At 16:00 GMT on September 4, 2018, I posted the final page of my first online Diary. It’d been kept for a period of over four years, in order to provide ‘an insight into my activities, challenges, discomforts, and discoveries as an academic and creative practitioner’. What had been intended as a snapshot of my professional life turned into a substantial portfolio of finished photographs. Other aspects of my life permeated the text too. (The distinction between a diary and a journal was sometimes blurred.) Having fulfilled its stated objective, the project was brought to a conclusion after the thousandth post. (My ruminations on the pedagogical applications of public-access diarism are available in an article entitled ‘One-to-One-to-Many’, on this site.)
One of my unstated intentions for keeping the Diary was to maintain a daily discipline of writing 500 hundred words of prose. Like drawing and playing a musical instrument, the ability to express oneself – clearly, cogently, and engagingly – demands constant practise. It isn’t self sustaining. The practise(ice) of writing has helped me to think more precisely and coherently. The Diary, for its part, disciplined my use of time and how I apportioned tasks to it, as well as enhanced my sense of daily personal accountability. You can’t keep a diary and drift through life.
Curiously, my memory of the period following the Diary’s closure was less acute than it had been previously; mundane days became indistinguishable one from another; and I was not as aware of the passing of time. Life had become less comprehensible in its absence. The Diary had transformed my days into definable events, and encouraged me to live them deliberately, critically, and fiercely. I’d regarded my waking hours (and sometimes my activities in dream world too) as a resource out of which I could make something of substance. (This was an ambition that I’d first conceived when writing a diary between 1982 and 2011 (See: ‘My Diaries‘).)
Initially, the posts weren’t directed at a defined audience. However, as time went on, I became increasingly aware of who was reading them: professional creative practitioners, students, and other bloggers, as well as particular individuals known to me. Inevitably, I started to include unsolicited ideas and advice that I hoped would be of relevance to them. The writing also mentioned, obliquely, people with whom I came into contact during the course of my work. For this reason, regulating principles, applicable to those inside and outside the Diary, became necessary. They were designed to tutor audience expectations, and protect the rights of the reader, the referenced, and myself. The Ten Principles were:
- I’d write a diary entry, whether or not I felt inclined. After all, this was a commitment and a discipline.
- I’d address the affairs of my working week, principally. There was no obligation to discuss weekend and out-of-hours activities. Certainly, I’d not expose any aspect of my life that might jeopardise either the privacy or integrity of others.
- I reserved the right to be boring. After all, some of my days would be colourless, trivial, and without redeeming merit.
- The anonymity of those whom I encountered in life would be preserved in text. The only exception to this rule were those who’d exhibited laudable behaviour. Give honour where honour is due.
- I wouldn’t refer to anyone who didn’t wish to be mentioned in the Diary.
- I’d not repeat heresay and rumour, or otherwise criticise anyone who hadn’t the opportunity to defend themselves.
- However, I’d be merciless in exposing my own misdemeanours, corruptions, limitations, confused thinking, and inconsistencies, when appropriate.
- I wouldn’t tolerate censorship. Anyone who disapproved of my writing would be politely asked to self-censor, and stop reading the Diary.
- I reserved the right to block anyone from reading the Diary who, in my view, would find specific content either unhelpful or injurious.
- I reserved the right to either delete or moderate any statement that, with hindsight, I judged to have been ill-considered, inequitable, or potentially offensive.
Keeping a public-access diary also has a downside. It can distort the perceived relationship between author and reader. For example, I’ve managed to sustain only a few friendships from my secondary school and art school days to the present. The majority of my friends from the past have remained there. This is particularly so with regard to those with whom I’ve had little opportunity to either meet or gather intelligence about their present life. They, on the contrary, have acquired a great deal of knowledge about my activities, values, feelings, and ways of thinking, simply by reading my posts. Thus, I’ve been present to them in ways that they are no longer to me. Which is not to say that I’ve ceased to consider them friends. They’ll always have a place in my thoughts and heart.
I also used the Diary to not only provide a public account of research projects as they developed, day-by-day, but also to record the process of conceptualisation, design, experimentation, implementation, and evaluation for my own benefit. Writing while conducting my practice helped me to keep a tight check on proceedings, and to develop a critical apparatus with which to judge my efforts, in the moment. As a consequence, the work proceeded more quickly and smoothly than it might otherwise have done.
In 2017, I introduced other modes of writing into the genre. They enabled me cross the boundaries between descriptive and evaluative writing, on the one hand, and fictive and creative writing, on the other. The outcome was a revelation (to me at least), often surprising, and not a little controversial at times. For instance, I never thought that my final post would conclude with a poem, written in acknowledgement of one of several other endings which had taken place during the Diary’s final year. Occasionally, homilies (reflecting my morning ‘communion’ with the scriptures) would find their way to the head of the page. It was unreasonable to expect that my religious convictions, which are the mainspring of my motivations and outlook, could forever remain on the margins of the discourse.
The other salient feature of my daily posts were the images. Writing in ‘My Diaries’ (August 21, 2014) on the nature and function of photography in the then new on-line Diary, I said: ‘The photographs, like the verbal descriptions of actions, thoughts, events, and encounters, are often mundane, routine, and straightforwardly denotative – like life’. That observation remained relevant for the next four years. But there were also photographs that exceeded the bounds of this descriptor. These prompted me to establish an Instagram presence, which commenced in 2017. In its own way, the album is a para-diary of moments through the medium of pictures and their captions. (An article entitled ‘My Instagram’ will be published on this site in the near future.)
In ‘My Diaries’, I anticipated that links to sound and video clips would, in the future, be inserted into the text. The prophecy was both fulfilled and exceeded. Towards end of the project, sound files were also incorporated. The next diary will extend the genre’s multi-medial potential. The best and most helpful aspects of the Diary will be incorporated. And its ambitions to push the boundaries of the genre, pursued further. To promise any more than these admittedly bald statements of intent would be to hold hostages to fortune. For, if there’s one thing that I’ve learned from maintaining the practice over the past four years, it’s this: A diary must be allowed to find its own form, content, purpose, and (even) audience, as it adapts to the changing circumstances of the author’s life, as well as to the lives of those with whom he shares his world and work.*
* The new diary went live at 09:00 GMT on Wednesday, September 19, 2018.