Diciembre 12, 2007

Woke Up This Morning

I've been keeping a journal for 21 years. This blog for 3 and a half years (and almost 1000 entries).

I can't tell you how I found this (wink) but there's an interesting piece in the New Yorker about diaries. In this text the writer, Louis Menand, makes it clear that there's a difference between a journal, a blog, and a diary, and I of course agree, though the lines blur at times. I have always called my journal a journal. Diary smacks of something more pedestrian and tacky, a slavish record of exactly what happens each day, something to be disciplined about - like being on a diet, or trying to be, Menand says - something teen girls write in and fight to keep their little brothers from reading. Journals are more literary, more discriminating. And yet Menand drifts in his examples between diaries and what seem more like journals even in his estimation.

Journaling has never been something I have to make myself do, nor blogging, which is one reason I always find it slightly amusing and highly unnecessary when bloggers (or zinesters, for that matter) apologize for not blogging in a while. It's not my job, it's not even a new year's resolution. I don't do it or not do it because I feel obliged to, as if, like Menand says, I feel

"that diarizing is a natural, healthy thing, a sign of vigor and purpose, a statement, about life, that we care, and that non-diarizing or, worse, failed diarizing is a confession of moral inertia, an acknowledgment, even, of the ultimate pointlessness of one’s being in the world."
So why do I do it? The reasons for journaling and blogging are pretty different. Menand presents the interesting set of theories that people keep diaries, and stop keeping them, for 3 reasons: the ego, the id, and the superego:
The ego theory holds that maintaining a diary demands a level of vanity and self-importance that is simply too great for most people to sustain for long periods of time. It obliges you to believe that the stuff that happened to you is worth writing down because it happened to you.... The id theory, on the other hand, states that people use diaries to record wishes and desires that they need to keep secret, and to list failures and disappointments that they cannot admit publicly have given them pain.... And the superego theory, of course, is the theory that diaries are really written for the eyes of others. They are exercises in self-justification. When we describe the day’s events and our management of them, we have in mind a wise and benevolent reader who will someday see that we played, on the whole, and despite the best efforts of selfish and unworthy colleagues and relations, a creditable game with the hand we were dealt.

There are elements of all those reasons in my journaling and blogging, in different proportions. Blogging of course can be extremely different from writing in a diary. Some blogs have nothing at all to do with the writer's personal life. They may be a periodic holding forth on a topic of interest or expertise (either professed or real), or news that only the author and his immediate locality witnessed, that is being underreported by "mainstream media"... my blog is a mix of this and the personal. It's done mostly for others, to keep them informed of my life if they care (so, the Ego reason above), and to get the word out, indymedia-style, about things they should care about (which doesn't really fit into any of Menand's 3 categories, does it? Or does it?)

My journal is more like a diary and hence is more relevant to his 3 types. I would say that contrary to my blog it's more a mix of the Id and Superego types... sometimes, I write in it the most private and tortured diatribes, merely as catharsis, to empty my brain of the toxins it has collected.... Other times I have in mind, in the back of my head, an image of some studious anthropologist, historian, or biographer, sitting in a dusty basement reading and cataloging my scribbled volumes... because...?

Either it's because I've somehow become famous (i now tread into ego again), or it's just because I'm an example of a life from the past...

Overall, I envision that journalling is part of my overall quest to a) leave this world a better place than when I got here and b) have an interesting life (if I've suceeded in these things, people, or at least myself in the future, will want to read about it, right?). And as I go, it aids me in these efforts - Journalling helps me plan and evaluate where I've been and where I'm going, a true "bitacora" - the old spanish word that was used for diaries but originally meant the box you keep a ship's compass in - and it helps (my conceit imagines) those that come after to learn and guide themselves too, but also (and here back to the superego we climb) it helps those others to see that yes, I DID have an interesting and worthwhile life, and I really tried hard at it... "he was evidently a good and ethical man, that Steev," they'll say, someday... heh...

Ultimately it keeps me sane, one way or the other, just as healthy balance between ego, id, and superego keeps one sane (if those Freudian constructs have any bearing on reality or current accepted psychiatric theory), and it's something I NEED to do, and I just do it, that I don't MAKE myself do.

So, if blogging or journalling is something you make yourself do, maybe you should stop, unless you get paid to do it. But if, like me, it's effortless, and you do it because you have to, from some inner fire, then great. Your saner psyche, and future scholars striving to somehow make sense of this insane time, will thank you.

Posted by steev at Diciembre 12, 2007 07:39 AM
Hi Steev, I am a designer at a small brand agency in NYC. We are sourcing imagery for a publication for one of our clients. The publication is about the power and effect of the individuals' voice in today's commercial environment. The concept is to exclusively use photography posted on public websites such as Flickr. And your image of (i'd rather be blogging graffiti) on Flickr (http://flickr.com/photos/steev/44715703) caught our eye. Could you please email me ([email protected]) to let me know if it is available for use? We can discuss usage, credit and payment. Thank you so much. Ellen Posted by: ellen at Diciembre 13, 2007 10:46 AM