Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Didion on Her Notebook

Joan Didion wrote a famous essay "On Keeping a Notebook
... the point of my keeping a notebook has never been, nor is it now, to have an accurate factual record of what I have been doing or thinking. That would be a different impulse entirely, an instinct for reality which I sometimes envy but do not possess. At no point have I ever been able successfully to keep a diary; my approach to daily life ranges from the grossly negligent to the merely absent, and on those few occasions when I have tried dutifully to record a day's events, boredom has so overcome me that the results are mysterious at best. What is this business about "shopping, typing piece, dinner with E, depressed"? Shopping for what? Typing what piece? Who is E? Was this "E" depressed, or was I depressed? Who cares?
In fact I have abandoned altogether that kind of pointless entry; instead I tell what some would call lies. "That's simply not true," the members of my family frequently tell me when they come up against my memory of a shared event. "The party was not for you, the spider was not a black widow, it wasn't that way at all." Very likely they are right, for not only have I always had trouble distinguishing between what happened and what merely might have happened, but I remain unconvinced that the distinction, for my purposes, matters.
Notebooks are kept for many different purposes. Let's call Didion's notebook a "literary notebook," that is a resource for stories and essays. Insofar as I have kept and do keep notebooks, they have a different purpose: they are scholarly notebooks. I also tried (try) to keep "pointless entries" to a minimum, nor am I primarily interested in having "an accurate factual record of what I have been doing and thinking," but I try to avoid what Didion calls "lies." The distinction between "what happened" and what "might have happened" matters for my purposes, even if (or perhaps just because) it is difficult.

No comments: