Walking home from elementary school, I often visited the North Vancouver Public Library along the way with my father. My father enjoyed gathering a precariously balanced pile of books for me to read, usually with the lustrous Caldecott or Newberry medals imprinted on the cover.
My father wanted me to become a writer, as well as a reader of refined taste. As an intercultural educator and writer himself, my father hoped I would share his zeal for writing. But midway through high school, I realized I had neither the gift nor will and soon abandoned the prospect of becoming a writer. Even as I attended a private college in Indiana, I enrolled in several writing classes only to fulfill graduation requirements.
Waiting at the airport to head home for Christmas, I retrieved memories of my first semester at college, both ones I cherished and profoundly regretted. Soon, I realized that these little moments of my life would be inevitably forgotten. I rummaged through my backpack for a sheet of paper and pen. I began writing.
Throughout my life, I’ve encountered young and aspiring writers, journalists, poets, and novelists, but rarely diarists. I’ve been writing voluminous diaries since I was 9 years old.
Many people underestimate the significance of keeping a personal diary, dismissing it as a form for ranting by disgruntled teenagers. But diary writing is a practice by many acclaimed literary figures in history such as Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, Sylvia Plath, Jack Kerouac, and Franz Kafka.
Beginning a diary may be effortless but maintaining one demands passion and effort, not to mention discipline. Writing personal diaries involves more than simply recording daily occurrences. It provides a pause in our fast-paced lives for observation, reflection, analysis and life nourishment.
Longing to know myself better, I continued to write diaries during college. There isn’t an entry for every day and that’s fine. It’s not a contract, but rather like a prayer, conceived in the heart and whispered in faith that the words are understood. My diaries are scrapbooks of culmination of daily experiences, childhood memories, reveries, aspirations, philosophies on life and excerpts from significant literary works. As Anne Frank had often written about Peter Schiff, I wrote about love:
“Because love is intangible, irrational, and divinely transcendent, I hardly believe, sometimes, that humans are capable of handling such a thing. But I know, with utmost certainty, that love is sincerity, selflessness, respect, and liberation at its perfect measure. It is not something to be possessed, but given.”
Writing for myself eliminated the need to please others. Consequently, I was challenged to become a better communicator and truthful writer. Beyond advancing my vocabulary, it emboldened me to strive for simplicity and humility in writing.
Transparency in writing also allowed me to witness the flaws, strengths, and the multifaceted and intricate aspects of humanity become mirrored onto the pages, from within me. For one of my entries, I wrote:
“I was held down in an abysmal pit, but everyone peered from above and hollered, ‘learn how to climb!’ At this moment, I can only say that I received a miracle. I was only too familiar with the despondency that inhabited me and I must’ve liked it, killing me. But here I am, heart still beating. I’m grateful to have witnessed a miracle as it unfolded ahead and transformed me day by day.”
In the midst of leafing through one of my previous diaries, I noticed that several pages were removed. Compelled to read the previous entry, I learned that I had reread that particular section one day and disorderly snipped away the pages, hoping to abandon my memories. Faced with the emotions and thoughts stripped bare and exhibited on the pages, I felt ashamed of who I once was.
Writing for myself exposed me to the truths of humanity and inspired me to accept the responsibilities I owe to myself. Most individuals live in varying degrees of denial and delusion to veil truth. But beauty is discovered within truth. Beauty within writing reveals itself through utmost candor.
After learning my passion for diary writing, my father suggested that I speak to a crowd of young, proficient writers at the 2013 Seoul International Book Fair. Upon approaching the podium, I opened my diary and let the words speak:
“It has been a while, yet here I am, finding myself in these pages once again.