Today, I became aware of an article in the Atlantic about diaries and their preservation. Not the diaries of famous people, but the diaries of the mundanes, the normal people, the nobodies. This is a topic of some interest to me, as I am a diarist myself. And a nobody. I mean, I got friends and family and shit, but I have little to no historical notoriety. I’ve been keeping a diary since October 2010; got about 3.5 million words. I’m absurdly proud of this fact. I try not to be insufferable about it. But how many people do you know who have written 3.5 million words in their entire lives? I did it in 12 years. And I’m still going.
Of course, I’m no Robert Shields. He’s the diarist who recorded 25 years of his life (1972-1997) in five-minute intervals. It’s estimated to be 37.5 million words. It takes me a few years to get a million. He was doing more than a million a year for 25 years. Unfortunately, his diary is evenly interspersed with somewhat revolting descriptions of peeing and pooping. ‘Cause he recorded everything. How do I know this? A few of the pages have become public. The rest of the diary is sealed until 50 years after Shields’s death. That’s 2057; I knew you’d be curious, so I looked it up.
He was married. His wife was named Grace. I’m wondering if he talked about sex the way he talked about peeing and pooping. Nothing like that in any of the pages I’ve seen. Maybe he didn’t have sex. Whatever. The man fascinates me. What would make a man wanna do that kinda thing? And he fucking committed to the bit for 25 years. Five-minute intervals. Now, obviously he didn’t sit down every five minutes and type out what was going on. He slept and stuff, and did stuff. He had a life. He had three kids. But he recorded his activities down to five-minute intervals.
Why did he stop? It wasn’t because he died, although he did die later. He had a stroke and couldn’t record the diary himself. So the plan was for his wife Grace to do the recording, and him to tell her what to record. This did not last, as Grace was like, “Fuck this.” Mind you, I don’t know how it went down. This is just my take based on what I’ve read online about the guy, which isn’t all that much.
Let’s bring it back around to me. I talk about mundane shit in my diary too. In a way, you could refer to me as “Shields Lite”. I record a lotta stuff, but I leave out the toilet trips, and it’s not every five minutes.
I consider my diary and related files to be extremely valuable. So the idea of sending it somewhere to be preserved is very appealing to me. And the article’s interesting too. It talks about the intrinsic value in these exceedingly personal objects. Although my diary isn’t in physical form, because fuck longhand. It’s all digital. That means it fits on a thumb drive, and is super easy to store. But maybe it lacks something that the handwritten stuff has to offer. I don’t know. Anyway, I hope they’ll take a thumb drive when the time comes to donate it. Whatever organization it ends up being. I had heard of the Great Diary Project, a UK organization mentioned in the article, and the article talks about Stateside institutions possibly being established.
Anyway, yeah. There’s some diary talk for you.