I got back into an old habit one and a half years ago, waiting in the bathroom line at the Lund station in Sweden. The wait had been prolonged due to cleaning, so I took out a pen and notebook that I had just purchased at a local stationery store and wrote on the page, “Hello, I’m waiting for the bathroom at the Lund station right now…”
That became the first line of my new diary — my first entry after four years. Since then, I rediscovered the comfort in jotting down my thoughts on a little book I could carry with me everywhere. At first, keeping a diary was a way to kill time, to feel less alone, but slowly, it became a habit; I started recording my days in my diary whenever I had time and felt like it, especially after eventful days.
I first started keeping a diary at the age of 9. Back then, my diary was one of the few joys I had in life. Most of my entries at the time were about my skating life, consisting mostly of some advice my coach had given me during our lessons —mainly some tips on the triple jumps I was working on, or the dance moves in my program, and all the harsh comments and slurs he directed towards me, which I would detail on the page word to word.
I first started keeping a diary at the age of 9. Back then, my diary was one of the few joys I had in life.
Despite my struggles with my skating instructor, however, my biggest threat back then was my mother, who would take away my precious 500 yen (equivalent to five U.S. dollars) if I didn’t do well on the run-through of the day, or yell at me and my brother — even though it was my brother alone who had screwed up in the practice, not me!
But no matter what happened in those years, it felt good to know that, at the end of my busy days packed with skating practices and school, I could always come back to my little diary book. At the age of 18, however, at the same time as I said goodbye to my skating career, I also stopped keeping a diary.
After a turbulent four years during which I did not keep a diary, I went from an ice rink in Japan to a university campus in Berkeley; my life now looks very different. This fall, unpacking my stored suitcases from my old apartment, I found two old diaries that I had filled since the Sweden trip, together with the two additional ones I had taken with me, which made a pile of four books. Though I don’t have a habit of reading old entries, I decided to give them a read, to get a taste of what my life story looked like in the past years.
The diaries, it turned out, were goldmines. Contrary to my initial expectation that reading old entries would be boring since I remember all my past experiences anyway, many of the contents presented to me seemed like completely new events — only a few of which I slightly recall. It felt like reading a novel, except it was a true story and I was both the protagonist and the narrator.
It felt like reading a novel, except it was a true story and I was both the protagonist and the narrator.
My biggest struggle seemed to be — and still is — relationships, both platonic and romantic. For pages, I would describe my friendship with this girl, complaining about how she’s always unavailable and it’s always me who reaches out first, but on the next page I would write that I had a nice picnic and a fun movie night with her. I would go through a phase of wanting to be in a romantic relationship on one page, only to declare on the next page that I am not interested in relationships – usually after watching too many psycho-killer documentaries with the same female friend I had complained about a few pages ago.
What I enjoyed the most about reading these old entries was the randomness, which I found to be much like our daily lives. For half a book, all my entries were about my crush on this one boy: listing all the things I liked about him, our cute memories together, describing how I had cried on the train after saying goodbye, and finding lines from K-drama shows that resonated with my experience with him. Occasionally, I would record on the pages my driving coach’s comments on my seemingly terrible (possibly dangerous) driving: “Do not keep the blinker on after having taken a turn, do not ignore the traffic lights, stay in the right lane (LEFT in Japan!) and do not go over the white line!”
What I enjoyed the most about reading these old entries was the randomness, which I found to be much like our daily lives.
In another book, I wrote about my first-ever hitchhiking experience — how I was scared to death the entire ride and almost peed my pants while my friend was quite relaxed and carrying a conversation with the driver, who, by the way, while kind enough to give us a ride, was “self-absorbed,” according to my diary entry. Of course, this description was followed by a warning to myself on the next page: “Cut down badmouthing people!” followed by another “Never buy jeans again, even if they are on sale (you own too many!)”
Going through old entries, I realized that while I can never fully remember everything I ever experience, my diary will. Reading the countless emotional entries I made at airports, the descriptions of my romantic struggles with my ex, of eventful party nights and my stress-induced white hairs, I realized that I’ve been through a lot. Being reminded of all the hardships I overcame gave me confidence that whatever challenges I may face in the future, it’s most likely that I can overcome them too.
Going through old entries, I realized that while I can never fully remember everything I ever experience, my diary will.
The most important treasure I found from these goldmines, however, is the sense of authorship in my life story. Though my friends often say that their lives are “eventless and boring,” the fact is, they never are. Each person has their own, interesting life, but it is difficult to see when it’s all scattered everywhere. Besides, we tend to forget most of it, just like I forgot about my old entries. Diaries help us put these interesting pieces back together, and seeing it come out—though in bits, if not all—on paper, reminds us that our life is a story, and it’s ongoing.
Though different in narrative voice and maturity, it’s always been me who wrote my story. As an author, I have the power to shape my story however I like. Knowing this, I tell myself, I’d better write a cool one.