Life Writing by Zadie Smith – Rookie Mag

I don’t want any record of my days.

For a long time, I’ve wanted to keep a diary. I tried throughout adolescence but always gave it up. I dreamt of being very frank, like Joe Orton, whose diaries I admired very much; I found them in the library when I was about 14. I read them half out of literary interest and half as pornography, thrilled to follow Joe around the many corners of the city in which I had only walked but he had managed to have illicit sex. I thought: If you’re going to write a diary, it should be like this, it should be utterly free, honest. But I found I couldn’t write about sexual desires (too shy, too dishonest), nor could I describe any sexual activity—I wasn’t getting any—and so the diary devolved into a banal account of fake crushes and imagined romance and I was soon disgusted with it and put it aside. A bit later I tried again, this time concentrating only on school, like a Judy Blume character, detailing playground incidents and friendship drama, but I was never able to block from my mind a possible audience, and this ruined it for me: It felt like homework. I was always trying to frame things to my advantage in case so-and-so at school picked it up and showed it to everybody. The dishonesty of diary writing—this voice you put on for supposedly no one but yourself—I found that idea so depressing. I feel that life has too much artifice in it anyway without making a pretty pattern of your own most intimate thoughts. Or maybe it’s the other way ’round: Some people are able to write frankly, simply, of how they feel, whereas I can’t stop myself turning it into a pretty pattern.

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