WRITING A LITERARY DIARY
George Orwell kept a daily dairy during the late 1930s. During this period, the world was coming out of the great depression. The Orwell Trust has made them available on its website. Most of the entries from a casual browsing indicate that Orwell was content on observing life, people, animals and events happening around him without adding much editorial opinion.
One advantage of such a diary is that keeps the skills of observation polished, the writer anchored in the moment (a good Buddhist quality), and creates an alternate history of memory.
Being connected with the ordinary and with nature is something that many of us miss in modern, urban life. The sight of sweet peas and sunflowers, goats, and doves, the feel and look of soil occur in other spaces. These are spaces that we rarely occupy; spaces in which we are effectively blind and deft.
With the darkness of a depression descending everywhere, I wonder if we might turn away from the acquisition of material things and look to the world in a different way.
One alternative way is found in the diaries of George Orwell.
Here’s an example from 70 years ago
27th October 1938:
“Large numbers of black beetles, about 1” long, crawling everywhere, evidently brought out by the rain. Have sowed sunflowers, sweet peas & marigolds. The other seeds not up yet, as it has been much cooler (we are having fires every evening.) The ground here is lumpy & unpleasant to work, but at present not many weeds – more when this rain has taken effect, perhaps. Some weeds as in England, eg. bindweed & twitchgrass, but not growing very strongly. Silver poplar or some very similar tree grows here. Tomatoes here are grown in large patches without sticks. Very poor floppy plants & smallish tomatoes, but plenty of them.
Yesterday on milking the brown goat found her milk had gone sour & came out quite thick. This is because she is only being milked once a day & had not been fully milked for two days owing to her restiveness. Squeezed the bad milk onto the ground & tonight her milk was all right again. Another hen bad in the legs this evening. Examined & found enormous black lice. Hope treatment will be effective as before. The stripey goat’s milk increases, but very slightly, still not much over 1/2 pint a day. She is very thin, though she eats well. The present ration of hard food is 2 handfuls of barley & 2 of bran morning & evening, with a mash of boiled maize & bran about once a week.
The doves readily eat maize if it is broken.”