Pic of the day: Don't let this happen to you! But that is not the worst that could happen...
The cost of a diary
The greatest cost of writing a diary is not the paper it is written on, or the webserver space in my case. It is not even, as one might think, the time it takes. (Although that is certainly a consideration for those who already have many other irons in the forge.)
The greatest cost of writing the truth as you see it, is that you cannot easily change it later.
Humans change their memories. This is an observable fact, but one that has been downplayed in every society I know about, at all times, until now. The reason why it became an issue was the epidemic of "recovered memories" in the USA near the end of the 20th century. Therapists, particularly psychiatrists, made their clients search for memories that could explain their current problems of adapting to life. An amazing number of them then recovered memories they had forgotten, about childhood abuse. Suspiciously, these memories soon became more and more common and developed similar themes around the country. At first they were almost all about sexual abuse by older male family members, fathers in particular. But soon there spread a new wave involving satanic rituals, again orchestrated by the older males. This was where skeptical researchers perked their ears. They had read about the witch hunts, after all, in history books; but they had not expected to see it happen in real time.
Dr Loftus and like-minded scientists started making controlled experiments involving human memories. What they found was deeply disturbing. The vast majority of humans can make lifelike false memories in as little as weeks, even without the hypnosis-like conditions of a therapy session. What is needed is that someone, preferably someone they trust, encourages them to imagine that a certain event or type of event had happened. What if you had been bitten by a dog when you were four? Then the memory is left to mature for a while. When you ask them again, there is no guarantee but a good chance that the what-if has become a real memory, complete with details that fit into that time in their life.
No really. It is a scientific fact. Also, if you write a sufficiently detailed diary for long enough, you will notice this and be dismayed. Because your godlike certainty of your own self is an illusion. "I think, therefore I am. But I remember, therefore I am me." So if our memories are not to be trusted, how can we even know who we are?
The good news is that we have a LOT of memories, and changing every one of them is simply not feasible. So in aggregate, they will still give a vaguely correct impression of who you are. But some life changes can cause a fairly large part of your memories to change. Either to be adjusted, or disappear, or new ones to be created. Falling in love and staying there for months. Divorce/breakup. Death of a loved one. Conversion to (or from) a religion. These are known to distort memory to a high degree.
I am not trying to be cruel here, but think about it. You gush in your diary about how much you love someone, and a year later you hate them and just want to forget that they ever existed. This is very common in young women, as are diaries. As are abandoning said diaries, deleting them from the Net and assuming a new online name.
You write about how much it irritates you that a family member just can't let go of some irritating habit, despite knowing that it ticks you off. Weeks later, they are suddenly dead and you would give your hand and arm to have that irritating habit back. How do you feel, looking at your diary?
But I am not like that. I don't rewrite the past on such a scale. The way I feel about my former best friend is the same now that she is living with her boyfriend as when we watched movies in her couch. Or in a manner of speaking, the way I felt then was the way I was going to feel when looking back at it. I really am that cynical. After my mother died, my memories of her are the same. But then again I said goodbye so often before the final goodbye, knowing that I would most likely outlive her (and if not, it would not matter). I accept the inevitable, not only in the past but in the future. Perhaps that is why it does not bother me to have an online journal, and keep it running year after year.
I am not immune to rewriting. Sometimes I read an entry from some years ago and think: So that's how it was? I seem to remember it slightly differently.
But I am unlikely to make up memories from scratch. And the reason may be my genius mental faculties, but perhaps not. Remember, "preferably someone they trust". And I don't do that. I barely even trust myself. I certainly don't have anyone in my life whose words have the power to make me re-imagine my past. Or even my future, I'm afraid.
But I doubt you would want to pay THAT price. I wouldn't, hadn't it been heavily discounted. I was made to live like this, and even then I sometimes wonder if I am overdoing it. But if I am not me, who would be? And if I don't remember it the way it was, who will?
Visit the archive page for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.