Jason (jcreed) wrote,

So although I've had a livejournal account for only a little over two years, the archives I now have on lj stretch back almost four and a half years to mid-december of 1999. This is thanks to a perl script I wrote about the time that I got the lj account to import the contents of the daily record I had been keeping as a text file for the duration of 2000 and 2001.

It occurred to me while at home during the winter break of the 1999-2000 academic year -- I still have a clear memory of sitting at the kitchen table (which being made of glass is extremely noisy when one sets anything on it) with my vaio, opening up ~/daily with vi, and entering such thrilling information as:

Progress on ptkfonted selection code.

and later
Heading back to Madison. Had to get up at 4:30 again, bleah.

Some context hacking. Still need to finish up
rendering code for \over. At 1340 loc.

But as boring as most of my entries back then were (which I surmise my more recent entries haven't really improved much on, actually) it felt (and continues to feel) rather pleasant to have such a habitual commitment for some reason. It satisfies some kind of pack-rat-ish tendency of mine: it makes me feel less that days are simply disappearing and being swallowed up by the ever-fattening past. At least I have a few mundane sentences, a meal with a friend, a bit of progress on some project or another, something like that, to show for it. I'm not entirely sure it's healthy to almost fetishize the act of recording, to become so attached to this kind of ritual preservation, but it's what I do. I do like looking back at old thoughts and behavior and events, and forcing myself to stick to the rhythm of writing (pretty much) every day is easier than maintaining an irregular habit.

Because I know what the latter's like: I've had some form of pen-and-paper journal for an even longer time than I've electronically jotted down a simple record of what's been happening to me. I have a couple dozen notebooks sitting in my room, probably a good couple thousand pages, going back to the summer of 1993. I was at some sort of summer school thing (maybe it was CTY that ran it? I forget now) at Northwestern and the class I was taking told us to use a notebook not just for doing essays in but also as a "thinking log", so that we wrote down incidental things that occurred to us in class, or while doing the readings, while preparing for the essays, etc.

I enjoyed doing that well enough that I got another notebook once I got home and continued to fill it with what to me at the time were reasonably profound thoughts. Of course now I can't even open it to a random page without cringing already before I've read it, because I'm so certain I'll have to anyway when I do.

For years between that start and the point of starting an electronic (and more explicitly mundane) record, these journals were the way that I got my thoughts out on paper. Ideas for games to try to work out with pete, complaining about my family, wistful, obtuse descriptions of hopeless crushes, notes about books good and bad, college rejection, college acceptance.

I went through a bout of severe depression/panic attacks/etc. the second half of my freshman year of high school. A year or two ago I was flipping through old journals and I looked around for those dates, expecting to find something interesting, expecting to see what feeling so awful had done to me.

I found nothing. Just a gap. One one page, an ordinary entry, and on the next, another, dated half a year later, with a glib "huh, I haven't written in here for quite a while". I was horrified. Usually not a week went by without some little comment, some idea, some thought, but here was this awful lacuna of months and months and months, and all I had was vague and nauseating memories of it. Sure, it's just suggestive symbolism and not really so real, but the symbolism of it overwhelmed me: months of pain and wailing and meaninglessness and cold-sweat fear of the too-present spectre of my own death were there in a few blank inches of dusty blue-lined paper, invisible. I couldn't get at them any more, I couldn't deny them the way I wanted, I couldn't quite banish them from my thoughts because I couldn't get at them.

I'm exaggerating a bit, maybe: I'm letting myself go in describing it in such credulous terms as if I really think the memories themselves inhere in my writing-them-down, but when I do let myself go, I can feel a desire for that belief, just a little. I'm still not too removed from the scribe-priest who believed his teachers when they told him that writing was magic... I've been taught the opposite, but the rebellious bits of my brain, the old monkey bits, they're still amazed at the novelty of language, of writing. Damn you, monkey brains!

