We were in Amsterdam last week and we visited Anne Frank's house. It was harrowing and heartbreaking as you would expect. All those people hiding for all that time and all in vain. But what made the biggest impact on me was unexpected. At the end of the tour there is a short film that Otto Frank made in the 60s. He said that he didn't know that his daughter was keeping a diary and after he had read it he had thought that perhaps he didn't know his daughter at all, so deep and personal were the things that she had recorded.
I am an inveterate diary keeper. I have them going back to the 80s, recording my life as I saw it. The major events are all there. School and exams, my first boyfriend, university, my working life, my wedding and the birth of my children. And then, about two years ago, I stopped writing. January came and I chose not to buy a diary. In fact if truth be told, I stopped really writing when there became a possibility that someone would read them. After the birth of my children the function of my diary changes from being an account of my innermost soul to a simple record of day to day events, no less valuable but not what I wrote a diary for.
So when I heard Otto Frank speak about Anne's diary two things struck me. Firstly, as a mother, is it true that you hardly know your children? I tried to exclude myself from the generalisation. He was a father and a father in an era when openness was not embraced as it is today. Of course his comments didn't apply. But my objections sounded hollow even to me. How would I ever really know what was going on in the heads of my children? Even when they are young, they keep things back, things they think might upset you or get them into trouble. Eventually I concluded that there is nothing wrong with not knowing your children as well as you'd like. As long as they are happy why does it matter? Surely it's simply vanity to assume that you know what goes on inside another's mind.
So then I looked at myself. Throughout my life I have recorded, albeit unintentionally, how I have changed and developed as a person. You don't necessarily spot the shifting opinions as they happen but a comparison of the musings of one year with the next will show a developing psyche as it deals with life's hurdles. I change all the time. I know this because I blog and play on Facebook and by these two media I am able to see how my responses to situations alter. But you have to dig deep to spot it and it all smacks a bit too much of navel gazing for my liking. Better to write a diary and record those changes honestly and in one place.
This is not a light bulb moment for me. I have toyed with the idea of a diary ever since I gave one up. My iPad stores various Journal apps, each more aesthetically pleasing than the last and I have written things down from time to time behind the security of an obscure password. But when I mentioned writing a diary on my iPad to my eldest she looked at me in horror. "You can't do that!" She exclaimed. "It's not a proper diary if you don't write it with a pen." And I think she might be right. Tempting though it is to start typing behind a little app icon, such a function lacks the soul of having to find it in your heart to form the words on the page. It's a bit like the difference between paying on a credit card and counting out the cash from your wallet. One thing is for sure though. If I venture back down that path I need to be honest with myself and not give two hoots about whoever might read it. Rather like writing a blog really.