I felt like my last post was a bit self indulgent and pity party-ish. so to make myself feel better, I thought I’d write something that deals directly with the COVID-19, Coronavirus Pandemic and the importance of recording the everyday.
I’m a journal writer; a diary keeper, I have recorded my everyday life on and off since I was about nine years old. There are whole years in which I didn’t record anything, and although I aim to write a page in my journal every day, this doesn’t always work out. First rule of journal club is self forgiveness, if you were wondering. If you make it a chore you won’t stick to it, so don’t make it into a chore.
Why are journals and diaries important?
History is written by the people in charge. This isn’t necessarily because their opinion or their experiences are the most important, it’s because the official documents are the documents that are recorded, protected and preserved. This means we generally have a good idea about what happens in terms of significant events where dates, government policies even high ranking option is concerned, but without first hand, primary sources from ordinary people, we don’t know what their history is.
The novel I am currently working on is historical fiction and I can’t tell you the number of times I have wished that my character had kept a diary, or written more detailed letters. I would have loved to have known how world events affected her and the ordinary folk who were living at that time.
Yes, social media is recording everything we are doing, but is that an accurate recording of how the world is right now? Who knows if twitter and Facebook will even be accessible in the future, and do we really want to base our opinion of historical events on what we put in out tweets? Most of mine are funny videos of cats or, where instagram is concerned, pictures of my phenomenal cookery skills.
You may have noticed that we are living through a historic period in history. It’s a weird concept because we can’t see how that will be seen from the telescopic perspective of the future, all we know now is that huge changes are occurring such as we have never seen before and we are the people that are in the middle of these changes, living through them.
Your story, your voice and your experience, whatever that is, is a valid one and one that should be recorded for yourself, for your family and possibly even for history. Before you get your long lost diary out and start Dear Diarying, here are a few tips for recording the Coronavirus pandemic through your own eyes:
- Write for yourself, not for others. Abandon the idea that you are writing for someone in the future who will use your diary as a primary resource to define the era. That isn’t to say you can’t write for or to your children or grandchildren. But when we write as if someone we don’t know is going to read what we are writing, we tend to edit out bits of our lives (she drinks how much gin?!!) and assume a voice that is perhaps more formal than the way we actually speak. Your voice is valid, your gin consumption may well be an accurate representation of the sort of stress that this point in history is putting you under, or it may be that you really like gin. That’s ok too.
- Don’t just focus on presenting the facts in prose. Try capturing the day in a daily poem; an English haiku perhaps or something else impressionistic and short. Poetry is a translation tool which allows us to capture a lot of the personal emotion. Filtering the days we are living in through our own creative lens is important.
- Don’t just write out what’s in the papers. Try to think in terms of personal events rather than global events. By that I mean, it’s fine to record how you feel about the terrible situation in Spain, or how nervous the increased police presence being recorded in the papers is making you, but don’t record the headlines, the news. That’s already being recorded, in the papers. The best thing about journals and diaries is their ability to record personal thoughts and feelings; what is happening to you directly in your own life, the impact that global events are having on you specifically.
- If you do want to write about the political situation, keep it personal. What are your opinions on how the pandemic is being managed, who did you vote for in the last election, would they still have your vote? How do you feel about politicians becoming sick and being taken to hospital? The people at the top are shaping the lives of ordinary everyday people underneath them, how do you feel about their guidance?
- Record the effect on those in your immediate surroundings. What is happening within your home? What are you eating, what are you drinking, how are your neighbours coping? How is the sense of community in your neck of the woods? How are you communicating?
- Remember to put the differences you are seeing in context. People looking back will not necessarily know what the ‘normal’ state of affairs was, they might not know what sort of things you ate normally or what was stocked in supermarkets, so remember to compare and contrast, so that when you or your family look back in twenty years time when all food is in pill form you’ll be able to reminisce about lentil and butternut squash shepherd pie (see above. Delicious)
- Don’t put pressure on yourself to record EVERYTHING. You can’t. I tend to set myself one page a day, no more or less. It is a good way of ensuring you pick out the bits that are important to you. You could even record a single hour of the day, every day, and just keep it as that.
- Don’t forget to record the natural world. Everything that is happening is also impacting on the natural world. What have you noticed in your garden, or in the parks now that there is less traffic and less pollution?
Keeping a journal or diary is an excellent way of transporting the stuff that is in your head into a nice safe book, something that can be closed at the end of the day, so it’s very beneficial for mental health, something we could all do with looking after at the minute. Why not have a go and let me know how you get on?