In which Mia Steinle and Annie Rebekah Gardner take a little inspiration from an academic paper by Cynthia Huff and argue about who loves G-Chat more.
Mia: I go through really frequent fits of nostalgia for relatively recent events, so I found myself looking through this diary recently that I kept, painfully sporadically, starting in 2008. And I got to the last sentence and had to take pause, because it really sums up how I feel about diary-keeping and the Internet: “On one hand, I would love to look at these pages and be able to read a chronicle of the last year. On the other hand, it’s all been chronicled in e-mails. Thank god I am such a gossip.” Which is like, true, I am such a gossip. And also, yeah, the Internet: revolutionizing the dissemination of my private thoughts. So, with that in mind, I called on my dear friend and fellow Internet enthusiast and oversharer, Annie Rebekah Gardner, for this discussion on Ladies And the Diaries We Keep. Welcome Annie!
Annie: Oh, sorry, you just interrupted me listening to Nicki Minaj. Have I mentioned how this album is changing my life? BUT I DIGRESS. It’s funny you should mention this topic at the moment, because last night (this morning?) at like 4 a.m. I had a bout of insomnia that my vodka-Xanax-melatonin cocktail couldn’t cure, so I wrote in my journal. I think I wrote about how I loved Nicki Minaj, actually. Anyway, that turned into like an HOUR of reading through stuff. Do you know how many times I write “I don’t want to use this as a venue to talk about boys, BUT” in that thing? You don’t want to know. With that said, I pick up my journal on a fortnightly basis, maybe. But Gmail is with me everywhere, and some of my favorite late nights have been spent looking through the G-Chat archive. Also, I have good friends such as yourself who occasionally bump old convos, which makes for such fond nostalgia, and also affirmation about how clever and witty we are. My journal? Less so.
Mia: Oh I relate. When I was visiting my parents over the holidays, I finally cleaned out my childhood bedroom, and I came across so many failed attempts at journaling that were just horribly written. Like, I had to destroy them, because they were, again, so sporadically updated, and I was clearly struggling to find a voice and was obviously imitating young adult novels I had read. The beauty of e-mail, for me, is that I have an audience, and so I’m not just recording the events of the day, but I’m aiming to amuse! And that definitely makes my life sound more charming.
Annie: Plus, I can type faster than I write. Which is a better match for my wit.
Mia: Yeah, we’re too clever for pen and parchment. Still, I admire the ladies before us who did keep actual diaries. And I want to bring up this idea that Huff’s paper is based on, about how the diary is “that profoundly female and feminist genre,” as Adrianne Rich said. Because obviously dudes throughout the ages have kept diaries too, but when we think of diaries, we surely associate them more with ladies, no?
Annie: Right? Surely dudes have diaries? Actually, I know they do, because I snooped in my ex-boyfriend’s once. (OMG DID I JUST ADMIT THAT ON THE INTERNET?) To be frank, my high school journals are so excruciating that for a long-ass time I didn’t journal. I just had a planner that I sometimes wrote Thoughts in, and also a sketchbook where I drew what I wore that day. But then I read Susan Sontag’s notebooks and got so inspired and also convinced that my work will also be published someday. Which would actually be terrible unless I got a great editor.
Mia: I’m occasionally inspired by A Very Private Eye, which is sort of a posthumous autobiography of Barbara Pym, told through letters and diaries. Most days, she just wrote pithy and charming entries that make diary-keeping seem so easy. But I guess you have to be pithy and charming for that to work? Also so many of her entries are about BOYS, which is, of course, a great reason NOT to keep a diary. Because I don’t need my future biographer knowing EVERYONE I ever had a crush on.
Annie: Haha. One time I selected a random excerpt of my high school LiveJournal to read aloud to a group of friends, and it was a list of every boy I had a crush on, and (this is YEARS LATER) at least three of them were in the room. They all high-fived each other.
Mia: And I guess that’s the diary cliché, right? Just writin’ bout crushes. And when you’re only sitting down once every few days to record your thoughts, of course you’re going to write the most salacious, romantic things. but when you’re constantly sending e-mails or G-Chats, a lot of “everyday color” is bound to end up in your records.
Annie: Oh but G-Chats. Sometimes I talk about crushes more on those things than actual IDEAS. That, or what I want to eat for dinner. But there’s also a lot of great fodder that comes from them, too. In fact, I hope that someday your detailed descriptions of every party you attend get published. With pseudonyms, of course. You know what, though? There’s something really delightful about the menial and mundane in diary form. Like Susan Sontag’s notebooks. She won’t write for weeks at a time, and then she’ll write, “I saw so-and-so today. I had a tuna sandwich for lunch. I have a deadline in a week.” It’s the way she writes it, and also this satisfaction that this person that I’ve always admired did boring things too.
