“Writers are the custodians of memory, and that’s what you must become if you want to leave some kind of record of your life…”
2018, if we make it there, will be my 10th year of keeping a daily logbook. What’s a logbook? In the old days, a logbook was a place for sailors to keep track of how far they’d traveled. Mine is just a simple list of the things that happen each day, a sort of reverse appointment book. Every morning I sit down and list what I did, who I saw, what I read/watched/listened to, etc., the previous day. (Because I know everyone will ask, here’s the kind of notebook I use.)
The logbook started, like many creative endeavors, out of sheer laziness. My memory is terrible, so I wanted a record of my days, but I didn’t want to go to the trouble of keeping a “real” diary. The logbook was a way for me to keep a diary without really thinking… or feeling. (Now, I keep a pretty intense notebook and diary, but I still keep my logbook, too.)
What the logbooks have turned into is an index of my life. I consult them to reminisce about important events, like the days my kids were born, but I often consult them for really mundane stuff, like looking up the last time I replaced the air filter on the furnace.
For better or worse, I can tell you what happened to me on every day of the past decade.
I thought about my logbooks this morning when I read about how a Russian chemist’s diaries are being used as evidence of Russian doping in the Olympics. The New York Times article starts like this:
The chemist has kept a diary most of his life. His daily habit is to record where he went, whom he talked to and what he ate. At the top of each entry, he scrawls his blood pressure.
In the diaries, mundane details of his life, like going out to buy a cold medicine and complaining about the Olympic cafeteria food, are juxtaposed against juicier details, like mixing drug cocktails and transporting athlete urine. Here’s a picture of the diary, flagged by attorneys, I’m assuming:
If you want to keep your thoughts secret but archived… do it on paper! The chemist told The Times that he kept the diary on paper “mindfully… not on the computer.” (A crazy detail is that he wrote the diary with a black and gold Watermen pen given to him by his friend, Russia’s former antidoping chief who “died suddenly” after his announcement he was writing a book.)
Whether involved in a scandal or not, diaries are evidence of our days.