Ongoingness: The End of a Diary - by Sarah Manguso

I wrote so I could say I was truly paying attention. Experience in itself wasn't enough. The diary was my defense against waking up at the end of my life and realizing I'd missed it.

I often prefer writers' diaries to their work written intentionally for publication. It's as if I want the information without the obstacles of style or form. But of course all writing possesses style and form, and in good writing they aren't obstacles. Another friend said, I want to write sentences that seem as if no one wrote them. The goal being the creation of a pure delivery system, without the distraction of a style. The goal being a form no one notices, the creation of what seems like pure feeling, not of what seems like a vehicle for a feeling. Language as pure experience, pure memory. I too wanted to achieve that impossible effect.

It was a failure of my imagination that made me keep leaving people. All I could see in the world were beginnings and endings: moments to survive, record, and, once recorded, safely forget. I knew I was getting somewhere when I began losing interest in the beginnings and the ends of things.

In my twenties I stopped to write every time I happened upon beauty. It was an old-fashioned project. Romances were examined in detail. Each one was new. Toward the end of my thirties and into my forties, entries became further abbreviated. Most of the sentences started with verbs. I is omitted from as many sentences as possible, occurring only for emphasis. I logged work and health--symptoms, medications, side effects. Housekeeping was no longer noted. If I read or looked at or heard something extraordinary, I named it, but as one ages, fewer things fall into this category. Reflection disappeared almost completely.

Now I am old enough to know what I'll never accomplish. I will never be a soldier, a physicist, a thousand other things. It feels like relief. Sometimes I feel a twinge, a memory of youthful promise, and wonder how I got here, of all the places I could have got to.

When I am with my son I feel the bracing speed of the one-way journey that guides human experience.

I used to harbor a continuous worry that I'd forget what had happened, that I'd fail to notice what was happening. I worried that something terrible would happen because I'd forgotten what had already happened. Perhaps all anxiety might derive from a fixation on moments--an inability to accept life as ongoing.

The best thing about time passing is the privilege of running out of it, of watching the wave of mortality break over me and everyone I know. No more time, no more potential. The privilege of ruling things out. Finishing. Knowing I'm finished. And knowing time will go on without me. Look at me, dancing my little dance for a few moments against the background of eternity.

Often I believe I'm working toward a result, but always, once I reach the result, I realize all the pleasure was in planning and executing the path to that result. It comforts me that endings are thus formally unappealing to me--that more than beginning or ending, I enjoy continuing.

When your job is to think and write about yourself, the stakes start to appear artificially, comically high. And they must, for without them, I wouldn't write at all. I'd spend the day reading the internet.

Imagine a biography that includes not just a narrative but also all the events that failed to foreshadow. Most of what the diary includes foreshadows nothing. Most of what it includes happens in the present and disappears. (Did I mention that I write the diary in present tense? I do.)