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Most Open of Diaries, Most Open of Lives

Wednesday, 9th May, 2001

I always thought diaries were personal things, cloistered away in private away from prying eyes. I always thought the point was that the diary would act as confidante in the absence of any other, and it would always keep its secrets. I always thought that if a diary was discovered it would be catastrophic.

Well, no more. I finally followed up the invitation of a friend to go visit the online community he now lives at, a place called Open Diary. It's exactly that: a place where diarists chronicle their lives, but all in the open, for anyone to read and to comment on.

I'm not sure if it's a place for me to join, but it certainly fascinated me. Where else can you find out everything about a person but their name?

Dance with me. Dance the night away, but don't remove my mask, for when dawn breaks, I'll slip away still cloaked in anonymity. It's the great equaliser, and it's whence Cinderella sprang.

I can see how it fits Gregory, for that is his name. He's been there for a while now, become part of a community, and he's taken that extra step into real life by travelling abroad and meeting some of his fellow community diarists. Online becomes an extension of real life, rather than an alternative, something I've got to know and love very well.

A portrait: I've always seen him as a sort of traditional Englishman with a touch of glorious eccentricity. He's a poet and a philosopher and a traveller, maybe born a hundred years after his romantic wanderlust was the vogue. His humour is dry, his vocabulary wide and he drinks like a fish.

It all makes the written word a natural and instinctive creature to him, and the diary a natural and instinctive home. There his character can bask and thrive, and now that his diary can be open and instantly available to the world, it can become a means by which to spread his soul further afield.

Typically, he's not a typical diarist. Most of the population there seems to be American, female, and surprisingly young. Some are vague, some are pointless, some are introspective. Some are explicit.

I read through Gregory's diary from the first entry. He writes in a style that I'd expect: open, sincere, eloquent. Part of me felt that I shouldn't be there, that I was intruding on something private; but then part of me realised that this was exactly what we'd catch up with over a meal and a chessboard, a couple of times a year, merely in a little more detail.

Gregory's diary I followed easily. There was much that was new to me, of course, but I knew many of the characters and locations. I'd even met some. So, borrowing a leaf from the film, 'Slacker', I switched sideways to the diary of one of the people who had posted a note on his. From there I'll switch again and again. Very soon, I'll find people who Gregory has never heard of, and maybe one day further down the line I'll find him again, linked by another note that he will leave for someone else. The intermingling of lives and relationships is a beautiful thing.

I'm new here, but I'm of the formative opinion that these notes, posted by any reader who felt the need to comment, tell as much about a person as their diary itself.

Obviously, most of these people use pseudonyms, handles, some means of identification that is not obvious. They have masks to hide behind. Some even hide their co-stars behind masks. With those masks firmly in place, they pour out their souls to anyone who will listen. It's surprising how explicit you can be in anonymity.

There's always a risk, of course. Pour out enough of your life and it becomes recognisable, to others who are part of it. Open Diary is a big place, but discovery is always a possibility. Is this a secret thrill? Write about your hidden love, whom you are afraid to tell, and then hope he reads your words and feels the same?

How different could it be? Here was someone who had left a bunch of notes, who obviously had a connection of some sort with my friend, maybe minor, maybe major, but something. People who have nothing alike do not talk.

These connections are fascinating things. Characters are deep enough creatures to offer connections in the most unlikely places. My current superstring theory of life suggests that every being on the planet is connected to every other by virtual superstrings. Each string is a connection, on a single level.

Life is about following those strings to their other end and discovering the person there. You and they share something. Once you've found them, you may discover that you share other strings too, and the more strings you share the more you have in common. Love to me is an immeasurable number of shared strings including an uncountable number that are specifically required.

But what of this new person, whose link I'd followed? It seems that her open diary has helped her find herself. It's helped her to realise the meaning behind a whole gamut of fundamental lessons of life, and she's changed her way of thinking accordingly. From someone who avoids relationships by basing everything on sex, suddenly she's celibate by choice and her eyes are well and truly open. And suddenly I've found the draw to this place, the kick that brings people back. This is a film, but the story isn't over yet. I want to know what happens next.

It's amazing how far you can immerse yourself in someone's life. Twelve months fly past like lightning in two hours, then nothing. Tomorrow's entry isn't written yet. Suddenly we're away from twenty four frames a second and back to the speed of life. That's where we always end up back at.

A quick mention for another diarist, one that opens up a whole new train of thought. I found her diary, this sixteen year old girl, and let her words of stunning depth and beauty flood over me. I didn't so much read them as immerse myself in them. There were no names here, no events, no identifiers. It was pure emotion boiled down into liquid form and splashed onto the screen in bursts of pure poetry. Truly stunning.

Then I read her other diary, the other side of her personality that she keeps understandably separate. She's a kid, just like any other. She writes in the jargon of the sixteen year old AOL user, about bad grades and worse crushes and having sex with her boyfriend's parents upstairs. It's full of giggles and typos and inanity.

Somehow, however, these two disparate characters are the same person. They have nothing in common, yet they share the same brain. The same blood pumps through their veins, yet it pumps differently for each. Half of her is fully adult already, the other half never wants to be, and that internal battle is there for anyone to watch.

Part of me still thinks I shouldn't be there. The other half is fascinated.

Now, what to talk about, Gregory, while your king's bishop runs riot?

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