Tag Archives: writing

Abstract writing photo

The accidental diarist: Blogging and writing and memory

I started this blog as a way to record and share my time living overseas, “a long way from where I grew up”. While my initial idea was something of a travel blog (hence the title), it quickly evolved into a place where I write each week about the small details of my life. Things like the feeling of it being summer but not Christmas, or the times I’m glad my Italian isn’t that good, or a list of nerve-wracking (to me) behaviours I’ve seen from cyclists.

Around the same time I started posting regularly again, I started a journal. First it was a cheap slim notebook with a green cover that I took with me on vacation to Slovenia and Croatia in August 2014, to make notes on where I went and what I saw, and (more imporantly!) to have a place to sketch out maps of hostel locations for when I was without internet.

It was supposed to be a one-off travel diary — before that, I’d sometimes carried a notebook to scribble down shopping and to-do lists, but I was never a diarist. I’d tried as a teenager, but I was always too self-concious to be able to record my thoughts, knowing that I’d find them cringe-worthy even a few weeks later.

But two weeks of near-daily writing was enough to build up some momentum. My entry from August 17th starts, Here’s a crazy idea — why not keep on keeping a journal? Obviously this is crazy talk because now I’m back in my apartment in Torino, and I’d have to comment on things that will continue to exist in my life for more than a handful of days. That’s scary. And somehow that stuck and now I have a pile of notebooks (that none of you will ever read, oh my goodness I am dying of embarrassment at even the idea of it, the teenage cringe-y-ness has not disappeared AT ALL, you guys I am literally wincing slightly as I write this).

All this writing — for an audience and for myself — has some side effects. I noticed early on that whatever I write becomes my “official” version of what had happened.The details I elide slip from my memory. On my best days, this prods me to write honestly; most of the time it makes me accientally-on-purpose leave out my questionable motives and unflattering details. Meanwhile, the events I do write about have beautiful narrative structure in my memory, and events that I don’t write about I struggle to even place in a particular year let alone remember clearly.

(There’s a corollary to this that came up in a conversation with friends the other week: for those of us who have moved around a lot, many of our conversations are with people we can’t see in person and happen via the written word — facebook or whatsapp or email or whatever. Which means that every dumb comment we make is recorded and searchable, to some extent. And if you’re like me you remember written things better than spoken, even without a literal record, and these conversations last longer in our memory than the same conversation face-to-face would. Which surely must change the dynamics of friendships, at least subtly.)

For now, I’ll keep writing, even if I can’t record everything. It’s fun to turn the small details into stories I can share, and it feels like there’s never any shortage of material…

Brain MRI

That time I got hit by a car: injury, uncertainty and stories

Here’s a dramatic opening line for you: A year ago this weekend, I was hit by a car while crossing the street.

This is the story per the police report and my hospital notes: I was hit by a green Fiat at 3:15 pm; I arrived in hospital fully conscious; I had fractured my skull in two places and suffered some bruising and minor bleeding on my brain; no surgery was required; CT scans and ultrasounds confirmed I had no other injuries; I spent 9 days in hospital for observation; a subsequent MRI 6 weeks later indicated satisfactory progress towards recovery and no need for further intervention.

That story sits comfortably in a folder of forms and papers with official letterheads, but it feels rather incomplete.

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So apparently when I don’t need to write it comes automatically.

Most cafes in Turin are deeply traditional — fittings that have been lovingly maintained and never updated since the 1930s, carved dark wood and floral fabrics everywhere, seasonal window displays. Old ladies in fur coats having their morning cappuccino made just so, the way they’ve taken it every morning for the past 50 years. A few tables, mostly with couples or men reading the newspaper.


Photo: “Turin cafe” by Signe Karin CC BY

No laptops, obviously. Why would you mix your coffee break with your work?

I love the traditional cafes, even if I always feel underdressed compared to the staff in bowties and waistcoats. But sometimes you just need some free wifi and don’t mind if the coffee isn’t quite as good, which is how I ended up yesterday afternoon at exki, a chain of what I suppose you’d call ‘American style’ cafes. Ikea-style furniture, big open spaces, a children’s play area available.

It seems half of Torino goes there on a Saturday evening. The children playing in the toy kitchen were accompanied by their immaculately-dressed mother, wearing a black lace dress and high heels. A few tables over from me was a chap who I will generously assume was actually a professor but oh my goodness he so clearly also wanted to look like a professor I had a hard time not giggling. A cluster of students were sitting on bar stools around a high table, studying for exams. Outside it was raining and as people came they added their umbrellas to the pile at the door.

I sat there eating brownie, idly people watching with the background white noise of conversations going on around me, and I found myself compelled to write (this post, actually). It was a sort of sensory memory — something clicked and I was back in a very similar cafe in Glasgow, where I wrote the bulk my PhD thesis during early-morning cafe sessions, fuelled by americanos and interspersed with people-watching.

My thesis remains the longest thing I’ve ever written — I much prefer short-form blog posts! — and writing it taught me to write. Not necessarily with grace or style, but just the act of writing, of getting my thoughts firmed up and on a page whether I feel writerly or not.

And apparently it also taught my subconcious that if you’re in a cafe with a laptop, you should be writing. Well then.