A Diary Fan Discovers Blogs and LJs
I've always loved diaries and began to keep a handwritten one from the age of twelve and through most of my teen years. The statistical prominence of teens in the online Live Journals and Blogs is understandable. Teens have always been the most likely diarists in contemporary Western culture. As a result of the liminality of being caught between childhood and adulthood due to our cultural construct of adolescence, teens need their diaries as a repository for all that angst. Another related factor is that teens tend to have more time on their hands than they will when they become adults. Those teens who have been forced by circumstances to grow up fast and assume adult responsibilities usually have neither the inclination nor the time to keep a diary. In my own life, there was a hiatus in my diary during the college years when I found that my life was way too eventful to find the time to record it.
Yet reading diaries of people long dead in my college library was a delight. I was a history major and these were the coveted primary source materials that gave you a window into the past. I knew that I still had to allow for the subjectivity of the author, just as I did with secondary source material. From a fictional perspective, the author of a diary is like an unreliable narrator. For the student of history, the fun of reading diaries that record the same events from different perspectives is speculating on the reasons why each of these accounts is different. This is probably why so many in the Blog/LJ community follow discussions from Blog to Blog. They also enjoy seeing the differences in the viewpoints.
When I graduated from college I decided that I wouldn't have time for a diary, so I would keep a commonplace book as Thomas Jefferson had. Commonplace books in the 18th century were miscellanies that would include essays on various topics , poetry, financial records,significant addresses, reminders, lists or anything else that the author felt the need to record in addition to a description of life events. Everything was mixed together helter skelter. I mention this because some of the LJs and Blogs that I have seen have the character of commonplace books rather than diaries. You never know what you might find in them. They can be intermittently and unexpectedly fascinating, but their content is mostly yawnworthy for an outsider. The 18th century commonplace book wasn't meant to have an audience. Their authors used them for reference, the same way we whip out our calendars and address books. The poetry and essays recorded in commonplace books were a resource. They were mined from the pages of the commonplace books for publication.
In the middle of the spectrum is a fannish institution called the perzine. This is short for personal fanzine. I quickly discovered perzines when I became active in science fiction fandom during the seventies. They remain the most popular type of zine among literary (non-media) science fiction fans. Perzines include journal entries, essays and reviews all by one person. They also have a letters column commenting on the zine. The letters are selected and edited. There is usually a lengthy WAHF (We Also Heard From) list at the end of the letter column mentioning the names of those whose letters weren't selected for publication. So unlike the commonplace book, there is selectivity in a perzine. The author has an intended audience. Perzines can be as public as the author wishes. Some have a mailing list of hundreds of people while others are sent to a few personal friends of the author. The largest circulation perzines are often sent to publishers in order to garner review copies of books. Many Blogs and LJs seem very much like a perzine. The authors are conscious of an audience ,and their writing is much more polished than in those Blogs and LJs that resemble a commonplace book.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are the famous published diaries that have been viewed as literature. I devoured the diaries of Anais Nin. What makes these diaries so compulsively readable is the insight that they seem to provide into the author's mind and emotions. I say "seems" because we now know that Anais Nin was presenting a carefully constructed public persona. She wasn't anywhere near as honest as her readers originally believed. Yet the type of diary that she created is the most useful for both those who want to gain insight into themselves for theraputic purposes, and most interesting for those readers who want to understand the author's psyche. The psychological Blog/LJs that don't simply record events, but focus on how the writers feel about the events in their lives are the ones that will continue to draw me. From a literary perspective, they have the power of a novel with good characterization.
Some might feel that calling a Blog or LJ boring is a personal attack. After all, the subject of the Blog/LJ is the author. So saying that a writer's Blog is boring may seem akin to making a similar judgment about the individual. Yet it's really the manner of presentation that is being judged. If a writer intends a Blog/LJ to be read by others, selectivity and emotional insight will enhance the material. The commonplace book mode of presentation is chaotic. It resembles preliminary notes toward a fanfic which includes notes on plot, character, bits of dialogue and research all jumbled together. These notes are a resource that can be mined in order to produce the story, but they are not the final product. The best diaries are like the best fiction. They have continuity and focus while still representing the author's unique perspective.
I am sure that the Blogs/LJs that I have read on the internet will change and evolve as their authors do. Just as my diary went from the theraputic prop of my adolescence to the helter skelter commonplace book of my early twenties, Blogs/LJs may reflect the author's needs at different stages of their lives. I will continue to observe the phenomenon with interest because I will always remain a diary fan.