Huff writes that, “Diaries are accessible not exclusive, comprehensible not arcane, and in their very accessibility they establish ties between the reader and the writer, between one human being and another,” and I think that’s probably one reason we like reading published diaries so much.
Mia: Yeah. For every detailed party description I’ve written via e-mail or G-Chat, I’ve written about 10 messages that basically say, “I have to take a shower and buy a burrito.” Do you think, though, that these mundane details have devalued diaries? Like, does this very accessibility make people think that diaries aren’t Great Writing? I, of course, disagree, but I feel like this could fall into the “girls write about love and housework” and “men write about the human experience” school of thought.
Annie: A little bit, maybe? People don’t want to know that Truman Capote started drinking whiskey when he was like 12, or maybe they do? I really like Huff’s observation, actually, that “Diaries then became excluded from the literary canon for two reasons: they are composed by that ‘inferior’ sex, women; and they are only written if their creator is prevented from achieving the exemplary status of author.” I don’t think the mundane devalues diaries in and of itself, but I don’t think it helps. That is, people don’t really want to read your diary unless you’re famous. Or have lived in a war-torn country. Or are your ex-girlfriend, apparently.
Mia: Fair points. And you have to wonder how many women who faithfully kept diaries in days of old were actually amazing writers who were prevented, for whatever reason, from making their writing public. Everything about a woman’s life was truly kept in the private sphere, up until relatively recently. But now! Look at us! Modern women making all of our private thoughts known on the Internet. You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve written in mass emails. Though actually, you would, because you’ve probably read all of them. And I know some curmudgeonly types will say that this brand of oversharing is another thing that’s Wrong with our generation, but I think that sharing is so freeing. Because, thanks to the fact that I share my life via e-mail, almost nothing embarrasses me now. I have so little to hide.
Annie: Too true. I’ll say that this overshare criticism is all over the internet these days, ever since the Emily Gould New York Times debacle. But guess what. Now she’s successfully published a memoir, SO in the words of Nicki Minaj, haters you can kill yourself. There’s a freeing aspect, but I also do think it makes one thicker-skinned, which is important. Unfortunately, maybe not as a direct result, but as collateral damage nonetheless, I now have developed an aversion to the easily-embarrassed. Although! One of my most easily embarrassed friends is one of my most prolific G-Chat contacts. What if we get married and they publish our G-Chats someday!? He’s going to be so pissed off. I’ll wait till he’s dead, I guess.
Mia: Just be sure to contact me first, so I can write the forward to your G-Chat history, using old e-mails that place events in an historical context.
Annie: Mia, we’re going to make the Internet so paranoid!
Mia: I’ve had a few friends express suspicion about what I write e-mails and G-Chats about. Which is literally everything. No one is safe! But at least this way, other people get a voice too. If I were just keeping a diary, all of my dialog would have to be written from memory. G-Chat, at least, has the benefit of being, you know, accurate and not one-sided. It’s sort of like a community diary.
Annie: Oh, TOTALLY! LIKE AN ONLINE SLAM-BOOK! Did you have one of those? I had a pseudo one with my best friend freshman year. We passed it back and forth and made collages. Pasted pictures we sneakily took of our crushes. Also, we pasted in a note that this kid had written me asking me out (“Um, I have a confession to make. I like you. So if you want to hang out at the mall sometime let me know.” I can’t believe I remember it verbatim!). Anyway, my bestie and I totally deconstructed it. Like, brutally. I distinctly remember writing, in Sharpie, something along the lines of “this kid is obviously a moron because I would never voluntarily hang at the mall.” Years later, my mom would admit to sneaking into my room and reading this particular entry. Also, to throwing away my favorite pair of old man slacks, which I’m still mad about, MOM.
Mia: You know, I think I wrote one of these in FIRST GRADE. A girl who sat near me had this awesome new notebook with these really pretty pages, and she gave me one. And of course I loved stationary as a child, so I wanted to use this sheet of paper for something good. So I wrote character sketches of my classmates, as in “Katie is pretty. Jess is smart.” And my teacher found it and told me it wasn’t nice and threw it away, and I remember thinking, “But it’s true!” This was a work of anthropology, truly.
Annie: Wow, you were a really nice child! I was not. My diaries between the ages of 11 and 14 really attest to that. So sometimes things change, and sometimes they don’t!
Also, we mentioned Harriet the Spy in our list of gifts for young feminists, right? That book was a sort of catalyst for a turning-point in my journaling. After I read that, I started talking a lot of shit. Then I started talking a lot of shit on my public live journal. So I don’t do a lot of public shit-talking on the Internet anymore, unless it’s about Sarah Palin. Or ex-boyfriends. (Hi, guys!!)
