Just before New Year I was given a very attractive five year memory book. Essentially there are 365 pages, each page being designated for a particular day and each entry appearing five times on a page. The premise is that you just add the year and then write a line or two in the box – every day for f5 year memory bookive years. Because of the way the book is structured, you can then look back at any particular day and see what you had on your mind on that day over the course of the five years. It’s a way to keep track of both the everyday and the exceptional events in your life – but in brief, rather like a Twitter-log,  so that you don’t have to feel that it takes up a lot of your time or mental energy to keep it up to date.

The quandary I face is that I’ve actually kept a journal/diary and then a blog for many years and my entries tend not to be particularly concise. Whilst I do subscribe to Twitter and have learned to keep within the 140 characters that it dictates, my posts tend to be along the lines of passing thoughts or comments. I see the line-a-day diary entries as more personal and perhaps even meaningful, but have realised that I need to ‘Twitterise’ them so that they fit into the space provided in order for them to be succinct and interesting.

Thinking about all this brought to mind a Bernice Rubens book I read a while back. A Five Sentence is is about Miss Hawkins who, on retirement, is presented with a five year diary. For varioubernice rubens_a five year sentences and complex reasons, Miss Hawkins feels compelled to write in the diary – but has nothing to write about. So instead of writing about what she has done, she writes about what she will do – and then follows through on what she has written as though the entries are instructions, returning to tick the items off with a red crayon when she’s completed them. It’s a strange and disturbing little book, but a beautiful example of character development and clear, crisp prose. Sadly, I leant my copy to someone. Happily, I just found that it’s available as an Ebook and have downloaded it to reread.

Miss Hawkins and her five year diary, along with my attempts to Twitterise my thoughts for my five year diary, resulted in rumination as to the nature of compulsion and as to why people keep diaries/journals/blogs (of whatever sort). Some reading on the topic suggests that the reasons for doing so are probably as diverse as the people who keep them, ranging from tracking daily and/or special events to annotating holidays, from writing practise to therapy.

In my own case it started out as a means to discard or offload thoughts and feelings that I didn’t want to or couldn’t  share with anyone else. I was a moderately introverted teenager and had a range of complex issues to manage on my own, so I was basically writing to myself – and it worked very well. I was able to live in the moment and not hang onto angst or issues unduly and, as a result, to become somewhat pragmatic about life. This has served me well over the years.

More recently I’ve taken to writing for a wider audience, sharing my thoughts with others as a way of broadening the scope both of what I write and what I think about — and I enjoy it. This brings me back to day six of my line-a-day five-year-diary. I’ve managed five days of short entries and I think I’m getting the hang of it. I just hope that the three ladies in my life who ended up with one of these diaries at much the same time are busily writing in theirs each day too…

Books and stories seem to have always been part of my mental landscape. I’ve spent countless hours immersed in story worlds of adventure/mystery/action/history and can’t actually remember a pre-reading stage. I do remember being read stories by my parents well past when I was already in primary school, however. It was just one of those things we did as a family – my brother and I would sit or lie around of an evening whilst Mum/Dad read us a chapter from The Jungle Book or some other favourite tale. They would do all the voices of the characters and it was like our own personal radio play right there in the lounge room.Hippo with bird

Perhaps being read and told stories in this way as a child is what embedded the lure of story worlds in my psyche, making it such an intrinsic part of who I am. This connection resulted in books being read by me anywhere and everywhere. I’ve read in, on and – at times – under my bed, on the couch, on the floor, up a tree, in cars, trains, buses and aeroplanes, at bus stops and train stops, on an inflatable lilo, in a canoe, walking to and from school, in doctors/dentists/other surgeries, in hospital, at parties, on picnics, in a tent by lamp light, at the beach, and whilst knitting and eating (although not simultaneously).

I confess that this reading habit has resulted in a few awkward moments over the years. I’ve stumbled over kerbs and almost gone sprawling in a heap, missed my bus stop and had to bus back,  had library books confiscated by annoyed maths/science/biology/French teachers – and then had to find ways to ransom them back in order not to face paying library fines, glanced up to find people staring at me – waiting for an answer to a question I’ve completely blanked. I’ve missed meals, missed trains, lost hours – but gained so much more.

It was a logical extension of of all this to take to reading in the pool. In summer I use our backyard pool to do an hour of exercises most days. This involves 30 minutes of walking up and down (and reading) in the water, followed by 30 minutes of an aquarobics programme. Reading relieves the tedium of doing the exercises, makes the time pass surprisingly quickly and gives my arm muscles a minor workout holding the book clear of the water – it’s a win all round and a very effective use of my time.

As our pool is unheated – and not under cover – I use the local indoor pool in the winter months and have been doing so for about the past 10 years. But reading in the indoor pool inevitably generates a (surprisingly) large number of virtually identical comments from other pool users. Even though I try to avoid the comments by taking care not to make eye contact (after all, I’m reading and walking and in a pool – that’s quite enough, thank you!), there appears to be a compulsive need for people try to provoke some sort of response from me.

It doesn’t seem to matter what time of day I go or how crowded the pool is, it’s generally variations on the same theme: that must be a good book / what a good idea / how do you read at the same time as walk? / I don’t think I could do that /  goodness, when did they invent waterproof books? On average I get one question or comment per exercise session. That’s a lot of comments across 10 winters – from people who are seemingly endlessly entertained by the novelty of it all.

Funnily enough no-one commented during the period when I used an mp3 player to listen to audio books instead. Sadly my skill set wasn’t up to that level of technology for long, so peace was short-lived. I managed to kill the player by getting it wet, something I’ve never done to a book. I might stick to what I know and just start wearing a pair of  cheap earphones tucked into the spine of the book as props. 🙂