The Diary and Memory

Picasso is reputed to have said that painting is just another way of keeping a diary. Many artists and writers keep a diary, if only to jot down a thought, sketch an image, or capture a lyric moment. Drawing a picture or journaling a series of words retains a more vivid impression than leaving the scene unwritten and unrecorded and therefore potentially forgotten. Whether the diary is composed of images or words, or whether it is real or imagined, a diary is an invaluable collection of personal experience. Indeed the word diary is derived from the Latin, diarium (daily allowance of food or pay) which came to mean a daily written record of the writer’s own experience. The word journal, derived from the French jour, journal, meaning a daily record of happenings, can be applied to newspapers, magazines, and periodicals.

Ironically, when we are too preoccupied with our day’s activities, we fail to record our impressions and the principle of keeping a diary or journal is forgotten. A university colleague of mine who teaches art said that his students have abandoned the capacity to sketch or draw, relying on computer generated images. What will happen in future generations if the manual tools of the diary — cursive writing, sketching and music notation — fade from use and are for the most part lost?

My Father's Pharmacy

The pharmacy had a particular aroma — I could close my eyes and tell that I entered a pharmacy anywhere, the aroma was identical, the scent of soap, perfume, dust-bane, and sometimes the sharp pungent odour of cod-liver oil, which all children dutifully had to take in those days with breakfast. In the dispensary there were bottles with barks from trees, plant roots, leaves, white powders, and a narcotics cabinet that was always locked. In the back of the drugstore was a special drawer of creams and ointments for ladies and boxes of things for men. Men came up to my father and whispered under their breath. Father looked back, gave them a serious nod, walked to the dispensary, and reached into a special drawer. He pulled out a small box and put it into a white bag before you could say Jackie Robinson.

“What was that you gave to that man?”

The men never looked at my father. They were staring someplace else, usually a wall or ceiling.

“Dad, what was that?”

“Prophylactics,” my father said. “They protect against pregnancy. We call them safes or condoms, just so you know, son. If I am in the dispensary, don’t bother me.” As soon as I could read, I checked the drawer in the dispensary when my father wasn’t looking and searched the boxes of safes. They had exotic foreign names—Sheiks, Ramses, Trojans. I opened a box up. They looked like folded yellow balloons and had a funny smell.

I was not sure what you did with them. They looked like bubble gum, wrapped up. I put one in my mouth. I chewed it, but nothing happened.