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Why I do what I do here

November 1, 2000

For years I kept a journal of sorts in a weekly desktop calendar. Starting with a gift calendar in 1989 or 1990, I dutifully began recording the events of my life on a regular basis, sitting down every week or so to jot down what had happened to me.

My journal was never a diary, except for a few failed days of introspection during my angst-ridden sophomore year of high school. Instead, it was something of a chronicle. I kept track of what I did, where and when I did it, and with whom. I never, ever put in any emotional detail, save for the occasional adjective or smiley face.

A typical day's entry would look something like this:
Saturday 20
10 -- haircut
     run errands -- mall, Tops, CD World
     lunch @ Calabria
3 -- stop by Brian's
6 -- home
8 -- dinner @ CB's Millburn: 
     Brian, Rob, Susie, Jay, Andy
10 -- movie @ my house, Adrienne stops by
     Officer Zielke
     Rob over late
The journal was something I thought was generally a worthwhile endeavor. My memory is less than spectacular, so the journal gave me a handy resource to aid my recollection. And logging my life somehow gave my days added weight and significance.

Updating my journal was something of a chore, but it was not unlike calling Mom and Dad from college: I rarely felt like doing it, but when I got around to it, I was happy that I had done so.

I kept my journal fairly religiously until I graduated college. Once I started working, it became more difficult to bother, not for any external reason but because my heart wasn't in it as much. I still felt obligated to it, but between work and late city nights I would go longer periods of time without updating.

After I moved into New York City, the updates dropped precipitously, due to my new lifestyle as much as the fact that I started carrying around a day planner that recorded events in advance. Subconsciously, I must have gotten tired of jotting everything down twice, even though they served much different purposes and contained different information.

In November 1998 -- two years ago today -- I began taking regular notes online in what I titled my Ideapad. It was meant to be a forum for my observations, and flipping back to those early entries bears it as such: I talked about sports, business, the Internet, and the weather, among other things.

But as I got more into my writing, I got more introspective. The Ideapad turned into a public diary of sorts, even though that was not its intent. As my desktop journal entries lessened -- I would go two months without jotting anything down, then work backward, with little notes like "I was really bad at this from April 20 till this week" -- online ones began to take their place.

I have always been fairly careful with my Ideapad writings. I hardly ever name names, and the confessional nature of my notes has been meticulously worded: in actuality, the less a reader knows me, the less revealing my Ideapad entries are. The inverse is also true, however, and I have long been questioned about my motives and, among other things, my sanity.

Only recently have I realized what happened. I replaced one journal with another, and in doing so, I completely reversed the model. Rather than diligently keep track of the daily events in my life, I started to keep personal, ambiguous notes of my emotions and observations. What happened from day to day became less important than what I thought of it. And instead of a subconscious fear of someone stumbling across my diary, I ended up turning my words inside-out to create material for public consumption.

I believe that in recent weeks I have found a happy medium; my online journal (now separated from the venerable Ideapad, which has of late turned into a weblog) is more of an outlet for observations and creative writing than the confessional booth it nearly became. And I have given up on my weekly calendar journal, replacing it with my day planner, in which I now go back and record events after they happen.

I don't know where my muse will take me next. I do know that in various ways I have been compelled to keep track of my life for ten years running. I am sure that will continue. Whether or not I'll bring an audience along for the ride remains to be seen.

But someday, when I am old and my memory failing, I will be able to look back at my journals with fondness, and remember my past in vivid detail. And it will be wonderful.

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Copyright © 2000 David Wertheimer. All rights reserved.