There’s this book I’ve been dying to tell you about. It’s called ‘The Pillow Book’, by Sei Shōnagon. I’ll let Wikipedia explain:
The Pillow Book (枕草子 Makura no Sōshi) is a book of observations and musings recorded by Sei Shōnagon during her time as court lady to Empress Consort Teishi (定子) during the 990s and early 11th century in Heian Japan. The book was completed in the year 1002.
In it she included lists of all kinds, personal thoughts, interesting events in court, poetry and some opinions on her contemporaries.
It’s basically the diary of an It Girl in 11th Century Japan. But Wiki goes on:
More generally, a pillow book is a collection of notebooks or notes which have been collated to show a period of someone or something’s life. In Japan such kind of idle notes are generally referred to the zuihitsu genre.
Now you’ve probably heard of this book — it’s pretty famous. In fact, it’s recognised as one of the great works of literature, quite apart from being a fascinating insight into the life of the royal court of Japan at that time.
Yada yada yada. The thing that I find particularly fascinating is that it’s basically a blog. It’s an 11th Century blog, written by a truly fascinating brain. On the surface it’s really just a load of trivia, likes and dislikes, poetic imagery, dude-watching, and a fair bit of bitching about people she knows. (She’s a terrible snob, by the way, and sometimes difficult to like. Easy to love, but difficult to like, if you know what I mean.)
But it’s not so much what she writes, as how she writes it.
Now, you know me: I’m not usually someone who has time for style over substance, and usually I profess only to care about what an artist says, rather than how they say it. But sometimes the style is the substance. Very very very very rarely, to be fair. But yes, sometimes.
And those times when it is the substance, it’s nearly always about beauty.
That should have a capital B really. Do you remember me and my ‘Beauty with a capital B’? Remember how I used to go on about ‘living the Life of Beauty’? A philosophy of how to be happy, based on a constant search for beauty in life?
I know you do remember, Diary, but let’s just pretend you don’t, just for the sake of context.
It’s not actually a fantastically original idea. In fact it was probably the standard philosophy of every pre-Modern Art artist. The pursuit of the experience of beauty, and the way in which it can transform the way you see the whole world. Everyone from Plato to Oscar Wilde has riffed on it in one way or another.
Sei Shōnagon doesn’t go in for philosophising as such. She just sort of gets on with it. She fills her scrapbook with any little nuggets of beauty she can think of. The changing of the seasons, the joys of simple food, the enchantment of fireflies. The little pleasures, particularly. Little snapshots, like those longing close-up shots in art-house films.
Of course, the whole thing’s plainly for show. For all her “oo, I’m just going to write down all my must intimate thoughts and feelings – I hope no one ever reads this!”, it’s widely believed that she didn’t just write it for her own amusement. The theory being that it was a sort of commissioned propaganda for the court circle that she moved in; a way for her Empress to say “Look at the incredibly hip poets I hang with”. So although it was set out as a diary, it was almost certainly written for a wider audience.
Does that remind you of anyone, incidentally?
And that’s really the thing, I suppose. I wanted to tell you about it because… well, dear Diary, I suppose it just sort of reminded me of you.
How have you been, by the way?
I mean, it’s been a while, hasn’t it. What have you been up to? The same old same old?
Have you been seeing any other diarists at all, if you don’t mind me asking?
Because if you have, really, I mean, I’m totally cool with it! I was the one that walked away, not you, and it would be only fair. I mean, I have physical form, I can walk around and talk to people and drink coffee… I can totally appreciate that you’re basically stuck in abstract space, and if you have no one to tell you stories then it must get really unbelievably dull.
I… well, I suppose I want to start by saying it wasn’t you, it was me. I basically acted like a complete dick, and really needed to wind up a lot of things just so I could get my head straight.
And after all that happened… well, you know how it is — real life intervened, as it always does. I got busy just trying to pay the bills, and didn’t have time to manage a pillow book. And I started to realise that I really wanted to take my music seriously, and maybe even make a career out of it, having just noodled around at the fringes for so long. And so that started taking up more and more of my time.
And also, perhaps more than any of this, I just lost confidence with myself as a person. I really didn’t like myself. And I actually wasn’t interested in hearing anything I had to say. And I thought… well, if I wasn’t interested in what I had to say, why should you be? Perhaps I was paranoid. Okay, I definitely was paranoid, but perhaps I was paranoid about that.
