Today* I finished reading The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits. I needed something a bit lighter and and happier after A Little Life, and figured Julavits' book - a diary of sorts, covering two years of her life - would be a good choice. I was both right and wrong. The Folded Clock is smart, funny, and fascinating, but it's also startling.
Julavits begins each entry (the dates go out order, so this is less a recounting of her days and more a recounting of her moods and experiences) with "Today I..." What follows is something that happened that day, which leads her to think about, obsess over, and muse on other things - similar experiences, mistakes made long ago, personal failings, epiphanies, etc.
The most interesting thing to me, which probably says all you need to know, is how honest she appears on the page. Julavits isn't always a nice or rational person. She's mean to her husband for no reason. She gossips with her friends about other friends. She resents her children. She wants to be a celebrated artist, but she also wants to be pretty. She is jealous when other people are successful. So many complications I can relate to, yet Julavits admits to them readily and I never do.
I started keeping a diary when I was twelve, and I wrote in it almost every day until I went to college. Then I kept a diary sporadically, out of habit and guilt, and then I started blogging and that became the record of my life. My diaries when I was younger (I called them "journals," because that sounded more important) were not important. Julavits, when she reread her childhood diaries (the discovery that prompted this book) found they "revealed [her] to possess the mind of a paranoid tax auditor."
This, too, I can relate to. My own journals were detailed plans about how I would finally make eye contact with the boy I loved; painstaking lists of what I received for Christmas and my birthday; and a recounting of what made MTV's Top 20 Video Countdown that week, the list then preserved for future generations (this was before the Internet, when I imagined archaeologists would one day unearth my journals as priceless primary source materials). In other words: my journals were kind of dumb. Sure, they got more interesting as I got older, but not much. I was always so conscious as I wrote of an invisible audience, was always performing on the page. This is why I love blogging. The audience is still mostly invisible, but I can look at my page views and know that you are out there, reading along.
Julavits also has an audience, much larger than mine, and yet she doesn't feel the need to sugarcoat herself. She puts her bad habits, her less-desirable qualities, on display. She regrets some of her actions (she would like to be nicer to her husband and children, at least) but she doesn't really apologize for them. She is who she is.
I am who I am too, but I don't always feel good about it. Sometimes I gossip about other people without really understanding what they're going through; after, I feel guilty and mean and small. Sometimes I get in drunken arguments with people I love, or curse people who win the literary prizes I want, or hold some people to standards that are too high while forgiving other people everything because I can't bear to be angry with them. I'm conscious and compassionate when it's convenient, then feel guilty when I take the easy way out. I try hard to be a good ally, a good feminist, a good liberal, but then when I'm too tired to read all the articles and essays, when I'm worn out from the ceaseless anger, I retreat rather than fight and feel like a coward.
If I learned anything from The Folded Clock, it's this: no one is perfect, especially me. I will always have flaws and regrets. I'll always make mistakes. Years from now, I'll read these "pages" and I will be embarrassed by and proud of the person I used to be.
* I actually finished reading the book yesterday, but wanted to imitate her structure and style in this blog post. Forgive me, readers. Forgive me, Julavits.