A little more than 10 years ago, I began looking back at the diaries I had kept over the previous decade. I wondered if I’d changed. SoA DIARY IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER H TO I I loaded all 500,000 words of my journals into Excel to order the sentences alphabetically. Perhaps this would help me identify patterns and repetitions. How many times had I written, “I hate him,” for example? With the sentences untethered from narrative, I started to see the self in a new way: as something quite solid, anchored by shockingly few characteristic preoccupations. As I returned to the project over the years, it grew into something more novelistic. I blurred the characters and cut thousands of sentences, to introduce some rhythm and beauty. When The Times asked me for a work of fiction that could be serialized, I thought of these diaries: The self’s report on itself is surely a great fiction, and what is a more fundamental mode of serialization than the alphabet? After some editing, here is the result.
This is part 3 of a 10-part series.
How does he pick the most irritating, shallow, superficial, terrible wives? How does someone dismantle themselves? How does someone shift their axis? How fast the days are going. How Goethe put all of himself into “The Sorrows of Young Werther.” How little you think of how sincerely you are judged by others for real and lasting and serious flaws in your character, and instead you fear judgment in this neurotic way, as if one little email you sent could incur their severe condemnation — as if you are not really seen. How many men did I have sex with this year? How many men did I kiss? How tiresome it is getting older.
I don’t mean this as a bad thing, but I just realized that nothing happens in life. I don’t remember anyone’s name. I don’t want a party. I don’t want anything to do with Pavel tonight. I don’t want to answer his calls. I don’t want to be a mother to a man. I don’t want to be a professor. I don’t want to be dead in four years. I don’t want to be together anymore. I don’t want to go out into the world. I don’t want to go to any parties. I don’t want to impose on anyone or burden anyone else with myself. I don’t want to keep living in this apartment. I don’t want to sublet my room in May. I don’t want to take more than the time allotted to me. I don’t want to talk to my friends about him, and I feel like I don’t want anyone’s opinion about my life or their thoughts about my life ever again. I drank too much last night, and there has been too much drinking all around. I find blood on the tissue all the time now. I find it interesting that some people are not going to the American ambassador’s house tomorrow night for cocktails as a protest against the foreign policies of the United States. I found out today that, as a young doctor, my mother had to put a catheter inside a man’s penis. I gave her the chocolate I bought. I gave her the groceries I bought for her, and she said it was going to be the first food in her cupboard. I gave him half the lemon loaf I had bought partly for him. I hate him these days. “I hate him,” I kept saying over and over in my dream.