Saturday, 4 January 2014

Transcribing and recording

A fairly tedious task in the New Year is the transcribing of all the data from the old to the new diary. It is almost finished, the transcribing, that is. Choosing a diary is always more time-consuming than it ought to be, as I like the diary to be small, not printed sideways, and to include the moon phases. The only diary with moon phases is small, and thus transcribing names and addresses takes some time, and has to be writ small. Almost finished, though.

Some people would probably argue that all this stuff should be stored electronically, and they are probably right, but I do not want to have to cart the iPad everywhere I go, delightful though this device be.

I keep the old diaries, which are surprisingly useful. I learned from Dr P how to use mine more efficiently and effectively. Before retirement, I relied on the work diary. While these diaries never provided a narrative of out lives, salient details were often recorded, and came in handy for various things which needed to be checked. Doctors' appointments,  other medical matters, bills being paid, and sundry other matters. With luck, my diaries won't be needed, but I still refer to them form time to time.

I suppose blogs also provide a record of our lives, although most blogs are not a catalogue of events, more of aspects of our lives, and who went when and when.

As a young girl, I kept a diary, in which emotions were expressed, but eventually I threw these out. Even I could not be bothered reading them: the torrid emotional outpourings which, having been expressed, had served their essential functions. Now I blog, but the blog does not necessarily give an account of daily life, and, of course, what is in a blog can be highly selective. Views, not facts.

When newly married, I wrote a lot of letters, and received many in return, but mostly these were not kept. Every time you move house, it is desirable to reduce the number of possessions and records of life. Now, I wish I had kept more. However, much was written to other people, and would not have been retained, so for all intents and purposes they are gone. As babies were born, as lives became busier, as new careers were undertaken, the written records of life diminished drastically, and with every house move, letters tended to be thrown out. What I have kept is highly selective, and I must admit, reading handwritten letters is tiring. As telephone calls became cheaper, we tended to talk more on the telephone, and to write many fewer letters.

Then came email, and it seemed that correspondence flowered once more. I like to keep personal emails, but unless you knew what you were doing, it was easy to lose emails if you changed your internet service provider. Imperfect understanding caused me to hit the wrong key and thus lose many I wanted to keep. Alas and woe. So there are large chunks of my life for which I have no records. It does seems that the daily writing of a diary may have been the best way to record one's life.

Some things I have kept. Some of the correspondence from my first marriage, from the period of our engagement. Letters from family and friends about the first disastrous pregnancies.The letters received on the births of my children. Some records of when my first marriage failed. Divorce records. Some material from my working life. Letters and emails from close friends and families. Records relating to Dr P's last years and death. The legal documentation and all the affidavits. But all in all, there are relatively few records for much of my life. It does not really matter, as I hardly think my children and descendants will be very interested. Many of us would not want to think our existence should pass unrecorded. We want to leave our marks, however faint, upon the earth. But probably, more comprehensive biographies were possible for the periods when extensive letter writing was practised, and the letters retained, whether for family or for posterity.

Someone should interview biographers,and find out what they all think. Where would they have been without letters? The letters of famous people are now collected and published. How many of these volumes have been read?  Many of us humans are curious: we do like to know lots about other people. Witness the rise of reality TV. And let us ponder about the reliability and truthfulness of such records.


Dartford Warbler said...

Happy New Year Persiflage!

You have some good points about the future of written records. Ordinary lives are now blogged or tweeted about and our letters have become disposable e mails. Not much for our descendants to read through on a rainy day, years hence.

Elephant's Child said...

I have a passion for diaries and letters, and read rather a lot of those which are published.
For myself, I will be happy to drift away in anonymity. Nothing worth recording, and the minutae of my days/life is big to me, and nothing to others.

VioletSky said...

For many years I kept a diary ... until I started blogging. Even though my blog is in no way a journal, I somehow found less time and energy for keeping a written record of my comings and goings and thoughts. I also wrote many more letters than I got in return. They are now all stashed in a box in the closet and every now and then I go through them, but really, they would interest no-one else for long. I do miss the thought process and mental stimulation of writing about the events of the day. I also think it helps with memory.

VioletSky said...

you might be interested in reading a blog called Letters of Note

Isabelle said...

I read lots and lots of published letters and diaries. I've just finished the letters of Penelope Fitzgerald (very interesting) and also the book of Letters of Note and a book called To The Letter, which is a bit similar.

I think descendants would be very interested in the mundanities of their great-granny's daily life. But will I leave my copious diaries for posterity? Not sure.

The future, yes, I am very conscious that we don't write many letters any more. I doubt that many emails will survive. I also suspect this about digital photos which aren't printed out, though I hope I'm wrong.