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100 Posts, 31 Diaries

October 25, 2012

This is my 100th post on this blog, and in considering what I might do to celebrate this milestone, I decided I would write about keeping a diary. (Diary, rather than journal, is my preferred term – although technically they are more journals than diaries…there’s something about the word journal that has never felt right when I say it). I started keeping a diary at the end of 1998: I had been making zines for a few years by this stage, and always kept a notebook with me, but in them I would only scrawl down ideas and observations, rather than the narrative of my life. By the end of 1998 I had come through a hard year. My friend Natasha died at the start of 1998, a few months later I turned 20, and all year I imagined the future as a kind of pit, into which I would continue falling. I stopped falling eventually, and it was at that point I took up a notebook and started to write the story of my life, for only myself to read.

I’ve kept writing diaries since, at some periods of my life writing multiple entries a day, other times a few entries a week. They take up a lot of space on my bookshelves, and even though I rarely read over them, I like the idea of my life being recorded there, if I should ever need to revisit it.



When I read over my old diaries, especially these early ones, I’ve had the strange sensation of reading about things that are no longer in my memory, everyday dramas and observations I have no recollection of: I can reconstruct them, but I read them without a sense of recognition.

At the bottom of the diary with the red spine I wrote “People don’t sit on cold steps in the dark unless they’re weak in the head”, which was a line from Picnic at Hanging Rock. I did a lot of sitting on cold steps at the time.


I try to vary the notebooks I use, and try to avoid buying new books, in favour of old ones found in markets and op shops. I like the idea of a notebook existing, unwritten in for decades, like it matures it somehow before I come to use it. In 2001 I resorted to a black and red notebook, and every time I wrote in it I though about what the black and red notebook factory in China must be like, and whether these notebooks are ubiquitous in Australia, or the world over. The blue sticker says “I Love Argentina” – my friend Sarah gave it to me when I went to visit her in her tiny student apartment at the Prince of Wales hospital. In the same visit I also examined the human skull she had in her room (she was studying to be a dentist).


As well as old books, I favoured thick foolscap books, which were inconvenient to carry around with me, but had a pleasing solidity to them. I did carry them with me often, as one of my favoured diary writing places was, and still sometimes is, the train, although writing in a large foolscap book in public these days is now regarded as an unusual activity.


The sticker on the black diary was a Dame Darcy artwork that said “Drown Your Sorrows – Good Idea”, which was something I spent a fair amount of time doing in that era, though 2003 was a good year, when I’m year-comparing it’s in the “good” list.


Perhaps in response to many years of large books, my diaries shrunk in 2004. The white book is one of the strangest books I’ve used for a diary, I bought it for $1 from Summer Hill Vinnies and here and there throughout the book were pink pages with photographs of plastic animals on them, and a list of phrases, things like “The first thing I read are the obituaries” and “I should have ridden my bike”. It was like the kind of object one might encounter in a dream.


Back to the big books: I had a lot to say in 2005. By the end of the year life suddenly seemed to be a serious thing, rather than a kind of experiment in which I flailed around with little direction. My direction was guided in part by my diary mascots for the year, who reminded me to have fun even though life was in fact a serious matter.


Obviously a very serious year – no stickers, plain colours.


I have a particular love of the Green Circle notebooks, and in fact still have one or two unused Green Circle notebooks in my box of notebooks in reserve. I would imagine what other kinds of things must have been written in these notebooks in the 70s, what other kinds of diaries might have been kept in them.


Things were back to being varied and frivolous again in 2008. I spent some time in Germany, where there were many old notebooks to be found. The two small black notebooks I was particularly fond of. In the front of one I’ve written “I bought this notebook from Friedrichshagen flea market, on a Sunday morning, from a stall which had boxes of DDR things. Notepads with salmon.” The other book has “Peigner la girafe – to do something useless – to comb the giraffe” written on the flyleaf, a reference perhaps to my feelings about the act of diary writing, which sometimes did seem like an activity of limited use – like writing a novel for only myself to read.


The big burgundy book on the left included most of 2009 in one book, and if 2003 is in the “good” list, 2009 is in the other, opposite list. In my earlier diaries I would write no matter what my mood, and a lot of the early ones have long passionately sequence describing mental turmoil, but upon realising how unpleasant this is to read over, I decided not to write about turmoil at length. Also, I realised, by writing in my diary, I was preserving what I wanted to remember. Of course I remember things irrespective of whether I note them in my diary or not. But I liked the idea of being able to choose my memories. I had never written straight accounts of my days in my diaries, I would write when I felt in the mood, and it would be ideas and observations, and things that happened out of the ordinary.