Anyway. The more concrete aspects of this sort of writing have been kind of fun for me to experiment with... I've changed my favorite writing tool over the years, tried pencils for a while, tried some different variations available within the uniball brand, played with the el-cheapo bics for some time. The twenty-two notebooks on my shelf are a pretty mixed bag. The very first, the one from northwestern is one of those lovely generic-looking "Composition Notebooks" with the black-and-white mottled covers (sigpie I think used to refer to it as "ground beef"). The next few were all spiral notebooks. I shifted to the spiralless kind by volume 5 (July 29 1996 - Nov 4 1996, which shows my obsession at that time with Nomic and random MUDding) but these tended to have their binding get destroyed kind of easily. Volume 19 (Sept 16 2000 - Nov 18 2000, with some nice old notes from when I was taking topology) was a charming little leather-bound thing only about eight inches tall, but it only lasted a couple months before the strap on it broke, and storing it in my backpack became consequenly a bit too rough on the pages. Volume 20 (Nov 28 2000 - July 19 2001) was a nicely bound quad-ruled book with yellow pages and a big sticker saying "COMPUTATION BOOK" on the front. Only problem was that it was like $20: I only found out the price after I brought it up to the register at the Art store on campus, and I didn't feel too inclined to buy another. Volume 21 (July 20 2001 - May 21 2002: linear logic, breakup with sigpie, 9-11, and a surprising mention of the that girl I now think of at ludicrously-hot-coffeeshop-girl-who-makes-out-with- the-guy-who-works-there) was one final attempt at an ordinary spiralless notebook, and it totally fell apart. It has duct tape holding it together still. At volume 22 (May 21 2002 - Apr 3 2003) I tried buying a binder and keeping everything on looseleaf, the better to repackage the pages in another binder if one got too beat up. But the pages themselves predictably took all the damage: being in the binder bent them up unpleasantly, and they tore and smeared and frayed at the edges.

The stuff going on in volume 22 is of immense importance to me, though: just looking through it now it's impossible for me to select just a few interesting things. It's the summer before I started grad school. I see my early learning of the theory of explicit substitutions, and through them, of term rewriting systems. The beginning of really understanding typechecking of normal forms in LF. It's the summer I really got around to learning esperanto, and my writing switched over to it, starting with the June 16, 2002 entry that began Mi scivolas ĉu estas ebla ke [...] mi enskribas en esperanto... dum la pasinta [sic] kelkaj tagoj mi relegis "esperanto por komencantoj"-n (de Conroy) kaj legetas PMEG-n denove. La rapideco de mia legado kreskas malrapide [...]. Already the very next day I was very nearly ready to drop the experiment: Mi timis ke mi ne povas daŭrigi skribi esperante tre pli longe. Mi ne scias tamen -- eble no tro malfacilas... Somehow I'm still at it almost two years since then.
And the words are magic, just a bit: I've got the means to get back those feelings, because I put them there, because I wrote them down. June 23 2002, Ja estas agrable kuŝi, rigardante la mole beletan vizaĝon de la knabino dormanta apude, eĉ se oni estas lacega ĉar estas la kvina a.t.m....

So many beginnings here, so many musical ideas: "Blue February" is sitting here, and "Tell me, some time".

It's the summer I really fell in love with languages, even though I've been flirting with them my whole life. It's the year I got to be friends with lincoln3. It's the summer I struggled with my feelings for cdinwood.

But here I am getting lost in the diary's payoff, the effect of it on me; I hadn't finished with the account of the mundane stuff.

At volume 24 (Mar 9 2004 - May 11 2004: type theory, logic, and contact information for a couple of voice majors I met; quotations from an anthology of famous diarists) I tried working with a flat white steno-like pad, which is great for writing but awful for transportation. Maybe if I had got the staple-bound instead of the glue-bound it wouldn't lose so many pages. Just in the last week I got fed up with it and decided to get a hardcover blank book for a change, and went out on a limb and got an unlined one. I'm pretty content with it so far, but I'll see what I think once it's full and it's time to shop again.

I don't know if the pleasant durability of the book has had much effect, but for whatever reason, I find it a lot easier to write about random thoughts in it again, not work-for-school or work-for-research, not just scribbling on scratch paper, but writing notes to myself, questions and later, tentative answers, about books I've been reading, stretching my arms around the space of my vocabulary and grammatical understanding of esperanto, trying out some new things.

It's fun again.
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