Tuesday, 9 February 2016

现实 | Writes of passage

Posted by: Ryan O'Riordan

Keeping a diary (or a journal if you want) has been one of my intermittent desires for what feels like an awfully long time now.

You can probably remember primary school teachers asking you to keep a diary over the summer holidays, so the class could hear all about your exotic travels in September. My contributions to this exercise were never particularly eagerly anticipated by my classmates; when I was younger all my family ever really did was visit my grandparents in Ireland. And while these visits have undoubtedly shaped me immensely (who can witness a cousin participate in a dance-off and ever be the same?), I don't think my younger self could have done them justice. Feeding chickens can seem pretty full-on when you're a child, but even then it paled in comparison to that one kid who had been to America or somewhere like that.

So yeah, no one would ever purchase the movie rights to my childhood diaries. I never did write about that cousin and his dance-off, but it remains in my mind indelibly. How many other fantastic memories have I let slip away by not keeping a diary?

There were times when I attempted to, around that same primary-school age as I recall, but I always gave up soon afterwards. For a long time afterwards I forgot all about it, until a school trip to Russia I went on when I was 15 (I think). I was massively excited about that trip, Russia seemed an almost alien departure from the Western European nature of my previous travels. It didn't turn out to be quite this exotic, sadly... it turns out Russians have as much of an appetite for McDonald's and Nike stores as anywhere else in the world. However, I didn't know this at the time. My mum convinced me to keep a little travel diary, and I became convinced that this would be my literary legacy. I don't know why I thought the insights of a teenager into Russian culture, gleaned from a whistle-stop tour of Moscow and St. Petersburg, would be so interesting to the historians of the future, but it was my duty to provide them!

I did one entry. I kicked off with some quite frankly incredible musings on the nature of international capitalism before I realised it was quite weird for me and my room-mate to sit in silence for an hour every night, so I stopped.

Having said this, I still feel the urge to get my thoughts down every now and then. I no longer imagine they'll be the foundation of any future scholarship (that's what this blog is for); rather, I want to do it for myself. Every day is a state of circumstances and mind that I may never experience again, so maybe writing them down will be interesting in the future. Our past selves are so often mysterious to us. Perhaps future Ryan will forget exactly how good a certain song is when you're 17, or exactly how daunting it is to be on the cusp of adulthood. Keeping a diary sounds like a pretty big deal when put like that, but in all likelihood future Ryan would see pages and pages devoted to memes or whatever and shake his head with disgust.

But who cares if I'm not writing down eternal wisdom in any diary I go on to keep? The lead singer of one of my favourite bands, Frances Quinlan, has been keeping a journal since she was a kid, and the stuff she talks about writing down sounds meaningless to anyone but her: "I wrote down when we were getting gas in Kentucky just because I thought it was so cool that we were in Kentucky!". Her song-writing often deals with memory, and not being able to understand the actions of our past selves. I'm not saying I'm going to start a band and write deeply confessional songs later in life, but it's important to keep those kind of doors open. To be honest though, I don't think any diary of mine would be a source of harrowing introspection.

For me, keeping a diary would be a pretty cool way of recording the stuff I find meaningful, and making sure they remain so, well, for as long as I keep writing. Conveniently, this latest bout of diary-keeping urge has stuck me just as I'm about to make the biggest change in my life yet: going off to university.

University is sold as some once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have fun and be yourself fully, an oasis of liberty between the peer-pressure and pettiness of school and the monotony of work, which I can't wait to begin by the way! I'm hoping the sales stuff isn't completely accurate in that respect, but I still feel like university is a suitable time to start writing my thoughts down: I'm mature enough to have a writing style that is (mostly) alright to read, and yet still young enough to ensure a healthy amount of cringe in there for the future.

So, as I now attempt to draw some kind of meaningful conclusion from the preceding mess, I'll stress that I don't see any diary I keep as a source of sage wisdom for future generations, or even for myself. The past, as L.P. Hartley once remarked, is foreign country; I think it would be nice to have some holiday photos.

Ryan's listening to: 'Fine, Great' by Modern Baseball

Read my previous post here.

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