On Diaries, Notebooks, and The Book of Delights
One of the absolute wonders of reading is how three books will stack up and call to you at exactly the same time. I heard about the Ross Gay book because of his interview on our beloved On Being. And I didn’t even really read the interview until now, because I wanted to read the book first, because of the title and because I’d read his book Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude a while back. You can read the title poem here. Anyway, this is the intro to the interview:
“There is a question floating around the world right now: “How can we be joyful in a moment like this?” To which writer Ross Gay responds: “How can we not be joyful, especially in a moment like this?” He says joy has nothing to do with ease and “everything to do with the fact that we’re all going to die.” The ephemeral nature of our being allows him to find delight in all sorts of places (especially his community garden). To be with Ross Gay is to train your gaze to see the wonderful alongside the terrible, to attend to and meditate on what you love, even in the work of justice.”
The world needs more of all this, more delights, more Ross Gay. Thank you. And please read him.
Next, the book by Di Piero. I’ve been quoting him for ages, and reading his notebook-ish books, which I love and have been inspired by. This one is excerpted from other notebooks, so if you’ve not read him it’s a good place to start. He says in the postscript: “I’ve kept notebooks since I started writing. They relieved, but also tightened up the loneliness of the work. They were roomy, shapeless spaces where I could examine and question the intensities I felt toward life and writing. I recorded commonplaces, I argued with them, I recorded life experiences and picked at their meanings. I indulged in irresoluteness and ambiguity and confusion.”
A couple examples of his entries:
“Three days of silence in my small apartment. It doesn’t feel like isolation. The silence feels like a space. Welcome to the monastery. Only chanting allowed.”
“The offices of poetry. To use shapely speech to express the radicals of existence in all their ambiguity. To answer idiosyncratically, privately, to a public world given over to falsehood, fake facts, scuzzy rumour, casual murderousness, comedic denials, manic vicious wind tunnel ideologies. To answer palsied language with vital language, plasticity, gaiety of invention and fabulation, over against opportunistic mendacity. If poetry can’t or chooses not to, reveal what it feels like to live as a sentient being in a perilous enchanted world, then maybe it really is marginal or beside the point.”
Also: “I want to say small things intensely.”
Lastly, the book by Manguso, which is sort of an account of her diligent and meticulous diary keeping of twenty five years. It feels like a diary, but it’s an essay about keeping a diary. I don’t even want to say much about it because I love it so.
“To write a diary is to make a series of choices about what to omit, what to forget.
A memorable sandwich, an unmemorable flight of stairs. A memorable bit of conversation surrounded by chatter the two one records.”
I want you to read this book, if you haven’t already. I’m quite late to the party. Here’s an excerpt from a review of it in The New Yorker:
“Manguso seldom divulges any particularly sensitive information, and yet her material is, in a sense, vastly more intimate than what we usually think of as private. She picks at the places where language butts up against the inexpressible. Her currency is the “henid,” the philosopher Otto Weininger’s term for the half-formed thought. Her impressions, while lucid, are true to the gauziness of mental life as we experience it. “Ongoingness” is an attempt to take, as Virginia Woolf wrote, “a token of some real thing behind appearances” and “make it real by putting it into words.” It’s hard to think of a more perilous way to write.”
In closing: I want more joy, more deep thinking, more diary entries, more gauziness, more time to write in my diary, more beautiful moments captured, more ordinary real odd weird stuff written down, more delight, more half-formed thoughts, more conversations with real and unmet friends, things made real because put into words, a perilousness, thoughts on what you love and on what delights you, memorable sandwiches, memorable ice cream cones, roomy notes from the perilous enchanted world, more chanting, more small things said intensely, more wild and loose and drunken transactions with beauty.