Turning the Page on the Year

Turning the Page on the Year

If ever there were a new year that called for a new notebook, this would be it.

The empty pages of my notebooks mock me at this time of year, as they have done ever since I was a child.

I loved those little vinyl-covered diaries with the date printed at the top of every page and a lock and key. They were frequent birthday presents if you were a girl growing up in the 1960s, maybe especially a bookish girl.

I had been deeply impressed by “The Diary of Anne Frank,” which I had first read and cried over at the age of 8 or 9 (I can still see the cover of the paperback with the black and white photo of her face), and I attempted to imitate her format — writing letters to an imaginary friend — but was always sadly aware that I lacked her narrative and descriptive abilities.

Anne Frank’s diary had characters, people with personalities. Mine ran to lines like “I went to Becky’s house. She is one of my best friends, and is very nice. We had cookies.”

Turning the Page on the Year

No wonder I lost interest. And losing interest was such a shameful process: First I would skip a day, and then the next day, fill in the blank page, and then fill in the proper page for that day, and maybe keep it up for another couple of days — but eventually, I would skip a whole week, and decide to just pick up the “narrative” and leave those pages blank, perhaps telling myself that at the end of the year I might come back and paste in a photo.

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Then after a few more days of writing, with those blank pages a silent reproach, I would let the diary and the year slip away, and it would leave me with a notebook I would then feel I could not discard (it had the only record I had kept of the year, paltry though that might be — what if a biographer needed to know that Becky was nice?) but knew I would never write in again.

Instead, I would make a new resolution in a new year — to write every day. As I got older, I outgrew the little vinyl diaries, and I started resolving not just to write more but also to write better. I never lost sight of Anne Frank, but eventually read the diaries of Virginia Woolf (Characters! Narrative!). What the new year needed, I knew, as a child, as an adolescent, and as an adult, was a new clean notebook.

Mostly, I must confess, I did not fill them. Mostly, I must confess, I followed exactly in my own tracks. Write faithfully for a little while, even if not every day, start skipping, feel guilty, try to fill in what I skipped, skip more and decide to leave gaps in my own story, and then finally skip so much that it was clear the journal was done, and, there would be another notebook I couldn’t throw away but would never write in again.