Thursday, September 3, 2009

On Keeping a Journal

I think that writing in a journal or a diary is becoming a lost art. It seems like the secrets we used to record on the pages of our diaries, the most intimate details of our lives, are now broadcast for all the world to see -- on blogs, on social networking pages, on tweets, and on chats. I'm not willing to bare my soul to that extent.

My own journal contains two entries for 2006, nothing for 2007, and three entries for 2008. This is because, in 2005, I made a conscious decision to stop writing in my journal and devote that energy to writing letters to my children instead, as my four grown-up offspring found themselves literally in the four corners of the world. I rationalized that my mails and emails contained enough information for a biographer to reconstruct my life, if anybody really wanted to.

I stubbornly ignored the fact that, while my family letters contained news and the occasional patriarchal expostulation, they concealed my feelings and some of the more private events in my life. In fact, the past six years have been a brain-rattling, roller-coaster sequence of ups and downs: financially, spiritually, and emotionally. I don't want to commit the ascending parts or the high points to paper, fearing that although the words will remain, the hopes and the joys will be replaced again by disappointment and discouragement. I don't want to record the descents or the low points because, honestly, there are some details about this journey that I do not want to remember.

My online persona is carefully edited and managed, so that the rest of the world does not see the roller-coaster trajectory of my life or the framework that it is built upon.

But it's time for me to write in my journal again. Call it a declaration of hope, if you will.


I have a friend who keeps his journal on his computer. He stores a backup copy of his journal online, somewhere in "the cloud." Good for him. I can't do that.

Corporations and government agencies have thousands, billions, of records, stored on old computer tapes in climate-controlled storage. As long as the climate control keeps working, those magnetic tapes will last for a long time. However, the machines to read those tapes wore out a decade ago, and nobody is making any new ones. For all the good it did to store those records so carefully, nobody will ever be able to read them.

Today, with our "modern" computers, we face other risks with anything we commit to the computer: power failure, battery failure, OS failure, hard disk failure, CD/DVD damage, and Internet shutdown.

On the other hand, another piece of the Codex Sinaiticus was recently discovered in the binding of an old book at the Monastery of St. Catherine, at the bottom of the Sinai peninsula. The Codex Sinaiticus is one of the oldest copies of the Bible, having been written between 325 and 360 A.D. It was written in ink on sheets of parchment. The largest portion of the Codex Siniaticus is in the British Library; however, the monks liked to reuse old parchment, and so pieces of it keep showing up in other old books. It's practically indestructible.

I have been observing this "ancient vs. modern" trend for several years now. Technologists keep trying to come up with new archival document formats, to replace ink on parchment, but so far they have not been very successful. Nothing has proven to last even one tenth as long as ink on parchment, except maybe ink on paper. Since parchment is rather scarce and expensive these days, I'm going to write my journal by hand, in ink, on paper.

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