Trust Me On This

I’m In My 40s & I Still Keep A Diary

Sure, social media can provide a similar service, but with my diary there’s no nefarious dopamine hit; no one else reads the entries except me.

by Edan Lepucki
Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Getty Images

About fourteen years ago, on May 1, 2009, when I was 28, I took a bike ride, read a novel that caused me to worry about my own unfinished one, then went to my oldest sister’s apartment for chickpea stew. Exactly a year later, I felt awkward at a birthday party in West Hollywood, and, that evening, took my dog to a friend’s house for mint juleps.

I know all this because I wrote it down in my first five-year-diary, which is an elegant little book about six inches tall and nearly four inches wide, and maybe an inch thick. It has a page for every day of the year, and that page is divided into five sections, each marked with a 20__ for each year that gets recorded. On that day for five years, you mark the year and write down what you did. (For 2/29, Leap Year, the page is divided into only two sections; the space afforded feels downright decadent.) Once you’ve filled the book, you can go back to see what you did on a certain day for five years.

I’m now onto the last year of my third diary. This means I have recorded my life, every day, for almost 15 years. I started as that baby-faced 20-something, two years into my marriage, living in a roach-ridden apartment and working three or so jobs while dreaming of being an author. Now I'm 42, still married, but with three kids and a writing career. No more roaches. Not so baby-faced, either.

My diaries mostly record quotidian matters, such as what I ate for dinner, something my kids said or did, if I exercised, some terrible though minor rash, a cute dog I saw, and so on. I write a lot about writing. I record every single time I have sex.

I’m acutely aware that I’m recording these details for future-me: she will either long for this particular past or feel relieved that it’s behind her. It depends on the day.

On the one hand, this diary-keeping is a little tedious: it’s a nightly chore that I resent when it’s 10:48 pm and all I want is to sleep. On the other hand, I love having a record of my life and the era I'm living through, both the momentous parts and the boring. Sure, social media can provide a similar service, but with my diary there’s no nefarious dopamine hit; no one else reads the entries except me. If they’re less interesting, they’re also purer, less studied, than anything I post online. The only person I’m performing for is future-me, and I’m leaving it up to her to find the patterns in my life, to extract meaning from my bygone days. I’m just the diligent record keeper.

It’s when I am future me, reading the entries, that I get the most pleasure out of my diary project. The experience of seeing years of my life compressed in these short entries is a kind of time travel: I’m whisked back and back into moments I might have forgotten. Remember that, and that? Or how about that? And then, wow, there’s a shift, and I see how so much has changed, how differently I used to arrange my days.

After I came home from the hospital with my first child, I caught up on the entries I’d missed. I wrote, “Labor began at 10 am,” two days before my son’s actual birth. It remains the shortest entry in all three diaries. Those empty lines are like a path I walked into motherhood. The diary was never really the same after he came along.

Initially, writing about him was just convenient. I had a place to record milestones and random moments with him without the intimidation that comes with a dedicated baby book; my child’s life and experiences could coexist with my own, which I wanted so badly to believe was possible in those newborn days, when my body felt foreign and my daily routine, too. Eventually, as the entries piled up, I noticed a deeper benefit: even as the diaries emphasize time passing, they also alleviate some of that pain. The stinging knowledge that your kids are changing too fast — that you will forget what your baby's babble sounds like, or how it felt to hold them as a toddler, or what scared them for three weeks one July — is counterbalanced by this daily record.

For a long time, I mourned all that I couldn’t fit into my entries. I would find myself thinking, If I don't write down this moment it'll be lost forever. But I also liked having the power to decide what was valuable enough to be recorded, even if the responsibility made me nervous. Sometimes I would feel like a poet writing a sestina or some other punishing-yet-illuminating form; the freedom is in the constraints. How could I write about my new novel and that thing my daughter said and the lunch with my friend and the gorgeous full moon? I couldn’t — and I liked the attempt at distillation. It was a daily reminder that my life was full.

When COVID hit and my family went into lockdown, every day began to look the same. There was very little to report, and the diary held a different purpose. It wasn’t the diary form that was constrained anymore: it was life itself. Writing an entry every night meant I picked out what from the day distinguished itself, and, in doing so, the details became valuable. They mattered.

Now, future-me reads those exhausted, scared, deranged, monotonous 2020 days and I am brought right back into that era, all that time I had with my family, even if it almost broke me. I don’t want to go back to that time, but I am grateful to have reports from the past:

Today we tried out our new robot vacuum. Today so many people died. Today we ate lamb meatballs. Today my daughter asked if she could wear her headband when she was grown up. Today my left nipple tingled all day. Today my son ate his lunch out in the sun, listening to a podcast. Today I cried. Today I worried about the preschool teachers. Today the baby nuzzled into my neck and hummed. Today felt bad. Today felt okay.

These are the kinds of details from the past that snag me. The present is full of so much brutality and beauty and banality, sometimes all in a single day, and I must capture it, to have it in the future.

And so, tonight, when I’m so tired I could weep, I’ll drag out the diary and get time and its passage onto the page.

Edan Lepucki is a writer from Los Angeles, California, where she lives with her husband and three children.

She is the bestselling author of the novels California, Woman No. 17, and Time's Mouth, which will be published in August. She is also the editor of Mothers Before: Stories and Portraits of Our Mothers as We Never Saw Them. Her nonfiction has appeared in The Cut, Esquire, the New York Times Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and Romper, among other publications.