I was talking with a friend yesterday about whether or not we should be keeping diaries now, in order to preserve some literary memory of what life is like at this moment in time.
I’ve never been a natural diarist or journaler: I always have a notebook (or five) going, but that’s for jotting down ideas, quotations, sketches, reminders, lines that occur to me in the middle of the night. Even in high school, that’s the way I kept a diary: not with a record of my days, but with short stories and song lyrics, maudlin poems and scrapbooked pieces of my life (concert tickets, fliers, and probably some charismatic trash). This touches on my feeling about what it means to write honestly, I think: for me, a bland list of my feelings will never seem like an accurate portrait of my mind, but a piece of fiction—carrying its own mood and reality—will.
That isn’t a critique of essayists, diarists, non-fiction writers generally: it’s a personal preference. The movement of my emotional clouds over the strata of my life has more meaning for me than day-to-day events, and I remember that without writing it down. Or that is to say, the lingering mood brings back the events. The predawn morning when a friend and I skated on the ice in the shade of a Costco parking lot, sliding back and forth on the soles of our shoes until the sun came up and it collapsed into wet asphalt. Standing in a fast food franchise a half hour later, hoping for coffee and breathing into our hands, looking a flier for the Kiwanis Club, and feeling an emptiness, a grief, to realize that the Kiwanis had so much more reality for most people than the ice that had been, so briefly, in that parking lot.
What is the meaning, I guess I’m saying, of recording things so inconsequential that you wouldn’t remember them anyway? I remember plenty of things that have consequence only for me. I write down, here, the things I care about: the hummingbirds nesting in the tree in our side yard, the hawks swooping low through the alleys. Here’s something: yesterday, on a walk with my dog, I solved a personal mystery. For weeks, I’ve seen people stopped at one particular stand of trees along our walk route, but have never been able to spot any reason for it. Because we’re all trying to keep distance from one another, I was just happy that whatever vortex was there existed; it was across the street from me, and meant at least one place on the road where I didn’t have to struggle to stay 6 feet away from people.
However, yesterday I stopped and asked a woman what she was looking for. Apparently a family of great horned owls has been nesting in the trees above, but they were not there anymore, from what she could see. All those people, they were looking at owls. When I still had my horse, I went out with her on a desert trail ride to a wash a few miles from the barn, along with my trainer. We often passed a huge saguaro that held a hawks nest, where we saw hatchlings, but that morning we also spotted a nesting owl, at the very farthest point from where we had begun.
Not everything is dead yet, might be one message of such a nest. Things are still beginning, and will be for some time. It’s not lost of me that all my observations of the moment are about birds. I’ve also been dreaming about birds, their feet clutched tightly around my fingers as I struggle to open a window and set them free.
One day, the window will open.