I once found a letter that was written by an aunt during the 1940’s. It was typed beautifully and explained to the recipient that the blitz in London wasn’t affecting their spirits or their work. Through that small window of words, I was able to get a real sense of her by how she wrote and the humour she used.
Journals are like that – they can tell you so much about a person. If you were to read a stranger’s diary, it would be a snippet of that person’s life, like the contents of a handbag or a pocket. There are many things that can give you a sense of them. It could be the way they write their T’s, how they misspell certain words, or how they go past the lines to create their own direction of thought. I’ve often wondered if the context is necessary, or if you can take the essence of a person from ephemeral thoughts or items they never meant anyone to see.
Because the truth is, most people would be horrified to imagine someone discovering and reading their words. A diary is a safe space, where you can be yourself without any judgment. In the age of social media, when we see our lives posted globally with a constant stream of gratification, perhaps writing a diary is an antidote. I find that creating a private display of how I feel on paper gives me a deep satisfaction, and the feeling that I have processed that thought and the emotion around it.
But writing itself has never been a medium in which I can be really expressive. I get lost in how I should be writing, in making things coherent, in perfecting the spelling and grammar. My attempts would often end up with big lines and a messy page, which would leave me feeling frustrated. I would get lost in the process, rather than focusing on the content and why I was writing it.
I overcame this by using colour. Instead of stumbling over words, I found that using colours in different ways could depict how my day, week or year had been. I used the fold of the page as the epicentre of the feeling. Yellows and greens for calm, light and breezy thoughts. By pulling an oil pastel across the page in a certain way I was able to display how that part of this time went. A flourish of reds, black and browns in a collective scribbly mess would be a depiction of anger, frustration and even elation. There is a lot of social pressure to be happy all the time and to forget the negative emotions. But I believe we should embrace the bad just as much as the good – along with the spectrum in between.
When I look back at my past colour diary entries, I am immediately taken back to the memory of the feelings and the raw forms of emotion. The process of creating a collage of colour and associating the colour with certain emotions enabled me to process the emotion fully. The experience is like decorating a tree, hanging colours in the places they should go. When I finally stand back and look at the tree, I see it as a whole collection of ornamental colours.
I often wonder: If I were to show anyone my diary, would they be able to see how I felt? If my aunt could see my letter of emotional colour, would she gain a sense of me? I like to think the people who know me would recognise me and my feelings. But I can also take great solace in knowing that if anyone else found my diary… they wouldn’t have a clue what it was.