The loneliness of the diary

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I have been watching a documentary on Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet. The man amazes me. He seems so ordinary and yet the words that come from his mind and tapping fingers are extraordinary. He can take something as simple as peeling potatoes with his mother as a boy and turn it into a prayer. A prayer, I mean in the highest sense of beauty.
Heaney has a feel for words, the poet’s sensibility I suppose. I wish I had it too. I see it elsewhere, in poets elsewhere, but I have never been able to tackle words with such delicacy and respect myself.
I am a racer when I write. The words roll out of me. I do not stop to attend to them, to look for the finest alternative word, because I fear if I do so I will lose my momentum. I am a writer who uses momentum to create a scene. Momentum gives me rhythm and when I lose it I tend to stumble and stutter. But I wish, oh how I wish, I could string words together, string images together like Seamus Heaney.

I must avoid beating up on myself at this point. It is so easy to do. The writer’s lament: why do I not write like so and so, or such and such? Why do I not perform as well as he or she? Why are my words awkward and clumsy on the page?

I use my blog to practise my writing, to play around with ideas and to communicate with others. Is this the way others operate? Do other bloggers write on blogs primarily to communicate, or to practise their writing, or to show off, or to struggle with ideas, or to assert their certainties or share their doubts? These questions are probably ridiculous. As with so many things there are probably as many reasons for blogging as there are bloggers.

It beats the loneliness of the diary. When I was a young girl, around fifteen years of age, I wound up in a Catholic boarding school for the best part of a year. It was not an easy time. My sister boarded with me but she seemed, at least to me, she seemed to handle the experience better. She was a neat and orderly child. She could keep her clothes in good repair. I was a slob, with teeth rotting in my mouth that I sought to hide from the nuns and from my mother because I feared both the shame and pain of attending to them.
In boarding school everything ran in order. The boarders, most of them country girls from places like Numurkah, Wonthaggi and Maffra, wore picture perfect uniforms, each item clearly printed with their names in the top collar or on waist tags. Even their socks and underpants were labeled. I hid my underwear and socks in shame. I ran a furtive washing operation on my own, unbeknown to the nuns in the laundry, because I could not bear to let them see my tatty underwear.
It’s a familiar enough story but I use it here as a metaphor for other secrets and for this underlying sense of my writing – that it is messy and a disgrace.
Perhaps I should confine it to the loneliness of my diary.

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3 Comments on The loneliness of the diary

  1. Jim Murdoch
    August 29, 2009 at 10:21 am (8 years ago)

    People write blogs for all sorts of reasons. There is no right answer. The question you want to ask is: Am I getting what I want out of this blog of mine? It's like asking: Am I comfortable in my own skin? Because a blog is your virtual skin, it's how the world perceives you. I only know what I read and what I read into what I read. That and a rather nice 145px × 220px black and white photo which could be twenty years old for all I know or it could be your sister or a scan of the photo that came with a frame you bought recently but I'm content to assume that it's you. We bloggers tend to assume that people are being honest and open or at least open up to a point. And we content ourselves with that. We don't push for total honesty. So blogs, like biographies, are places of relative honesty; there's never room for all the facts.

    Blogs differ from diaries in that diaries don't talk back; you can ask all the rhetorical questions you like. Blogs have the potential to answer back. If they're being read. Yours is not being read by very many people. Your Alexa ranking is over the 7 million mark. To put that in perspective, Google's is 1. Mine is about 200,000 and I get about 3,500 visitors a month on average. That may suit you, just the occasional lost soul who, like I did, clicks on a link and finds something on your site that catches their interest. If you are looking to encourage readers you need to be proactive, none of this "If you build it they will come" lark. And my gut feeling, although you're nervous about it, is that you do want to get feedback. If I'm right then the simple answer is to find people out there who interest you and start commenting on their posts. In time they'll all start to check you out and you'll build a wee audience. That's how it goes, tit for tat.

    Why can't you write like Seamus Heaney? Why would you want to? The world has its Seamus Heaney, it doesn't need another. And if not him then there are plenty of other Irish writers queuing up behind him with a better chance of being him than either you or I. No, you keep on writing about places like Numurkah, Wonthaggi and Maffra; I've had enough of Dublin and Belfast and Limerick.

    Reply
  2. Elisabeth
    August 29, 2009 at 11:17 am (8 years ago)

    Oh Jim, you make me feel happy on a late Saturday night, that you might want to hear more about the places I mention, Numurkah, Wonthaggi and Maffra, rather than Belfast and Limerick and Dublin.
    These Irish places to me are full of romance – and poverty and tragedy – all rolled into one. Australia is prosaic. But that perhaps is part of my 'cultural cringe'. Contempt for the familiar.

    Reply
  3. Jim Murdoch
    August 29, 2009 at 12:20 pm (8 years ago)

    I have had a fondness for Australia since I was a kid – I used to have a huge map of the country on my bedroom wall – and I'm surprised I never considered emigrating. The thing is I probably wouldn’t like it there as I can't stand the heat. For years we've been pretty ignorant about Australian culture – everyone knew Rolf Harris but that was about it. I couldn't name an Australian writer or artist or composer. Actually I did know two Australian composers, Malcolm Williamson and Percy Grainger, but I thought they were British. I've now rectified that and I have quite a large collection of CDs of Antipodean composers. I'm still pretty ignorant as regards the other two areas.

    I visited Dublin a few years ago. It was full of foreigners, worse than Edinburgh because at least there they're generally tourists. I went to the local supermarket on the day we arrived and the shop assistant was Portuguese and could barely speak English. I do have a couple of Irish friends online now. You should check out Ken Armstrong's blog. He's a lovely chap to get to know.

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