In our current world, documenting the daily activities of life has become commonplace. We chatter on Twitter and Facebook about our observations, frame shots for Instagram, pin pin pin on Pinterest and Tumblr and… and….everywhere. We’re all documentarians, using the material of our lives to connect and entertain and compete, and sell our work.
All that public, public living.
It has its place, of course. I partake and participate as much as anyone (my Facebook habit is obnoxious), but I’ve been thinking a lot about what happens when we do all the living and thinking in public, for an audience. Standing on a stage, orating or showing off our photography skills, is far different from another practice, the time-honored act of keeping a journal. A private journal, one that no one sees, maybe even one that is hand-written. You know, with a pen and a notebook.
For the Whitehall, the Restoration drama that has consumed me over the winter and spring (and which started releasing last Wednesday—you can get the first episode free–hooray!) I read a lot of Samuel Pepys, the famous 17th century diarist who had a crush on the king’s mistress and kept notes on his supper and the numbers of women he wanted to sleep with and a huge number of details on daily life. Ordinary things, like the rain falling every day for weeks, and the river freezing over one winter so that people were skating, and what he drank and what plays he saw. He kept track of his feelings and attempts to be a better man (stop spending so much at the theater, don’t drink so much wine, stay home with the wife, stop lusting over whoever). His ordinary concerns bring home the ordinariness of human living, and also provide a very clear picture of a world lost to us.
Journaling is a powerful act, and I worry lately that all the public living is going to steal away the quieter, more profound act of journaling, which carries rewards that are far deeper and more enduring than the documentary actions of social media. Journaling is messier, deeper, ultimately more honest. It creates a kind of connection to the self, to the diarist’s mind and heart that are not captured any other way.