Friday, August 18, 2006

In praise of books

Rachel called me this week to tell me she found some of her diaries from junior high and high school. Together we laughed uproariously as she read to me some of her entries, which held all the angst-filled and love-smitten prose an adolescent can create. She apparently was infatuated with a boy in her class whom I will call Brian McDuff. From an episode of "eye contact," she was certain of her future and had her whole life planned out. She would marry Brian McDuff and they would have wonderful kids. She had even named the kids. Ah, yes, Brian McDuff would make the perfect husband. So much for Brian McDuff.

I wish I had diaries from my childhood. They would make some funny reading, I am sure. Actually, I have tried to keep diaries on and off since I became an adult. I've recently been reading aloud parts of these to Ed, especially the entries I made around the time we bought this house and then about 2 years later, when we finally moved to Maine and got to live in this house. Matt (then 13) and I had driven up first, then Ed and Rachel and the dog followed a week later. So Matt and I basically lived in the house with very limited furniture until the rest of the family arrived with the movers close behind.

I faithfully recorded our trip up here, then continued to write about our days together - days without TV, VCRs, radios, or computers. We spent our time wandering around downtown, playing darts, and assembling jigsaw puzzles. Of course, we had to eat every meal out because we had no cooking utensils. We still had use of our car, though, so we drove down to the ocean one day and enjoyed sitting on the rocks. As today I read my scribbles and jots, I can relive the anxiety of looking for a job here. I can remember the relief when the rest of the family arrived safely and we were together again. I can feel the joy of finding my transcription job. I can recall the sense of wonder and miracle that we were finally living in our dream house.

In my life, I have kept journals and diaries intermittently. Usually I went to the office supply store and got a plain red book with a lined page for each day of the year. On the front of the one I am reading now, it says, "1996 Standard Diary. " Then on the bottom of the cover, it says, "Daily Reminder." There were a few times when I found this plain red book aesthetically lacking, and bought a journal which had calligraphy on the front and the page layout was more artistic. But I usually returned to the faithful red book. I guess "standard" described my life well.

It's been a few years since I kept my journal. When the kids went to college, it seemed as if my daily life just consisted of writing, "Went to work. Watched the news. Had chicken for supper. Called Mom." Not very much seemed to be happening that was worthy of recording, so I just dropped the whole thing.

When I started this blog, I once again wanted to keep a journal, and this time, it would be a virtual diary! What could be more appropriate? How easy would it be to sit down at the computer, where I usually am anyway, and type my thoughts and activities in an ordered, clear fashion? I downloaded the appropriate software and started typing away. But it wasn't the same. Oh, I had plenty to write about...but I guess after typing all day in my job, it wasn't as much fun as I thought to type more into my computer diary. Besides - my posts ended up in, well, cyberspace. They weren't on the Internet, but they were somewhere floating in my computer's brain. I could access them, but I couldn't touch them. I couldn't turn the page. I couldn't take them and sit in the living room and read them to Ed. They somehow didn't feel real, and they certainly weren't satisfying.

There's just something about a book. The feel of it, for one thing. I can run my fingertips over the gold "1996" and can actually feel that the numbers are a little embossed and rough. I can read from January 1 directly to December 31 and relive all the events and adventures of that year. I don't have to punch keys or nagivate a mouse. I just turn page after page after page. I can tell by my handwriting exactly what mood I was in when I wrote each entry. Some days, I was obviously hurried, and each letter scrambles to identify itself before the next letter overtakes and sometimes obliterates it. On other days, each word is well formed and my thoughts in perfect coordination - I must have had plenty of time to record my day. Without the use of bold, italics, or changing the font name or color, I still managed to solidify my daily life and thoughts for posterity.

When I put the "1996 Standard Diary" back on the shelf, I get a tiny thrill of placing it in its chronological order, and as I do so, I mentally and emotionally place that eventful year in a special corner of my heart. I have found that the whole experience is for me so much more fulfilling than "File - Save As - Close."

Don't get me wrong - I love my iMac! When my last computer crashed, I went crazy trying to figure out my checkbook, bills, addresses, pictures, blog - all which my computer and/or the Internet so faithfully stored. The computer has its place; however, nothing can ever replace a book. (But apparently somebody can replace Brian McDuff.)

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