Arriving at the airport really early to meet the kid (he’s been in D.C. with his old man for the past couple of weeks, and I had left for California a week prior so haven’t seen him in what feels like forever but is only 20 days), I found that the kid’s pilot had rather grim weather to contend with. I’d brought Alec Guinness’s book, “My Name Escapes Me,” to take care of 30 minutes or so. He had to last an additional 3 hours.
I couldn’t have chosen a better book. Not because “Name” carries particularly profound information. In fact, it’s quite flimsy, simply a diary kept in the mid-90s when the actor, in his 80s, was going blind and on the verge of retiring but not quite able to fully commit to the concept. I’m a great fan of Guinness. He’s absolutely wonderful in movies from the 40s onward, from the great Dickens miniatures by David Lean through the 7 role, pre-Peter Sellers or Eddie Murphy Kind Hearts and Coronets, on up to his unforgettable embodiment of Le Carré’s Smiley.
I’ve heard he’s a fine writer. But I don’t know from personal experience; this is my first Guinness book. As noted, it’s very slight. It’s a true diary, recording the simple pleasures of meals with friends, chance meetings, plays and movies viewed from the audience, roles considered and rejected due to fear of memorization in the face of steadily decreasing frontal lobe capacity. (Now that I’m in my first play after 20 years at the ripe old age of 51, I empathize more than ever with that last.)
And therein lies its charm. Diaries, for the most part, are private, not intended to make particular sense, but rendering meaning for the writer and no one else. Writers, after all, tend to feel that things are more real when they’ve been set down. Writing is the way that writers not only think, but turn chaos into something that is, if not fully coherent, at least more linear and therefore easier to get one’s head round. We think, therefore we write, and only then, we are.
Then I realized a large part of my blogging conundrum. A good diary, even one released for publication like Guinness’s, is intensely private. In this day and age when everything becomes part of one’s Personal Brand – a rather dreadful phrase in its reduction of humanity to commodity – one must be careful. A slip becomes an indelible embarrassment; you can edit, but it’s still already out there. A passionately written post can seem brilliant at the time and ludicrous with only a week or two of perspective. And some things just need to be off limits, at least for me. I will often leave off of posting for a week, or two, or three, simply out of respect for my own privacy. Certainly I’ve shared elements of my personal life on this blog, but I’ve always tried to be very careful, not just for my sake but for those of the people I love. There are many things that simply aren’t the world’s business.
My problem until now is that, with all the public writing I’ve done here on the blog, I’ve neglected the private writing – the simple, meticulous recording of the events of my day. In Italy two years ago with the Eldest, I wrote by hand daily in a lovely diary that had been given to me by the ex as a Christmas gift. I had to force myself, but I didn’t want to forget what I’d experienced, and to this day, I’m grateful for the diaries that I’ve kept oh so sporadically over the last 40 years, all of which I still have in various dresser drawers and basement boxes.
Today, I realized it’s a discipline worth keeping. Because it’s important, and because my thinking tempo has always been much more in sync with my typing tempo then my penmanship one, I’ve decided to forego the quaint and lovely practice of handwriting to record digitally, but privately.
It’s tremendously freeing. I currently have a backlog of stories for this blog, Cinema 1001, and even a quick post for the much neglected Branding Broad (a blog that promises to stay sparse and eventually fade away as I embrace more and more editorial work). But I decided today that they won’t come at the expense of writing and ideas that I need to set down only to be seen by me: family idiosyncrasies, the impressions of the many movies I see and books I read that I don’t want to write full-fledged essays about, personal growth and relationship advances interesting, even precious to me and enormously self-indulgent when made public.
Records are important, and Pepys’ diaries prove that the mundane can become, with the passing of time, fascinating snapshots of another era. But I think we all took a bit of a wrong turn when we started to think that everyone needed to know what we were up to at every second. I’m henceforth going to write down where I’ve been, but just for me.
Of course I’ll still post dopey things on Facebook; that’s what it’s for. But for the stuff deeper than the top layers of surface, a diary currently seems like a fine way to honor each day – but not fetishize it.