A young writer contemplates memory and the advantages of keeping a personal diary
By Richa Gupta
Olēka (n). the awareness of how few days are memorable (Source: Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows)
I did a mental exercise a few days ago: I noted down the days in 2015 that I truly remember — whether the day was happy, awful, worrisome, or exciting. A few stuck out for me: my first literary publication, going to Disney World, my first day at a new school, the day my online magazine went live, the day I fell ill right before my finals. It was a laborious, mentally exhausting practice, but I managed to come up with seventy four days I could remember with complete clarity (and if not the entire day, then substantial bits of it). That seemed fairly impressive, until I realised that there were 291 days I couldn’t recall. Those seventy four days had helped shape me to be the person I am now; they were times I dealt with failure, or made a new friend, or developed a new interest. And that’s why I remember them. But… what about the other days? Did I just wake up, eat, study, write a bit, and go back to sleep — just to enter another day of monotony? Was that how I spent a majority of 2015?
We believe that most of our days are unremarkable; but it’s only because we can’t remember them. Our minds are limited in the amount of information they can hold. When we’re in the “now”, we’re constantly inundated by a flurry of information that prevents us from grasping the reality of things.
Remembering the memorable days in 2014 was even harder. After several hours of intense soul-searching, I landed on around forty days I could recollect. Naturally, the numbers went down as I went backwards in time… but it was a bit dispiriting all the same. Even more daunting? The realisation that five years from now, this day may come under the “forever forgotten” category. My movements right now, the emotions I’m experiencing, the conversation I’m making, the thoughts flowing through my mind may all lay discarded in a neglected part of my memory. It might be as if these moments never existed — because I can’t remember them, and because they seem to play an inconsequential part in my life.
That’s when I realized how precious diaries are. While rummaging through an overflowing drawer, I found my third-grade diary — prettily wrapped in pink paper and written in with glittering green ink. I had found it sometime in March 2016; but I got to reading it only a few days ago. Before reading the diary, I could only recall around ten days of third grade — such as my birthday, a particularly enjoyable music class… But after reading it, I realised that in a hidden corner of my mind, there is a trove of memories I haven’t pulled out in years. While my eyes absorbed the sight of my loopy, untidy handwriting, my mind went back to the third-grade plays, the flute recitals, the surprise spelling tests, and the “unforgettable” field trips. Funnily enough, at the end of one entry, I had written “I will never, ever forget this amazing day”. It’s a bit sad to know that I forgot it so swiftly, and didn’t pay it a fifth thought until then.
We believe that most of our days are unremarkable; but it’s only because we can’t remember them. Our minds are limited in the amount of information they can hold. When we’re in the “now”, we’re constantly inundated by a flurry of information that prevents us from grasping the reality of things. We’re able to process our days mostly in retrospect; for instance, I don’t think about the party while I’m at the party. I think about it and create memories once I’m back home, in the comfort of my pajamas. But it’s difficult to recount every event… The best we can do is take the most dramatic or interesting times, and try to extract as much sense out of them as we can. And consequently, a majority of our days falls into the pit of oblivion.
Diaries are powerful objects. They help me reach out to memories I didn’t even know existed. It’s like digging through the soil and finding a sparkling stream at the nadir — rather than the mental block you had expected. In fact, I’d like to share an excerpt from one entry:
I don’t know why my teacher wants me to write a diary. It’s some sort of school project, I guess. But daddy said that it will be important to me when I grow up. He said it will make me happy when I’m older, and will help me remember stuff. But what do I need to remember? I remember everything that happens in my life! […]
I found this part rather amusing. But I’m so glad that I overrode my initial misgivings, and continued to chronicle my very uneventful days. Because… that’s what makes them memorable. That’s how we avoid ruminating about our lack of memorable days. Yes, most of the days we live are spent eating or talking or studying; but they’re given a different dimension when we write them down, and record the thoughts that ran through our head when we were doing the most mundane activities.
I wish I had recorded those 291 days in 2015, and the “forgettable” days in the previous years. Because, well, that way I wouldn’t have that dull sense of regret when I think about the number of days that slipped through my mind.
But a part of me still wonders if every day is meant to be memorable. After all, we can’t remember every meal we eat, every excursion we take, and every new person we meet; we mostly remember the times that were especially important to us. And somehow, doesn’t the uniformity of our other days make those important times all the more special? They automatically become diamonds in the rough. It’s easy to find and appreciate a glistening ruby amid a vast expanse of dirt; but what if that ruby is surrounded by other glimmering gems? How precious would that ruby be then?
Olēka: the awareness of how few days are memorable. The awareness may be upsetting to some, or inspiring to others. For me, it’s a mix of the two emotions; but now, I’m trying to make it more of the latter. Yes, I treat my old diary like the crown jewels — but it’s not always possible to keep a handwritten, hard-bound diary once we get busier. And so, I treat those few memorable days like cherished gifts — as remembrances of times that shaped my present personality, rare but memorable.
Richa Gupta is a senior at The International School Bangalore, India. She has been published in several literary journals, such as New Plains Review, Poetry Quarterly, Yellow Chair Review, Shot Glass Journal, Balloons Literary Journal, Apeiron Review, After the Pause, On the Rusk, Nature Writing, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, and The Tower Journal. She recently became a blog contributor with The Huffington Post.