Monday, May 23, 2016

Reading Someone Else's Diary


Dave made another expedition outside the house yesterday, this time to see his high school students perform in their year-end concert. Another music teacher conducted, but Dave at least got to watch the kids present the pieces they've been working on for weeks and months. He enjoyed it (and the concert was great) but once again, he was surprised at how tired he gets, and how quickly.

Last night we were eating dinner when someone rang our doorbell. It's almost always a salesman when someone rings at that hour, particularly on a Sunday, so when I went to the door and saw an unknown face through the window, I simply turned around and went back to the living room. It was only after I sat down that I thought it could be a delivery or something and I'd better double-check. Turns out it was a repairman from Thames Water, here to fix a wastewater problem at the side of the house. "Sorry!" I told the guy. "I thought you were a salesman!" He didn't seem too put off, but I guess I really should at least open the door and ask next time.

I'm reading a fascinating book -- especially for anyone who keeps (or has kept) a diary or journal. Called "A Life Discarded," it's non-fiction about some people in Cambridge who find more than 140 diaries, many of them decades old, in a rubbish bin. The book's author mines the contents of these diaries in an attempt to write a biography of the unidentified author -- he knows neither their name nor, for a while, their gender. It makes me think of that old diary I own that I bought at an estate sale in Massachusetts years ago -- and also of my own paper journals. It reconfirms my desire to finish transcribing and editing them so my raw venting doesn't fall into someone else's hands and, God forbid, become a book. I don't want to be remembered for things I wrote down when I was in a snit.

Which brings up an interesting question about the ethics of writing a book based on a stranger's private diaries. The author, Alexander Masters, hasn't really broached that subject yet, except to occasionally quote the diarist writing that he/she doesn't want the diaries to be lost and occasionally referring to future readers. I suppose everyone who keeps a diary thinks, on some level, about the possibility that it will be read -- it could be their ultimate horror or their ultimate motivation.

(Photo: St. John's Wood, May 16.)

10 comments:

Ms. Moon said...

That last paragraph: exactly.

Red said...

Great comment on a book using diaries to write a biography of an unknown. so the debate over diaries never ends...private or for posterity. Unless someone burns their diaries they will likely become public. Snits tell more than you think.

Sharon Anck said...

When I was living in the house, I never answered the door unless I was expecting someone. It seems like it was always a sales person or someone pushing a religion. I can't imagine writing a diary that I never wanted anyone to read.

ellen abbott said...

you read my diary every time I post (or at least I think you do). I wouldn't think it an ethical violation as long as no names are connected to the diaries in the book.

I will open the door when a stranger knocks, it may be someone in genuine need or it might be someone with information I need. there are many reasons besides sales and religion why people knock on a stranger's door. I do not, however, open the door wide and I step out and close it behind me to see what they want. at least I did in the city where the front door opened to the whole house just about. here all they can see is the corner with our little TV. and by little, I mean little. no one would want it.

jenny_o said...

If I can see that the knock at the door came from two people, I don't answer. It's usually a religious sect. Once when I used that criteria, I missed a local politician, but that wasn't a great loss either. If it's kids, they're usually selling something, although recently three little girls handed me an invitation to a block party - that was a nice surprise.

Diaries - the closest thing I've got is my blog and a few pieces I've written which are on our computer hard drive. Anything else (my "snit" pieces!) I write on plain paper and later shred. It's just a way of processing my feelings to tease out the real reasons for my feelings, and NOBODY needs to read that junk :)


jenny_o said...

P. S. I love the colours in that photo! It's beautiful.

John Gray said...

Thats a lovely bush
Tee hee

Linda Sue said...

Mr. Man's grandmother kept a diary , mundane stuff mostly, recipes, daily farm business and then a real shocker, Her birthday- and for her birthday the hands and husband went out and hung a N**ger....whoa, yeah, let THAT sink in! yup,mater of fact, as though it was no different than collecting eggs and shearing the sheep.

Give my best to Dave, well wishes, takes so long to recover, take it easy. Surgery is a very big deal!

37paddington said...

Holy shit, Linda Sue! As a birthday gift???

Diaries tell the truth but not the whole truth and not necessarily the enduring truth either. I think I need to burn mine now. I don't know why I still keep them. As you so often do, you raise a fascinating question.

Best to Dave as he continues to recover.

Lorianne said...

A good friend was recently wondering what to do with her journals now that she's downsizing. I referred her to an article about *A Life Discarded* to scare her into keeping them.

(Anything tossed in the trash can be retrieved and read by ANYONE, right? At least if you have piles of journals stashed in your attic, they won't be found until you're dead and can't be embarrassed by them. Or at least that's what I tell myself as I add another full notebook to my shelves of them.)