A year of writing serious government business! No, actually I think there are other diaries from 2010 that are hiding elsewhere in my room that make 2011 look a bit less severe. I bought these notebooks from the op shop liking the idea of my observations on life being important government registers, a Mass Observation kind of thing. The diaries could be used to reconstruct the life of a woman in the early 21st century some time in the future, although that is perhaps exaggerating my importance. When you have kept a diary for over 10 years you do start to think of what will happen to them after your death, though, especially in the absence of heirs. I’m not sure how interesting whatever heirs I might have would find my journals of curious things seen on the way home from Dulwich Hill shops, although there is the occasional “love scene” which they might find more interesting.


Most of this year I have been writing in the Standard NoteBook, which I bought from a flea market in Kyoto, Japan. I try to buy notebooks when I travel, the 2010 book with the ship on it was from a shop in Paris (in fact the shop in Paris, if you’re into old notebooks and vintage objects in general, Au Petit Bonheur la Chance). Then I add them to the notebooks in reserve box. It’s exciting when I finish one book and have to choose the next. My current book is the marble exercise book, which I started in July and am about 1/3 of the way through. When I finish this one, I will go to the box and select another, maybe one of these future diaries:

This is as close as I get to looking into the future, looking at these blank books.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. October 25, 2012 3:29 pm

    I love this post. I too love notebooks and have several on the go at any one time. Unlike you, I tend to buy new ones – it’s never occurred to me that there are old ones out there waiting to be bought 🙂

    • Vanessa Berry permalink*
      October 27, 2012 3:00 pm

      Thank you! I usually have a few going at the same time too, for different types of writing. I thought I’d restrict it to just the diaries because there would be just too many otherwise.

  2. Bastian permalink
    October 25, 2012 10:46 pm

    What a delightful post! I love this window into the world of Vanessa Berry. I’m already regretting my decision to write only in A4 soft cover black Moleskines with the dates covered in the journal printed on a label-maker sticker on the spine. This idea now seems extremely administrative compared to your collection of fabulous notebooks.

    • Vanessa Berry permalink*
      October 27, 2012 3:03 pm

      Hi Bastian – your system is very organised and that is a good thing! I only recently labelled the spines of mine with the dates, but some are quite mysterious as I didn’t date the entries in the early ones, I would just write the day of the week. Time perhaps was more amorphous to me then!

  3. Harley Wardell permalink
    October 27, 2012 8:54 pm

    Both my parents worked for Collins Bros in the 1970s, I wonder if they remember those green circle notebooks.

  4. Cole Porter permalink
    November 6, 2012 7:01 pm

    love this one Ms B.
    i make a point of leaving NO written evidence of my thoughts. it’s all done with drawings of other people’s faces.
    but this is completely inspiring x

    • Cole Porter permalink
      November 6, 2012 7:22 pm

      …so here’s my version:

      • Vanessa Berry permalink*
        November 19, 2012 9:16 pm

        It’s probably a good idea to leave no written record of one’s thoughts! One of my keenest fears as a child was that people could hear my thoughts. Why I then started to record them in detail I do not know!
        Once a notebook gets worn, breaks, and is repaired with tape it acquires something of a soul.

  5. Cole Porter permalink
    November 20, 2012 8:20 am

    Ms B – you may find interest in this:

  6. November 30, 2012 2:58 pm

    I too love this post. I’m often given notebooks as gifts and I always like to have a particularly beautiful one that’s just for ideas for things to write, a big one for research and actual writing, and another to write down books I’ve read, thoughts noted at talks and conferences, etc. I have a pile of them that I look at with longing. I have some beautiful ones from travelling. Often when travelling home on the plane, I fill them with memories and photos.

    • Vanessa Berry permalink*
      November 30, 2012 3:12 pm

      Thanks Kirsten – I also write a lot on the plane home from travelling somewhere. The few times I notice someone else writing in a notebook on the plane I feel a great sense of solidarity. Thanks too for the reblog, I didn’t know such a thing was possible with wordpress!

  7. November 30, 2012 2:59 pm

    Reblogged this on wild colonial girl and commented:
    This beautiful post by Vanessa Berry seems like a nice conversation piece with my last one.

  8. July 30, 2013 7:00 pm

    These are so beautiful! I photographed all of mine last year:

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