Re-reading old diaries, fragments mostly, I cringe and promise myself that one of these days I will have a bonfire. One of these days? Why wait? The ground is dry and I’ve other garden rubbish that needs destroying.
Well, there are environmental considerations. I try to be responsible about my carbon footprint, perhaps the diaries should go into the compost bin. It’s probably not so romantic an image to think of them slowly being eaten away by the microbes, worms and slugs who process the weeds and peelings we generate, but it’s practical.
Let’s pause a moment, and imagine harvesting the carrots, cabbages and flowers that have been boosted by a creative compost. There’s so much energy in my old diaries that they’re sure to improve the productivity of my veg plot. Hah, I’ll cry, take that you plant-whispering, foliage-fondling (yes, there is a theory that stroking leaves improves a plant’s growth), moon-phase-sowing radical gardeners, as I sweep the board at the local garden show. Only you and I will know the secret of my success.
Can I bring myself to do it though? While I don’t want anyone else to discover the mundane or angst-ridden moments of my life, let-alone discover the unedited ramblings littered with comic-book punctuation, the diaries are a writing resource. I haven’t exactly logged weather, politics and the latest fads or fancies, yet they’re there, implied by the activities and pre-occupations I’ve written about.
Reading them time-slips me back to those moments. There are things I’d forgotten about daily routines, visits, the dynamics of family, friends and neighbours, that when re-read evoke how I felt at that time. Add to that the advantage of distance, which allows me to recognise an alternative shape for some of the stories I’ve recorded, and I am reminded of a favourite quote by Hilary Mantel:
I have sat, at moments of purest heartbreak, in mental agony, and put my thoughts on paper, and then I have taken those thoughts and allocated them to one of my characters, largely for comic effect.
So, I’ll hold back from destruction just now, and dip into them for some inspiration.
I wonder though, should I put a clause in my will? Perhaps I’ll revive the custom of grave-goods. If there is an after-life I’d like to give myself a head-start in ‘the writing game’ (as Katherine Mansfield called it).
And, the gesture would be in-keeping with the tendency towards gothic-melodrama that my diaries reveal I’m prone to.
*Illustration: Sunflower and Dog Worship, 1937, by Sir Stanley Spencer.