My book of shame

16:00, Jan 11 2014
BEAUTIFUL AND ENIGMATIC? Megan Nicol Reed is not certain her diary charts the intellectual terrain of one of the most active minds in contemporary art.

It is my private plague.

This . . . this book of shame. This blot on my personal landscape. Carried on my body at all times, I would be quite lost without it.

It is a stain. A smear in my handbag I do not like others to see. It is the proof that if there is nought but a fine line between sanity and insanity, then more often than not I stray on the side of lunacy.

My diary is not a place where I record my most inner thoughts. Its pages do not hold pleasing quotes, or pretty sketches. No, my diary is the workings of a mad woman. It is a litany of lists. Things to do. To watch. To buy. To read. To try. Reminders. Appointments. There are arrows and circles. Bullet points. Loose, scrappy bits of paper that my lists spill over onto when every inch of the allotted page is already committed. I underscore and I highlight. And once achieved, resolved, completed, every single thing is effaced, expunged. Decisively, definitively.

In bed, at night, my husband and I do not whisper sweet nothings into each other's ears. We compare diaries. That I am at book club on Thursday. (Again!) That he has pilates on Wednesday. (Again!) That we will need to find a babysitter for Saturday. My mother worries for me. I learnt to love a diary from her. The first Christmas present I ever bought her with my own money was a 1984 maroon, hardback Collins A4 diary. Her diaries are pristine. Lovely examples of orderliness. She regularly gives me tips on how to manage my own. You need a full page per day, she says. Don't scribble out items, she says. Draw a clean, straight line through them.

Possibly, you are thinking, I am a Luddite. A paper diary! How quaint. How obsolete. Quite possibly you are right. A paper diary is cumbersome, awkward. Liable to wear and to tear. A pen is required and never to hand. But I simply do not get the same satisfaction from the calendar on my phone. There is no pleasure to be had when you can not cross off and cross out.


For the past several years I have felt obliged to buy a diary through my son's school fundraiser. It is spiral bound with a piece of his artwork on the cover. But there is only the meanest amount of space available for each day and even less on the weekend. Plus with my daughter now at school it would feel like the cruellest of maternal betrayals to choose one child's magnum opus over the others.

And so this year I have invested $54.90 in a black leather diary. It is from a Swedish company that specialises in the sort of stylish stationery that makes you think that the one thing missing in your life is a recipe organiser. That somehow that grey felt passport sleeve will fill a void. That you urgently and desperately need a soft, dusky pink floral notebook.

The cover of my new diary is positively minimalist and almost masculine. There is a space on every day for birthdays and notes, plus a small calendar for the month. The only thing I don't like about it are the motivational quotes that randomly dot the pages. According to Sister Mary Tricky (who?): "If you really want to be happy, nobody can stop you."

Apart from Sister Mary and Proust, though, I am wholly happy with my new diary. I have already transferred over my loved ones' birthdays, entered in school term start and finish dates, and each of the half dozen "mini-breaks" my husband has scheduled.

I will, I vow, treat this diary with respect. I have made several promises to it. To myself. I will no longer write down givens. I know the rubbish needs to go out Tuesday nights. There is no need to write this down. I have always prided myself on, been known even, for my extremely good memory. I will trust it to do its job. I will not write "Relax" on any to-do list. I will just do it. It will no longer be an objective I never quite get to. I will not keep running lists of people I need to see but instead let social gatherings happen organically. I will not lack for spontaneity. I'll diarise it!

At the end of last year a friend and colleague who is familiar with the mania of my diary sent me a press release for a book from "one of the world's foremost curators". It is a collection of his scribblings, his half-crazed notes and diagrams. They are described as "beautiful and enigmatic", "the intellectual and historical terrain of one of the most active and curious minds in contemporary art today". Amateur, she scoffed. This guy's thought processes have nothing on your diary.

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