On January 1, 1955—I had just turned seventeen—and had previously purchased a daily ledger. On that New Year’s Day, I wrote this in the book:
“Considering that this is a very important year in my life … [high school] graduation … first year of college—I thought it would be a good idea to record these events. I write these words for myself … because I wish to clarify my own thinking and idea. I would venture to say that I am a confused person. Perhaps this will help. To begin …”
Thus starts the only diary I have ever kept, and which I wrote in every day for that year.
Perhaps, most notably is the entry for March 28, 1955.
“Well, I finally said it out loud—I intend to stay with the theater—in the theater one can be everything or anybody. That’s for me. I got a new idea for a play.”
That was me announcing that I was going to be a writer. In those days, my writing took the form of playwriting. I would pursue that for many years, mostly unsuccessfully. In my mid-twenties, an adult mentor urged me to turn to novels, and soon after my children got me to children’s literature. That said, Richard Jackson, my principal editor for years once said, “Avi, you have never stopped writing plays.”
As for that diary, it is full of energy and enthusiasm, with a great deal about reading and writing, and the girls for whom I was serially having unrequited crushes. It is also replete with adolescent absurdities … “Read Plato. Not bad.” But it is full of intense self-discovery. Not beside the point, there are long lists of the books I am reading, books that have nothing to do with my school. Thus:
May 3—A Doll’s House. Ibsen.
May 4—Ghosts. Ibsen.
May 5—The Mind of a Man. Avi.
May 7—Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Dylan Thomas.
May 8—The Master Builder. Ibsen.
May 11—The Seagull. Chekov.
May 23—Shakespeare and the Rival Tradition. Harbage.
May 18—Areopagitica. Milton.
Miss Julia. Strindberg.
Cousin Bette. Balzac.
And so on….
Did I really read all that on May 18th? (It was, after all, a Thursday, presumably a school day.) I have to doubt it, but there they are.
Note that on May 5, I insert something I wrote, thereby embedding myself (ludicrously) into the world of great literature.
The volume is also full of quotes from what I am reading. Some examples:
“I believe that happiness wears out in [the] effort to recapture it; that nothing is more fatal to happiness than the remembrance of happiness.” (Gide)
“We want a few mad people now. See where the sane ones have landed us!”(G.B. Shaw)
“Loneliness is the badge of the writer’s profession. It has ruined more writers than any other reason combined.” (Odets)
Here is my entry for one day, which records the finishing of something I had written:
“Glory be! Glory be! Glory be! It’s done. Poof. Gone over. Finished. Ended. Came home. Just did it. That’s all. Tomorrow one copy goes to Mary [school drama teacher]. The other to Lee [adult mentor] who I shall see tomorrow. What next? I don’t know what I shall do with this. Two people have read it. Jackie [?] was the first. They made criticism which I don’t have with me now. I’ll save room here to put them in. Strange. Both did not feel it was slow. Good!”
Oh, how young, how full of life!
And now, years later, back to the book with which I am currently struggling…