisms, all the crap that forms a record of my life.
And, by virtue of their ephemerality, and also by the fact that I move around a lot, they don't need to be kept. They can be discarded, ripped apart, forgotten, left around. Because, with a lot of this writing, I often quite simply don't want to know what I was thinking.
It becomes too intimate, and when another person looks into the raw material, my memories suddenly become their territory, or worse, their entertainment.
This is perhaps unfashionable. We're expected to flog our mental states on the public market, neatly packaged on Twitter and Tumblr. To have glittering, personal interior worlds becomes doubly unusual and somewhat suspicious.
Yet I don't know what I'd do without them, and without the ability to engage the world via the material act of putting a shitty ballpoint pen to a piece of paper. I let the world see the fragments that seem to be worth sharing. The rest, no matter what a failure it is, is therapy.