Mia: Yeah, that’s definitely a danger of this public forum: making enemies. I’ve written my share of mass emails that have gotten back to the wrong person and created some uncomfortable situations for people, so I try to write primarily about myself these days. And ex-boyfriends. And possible future boyfriends. I do have my limits when it comes to discretion.
Annie: And those limits do not include menstruation, thank-you-very-much.
Mia: That goes without saying. Again, no shame.
Annie: If I may, I’d like to get back to your point about nostalgia for recent events and the roles that our G-Chats play. Of course, I reread my current journal like every other week, so it only makes sense that in fits of procrastination I’m going to do the same. How could I not when lines such as these are in my inbox? “I am still HOPELESSLY IN LOVE with a 30 year old, but mostly it’s just a crush that EVERYONE happens to know about (Am I the new Annie Gardner? Is that a role I’m willing to play?) It’s pretty much an impossible situation, but you know, dare to dream.” The internet makes for a pretty good insta-nostalgia factory, I would say, so how do you think chronicling our day-to-day via Gchat differs from the Facebook phenomenon? Is it the degree of privacy? Because I’ll say that I am way more likely to look at old G-Chats, and I have over 10,000 of those, whereas there are only 1,500 photos of me tagged on Facebook. Is it just because we like words? Or stories, maybe?
Mia: It’s true: we are literary gals. I also daresay that the level of exclusivity that G-Chat offers appeals to us as well. You really have to weed through a lot of Boring on Facebook to find the Great. And I also have an aversion to having actual conversations on Facebook because I feel like it’s a better venue for trying to prove to the general public that you’re cool. Whereas G-Chat allows us to let down our hair, so to speak, and admit that we’re actually astoundingly neurotic and need to discuss things to an absurd degree. I mean, for everyone who says that I share everything, I say, no: I only share everything with about 30 people via Gmail. The other 400 people I’m friends with on Facebook only have the privilege of seeing photos of me in great outfits.
Annie: Yeah, or photos of my cats. Which, have I mentioned that Nicholas (that’s the retarded, epileptic one) has stopped using the litterbox? Because he has.
Mia: Yes, I think you actually wrote that on my Facebook wall recently.
Annie: Well, there you go. It’s true, though. Facebook is a superficial chronicle, whereas G-Chats have some substance to them. I’ll gladly admit to having a “novel fodder” folder in which certain conversations are lying, dormant, ready to be written into the Next Great American Feminist Novel. (Maybe after I finish my PhD. Just maybe.)
Mia: See, this is incentive enough for me to continue sending you 12 e-mails a day.
Annie: I think the really big thing here is this “conflict” between the traditional – the diary – and the modern – the Internet. And there isn’t really one. It’s just that things change. People always bemoan the fact that people don’t write letters anymore. Look, I did that romance-y bullshit for a time in college. Paper sure is pretty, but I move house, to say nothing of country, about once a year. I can’t lug that sentimental garbage with me! (Mom, I don’t want to hear a word about my clothes. Not one word!) Oh, and no offense to letter writers. I do like solid paper things. But the Internet’s convenient. And I’m almost always on it, So!
Mia: Yeah. Speaking of great writing by women, I remember reading American Girl magazine when I was whatever age you are when you read American Girl magazine, so like, nine maybe? And there was an article about this new electronic diary software that you could protect with a password to keep out “snooping brothers,” and I remember the article saying that electronic diaries sound really cool and all, but you can’t take them in the woods with you! So there will never be a substitute for traditional diaries! Except I never go into the woods, and yeah, I’m always on the Internet, so I guess this is one example of American Girl magazine being incorrect.
Annie: I guess American Girl never predicted the rise of the NETBOOK.
Mia: In conclusion: time marches on. And we’re always going to keep diaries of a sort, but now they’re on the Internet, so perhaps, if anything, we must be MORE mindful of snooping brothers in the future.
Annie: Snooping brothers, and snooping haters. People have feelings, and that’s that. Even if they’re dullards they’re going to need a venue to express it, so why not? This selective audience of special G-Chat friends also offers a sort of de facto criticism element, as well, and I think as aspiring writers in some fashion, that’s a really appealing thing. And as a result, I don’t think I’d really flip out if anyone actually read my diary. Except for Cute Bookstore Guy. I really hope he never reads that thing.
Mia: That’ll be a chapter in your G-Chat memoirs, “On Cute Bookstore Guy.” And I’ll read it! I’ll read every page!
Annie: And he’ll walk into the living room in his bathrobe and morning paper and see me G-Chatting with you and shake his head and then ask if I want some coffee and if I’ve heard back about my conference grant yet. Uh. Whoops. I meant to write that in my journal.
Mia: You just did. Welcome to the Internet. [end scene?]
Annie: perfect. did we talk about feminism enough?
Mia: haha right? i think so?