Memory & Keeping DiariesRachman Hopwood
When I was younger I prided myself on having a good memory—not only for faces and places, but for the words people speak in their daily lives. But now I find that my memory is not so reliable. Of course, memories are not neatly filed away so that we gain immediate access to our whole memory bank, for most of us, memory acts in a most Quixotic way. We find ourselves remembering a garden in our childhood, but we may be racking our brains as to where we put down our reading glasses just half an hour ago! Like a capricious postman, the presiding god or goddess of memory delivers all manner of disparate memories into our consciousness, but not the location of our missing glasses.
Our memories very often surface with a rich aura of thoughts and feelings. We awaken in the early morning hours and remember Uncle Fred (I wonder how he is doing?), the blooming roses in the garden, the taste of ginger on the tongue, a holiday at the seaside ten years ago, until the reverie dissolves and we focus in on our more immediate concerns—the unpaid gas bill, medications to pick up from the pharmacy, a letter to be posted, and so on.
As we grow older, need we passively accept an increasingly unreliable memory or is there perhaps something we can do about it? I think there is something we can do about it and the method is very simple and close at hand—keeping a daily diary or if you are a little more ambitious—a journal. You can use a computer, but a little notebook and pen or pencil will serve you just as well. Almost certainly when we think about embarking on diary keeping, you may hear discouraging inner voices saying "you can't write, in your dull life, what have you got to write about?" Hearing those voices, we must steel ourselves, ignore them, and walk by.
For a beginning, I suggest finding a time in the day when you can go to a calm place (metaphorically), switch on your computer, or pull out your notepad and pen and begin to write. Personally, I have always found very early in the morning or late at night as the best time for writing my diary entries. Perhaps because one is near to the night realm of dreams and inspiration. I always at the top of the day's page, write down the date and time. Now if your mind goes blank and you don't know what to write, write that—"My mind is a blank and I don't know what to write." It's easy and straight forward and we have launched—in a humble way—our diary. This might stir something, but if not, let it be. The next day when we come to write our diary entry, we may write down—"This afternoon I went to the shops." It's very important at this point not to be critical of what you are writing, all that is important is that you write something each day, building up your own natural rhythm of writing.
While writing—"I walked down to the shops today"—you will have noticed other things you may want to include—simple things like, was it raining or sunny? Were there many people about, what were they saying, or doing, or wearing, etc. There will be something that catches your attention, and each day you drop your pennyworth into the box and the pennies are mounting up. The very act of writing means that we will stir hidden and forgotten memories and these memories will add another strand of color to your diary. You will be surprised at the amount of material garnered from all the corners of our lives. Simple things like, "Ah yes, Uncle Harry and Aunt Winifred stayed over at Christmas for four days in 2004, or in bed with the flu on the 21st February 2003." Apart from recording the practicalities of our lives, we mention the thousand and one things that make up our life—our adventures, our work, loves, hobbies, interests, aspirations and dreams, all flowing into our diary.
Some of us may only write for our own amusement, while other people may want to share their writing with family and friends, and yet others will want to share their diary with the world. Today with the internet and online diaries (called Blogs) this is something very easy to do. But there is still a magic about someone keeping a diary. It's interesting to note that historians are using diaries kept by "ordinary people" for their own social histories. Very often these diaries by unknown people can be a more rewarding reading experience than diaries of the famous—and certainly more endearing.
For further information on diary and journal writing see:
In Awe of the Ordinary: Older Learners and their Journals by E. Michael Brady