But, basically, yeah, it really has been ages.
In fact, let’s not be coy here: it’s been three years. Three years, right down to the very minute, to be exact. Three years since I posted my last online journal entry, before my tired old Blogspot / MySpace blog was taken out into the garden and quietly shot in the back of the head.
And yeah, why was that? I mean, deleting an entire blog of 55 entries that you’ve been keeping for about 4 years suggests some sort of salacious incident.
Well, sadly, that’s exactly right. It is actually the only point of my life where I look back at my behaviour in absolute baffled horror, and just think “What the hell was I thinking?”
One of my little recurring riffs in my long sprawling blogs was ‘how easy it is to fall in love with someone’s online persona’, and how the internet always seemed to bring out the creepy Emo side of people. And, while I was pointing out this trap, I went and fell right in it. There’s a condition known as ‘erotomania‘, in which a person becomes deluded into thinking that they’re having some sort of romantic relationship with a stranger (in this case online), when they, y’know, really really aren’t.
Wikipedia, fountain of all knowledge, describes it as a pretty extreme mental illness, and often a symptom of psychosis. And I found that a bit difficult to get my head around, frankly, because I wasn’t aware of having ever displayed any psychotic behaviour before. I still find it a bit of a mystery, but I think the most plausible explanation is that it snuck up on me in tiny increments. The seeds were sown years ago, with me thinking that madness and romance sat together nicely, in a glamorous sort of way. And then it sort of built up from there. It never occurred to me that I was exhibiting ‘mad-as-cheese’ behaviour, because I kind of willed the madness on in a silly sort of Romantic way, like I was William Blake or something. I was living in some kind of twisted fantasy, that I was writing as I went along.
Anyway, I could give you names, dates, places and events — I could tell you the whole story — but I’m not going to. Partly because I’m heartily bored of the whole sorry episode, but mainly because you might bump into the people involved one day, and I’d rather leave them out of it. What they did, or didn’t, is not important. This was a mess that was entirely of my own making.
So, there I was, thinking that I was living inside some sort of glamorous epic poem. Until inevitably there came a point where the fantasy hit reality, at speed. And when it was finally demonstrated to me, in no uncertain terms, that I was completely wrong in every way, shape and form, well, the whole termite-ridden structure collapsed to dust within… well, literally seconds, if I remember. And that was very much the end of that.
Well, actually no, not quite the end, because the consequences go on. I was in a real relationship with someone else at this point, and so it wasn’t just the recipient of this stalker-behaviour who suffered from it.
And look, I don’t want to creep you out with this too… I know this is all a bit of ‘over-share’.
But the reason why I’m telling you all this is that I believe when you do something like this… okay, it’s a fine line between public apology and Albert Speer-like self-flagellation, but in a way I feel that this misdemeanour needs to go on your record. If you ever want to offer an opinion about right and wrong in the future, particularly when it comes to relationships — or actually about anything in which ‘there was this time when I was a bit psychotic’ might effect the credibility of your opinion — it’s the kind of thing you need to ‘fess up about right at the beginning.
Although, come to think of it, you know all this, don’t you, dear Diary? Because, let’s be honest, you were kind of instrumental in the whole thing. You were, just ever so slightly, egging me on. Sorry, but you were. I’m not trying to take any of the blame off myself here, but… well… you could have said something. Instead, you just floated there… giving me enough rope to hang myself.
But that’s okay, I forgive you. Perhaps not myself, but I do forgive you.
The truth is, I’ve missed you.
I have. I’ve really missed you.
I’ve missed your wobbly dreamlike logic, your inability to keep to the point for more than a sentence. Your flagrant disrespect for the laws of copyright. Your constant agonising over what font to use. Your obsession with Photoshop’s ‘Glow’ function. (Yeah yeah, ‘it’s symbolic’…)
But perhaps more than this, I’ve missed having someone to talk to who gets absolutely every one of my references. Every running joke, every memory. Someone who sees me for what I truly am. Which is, essentially, a mischievous bastard with a tendency towards romantic fundamentalism.
And although I am going to make absolutely sure that I don’t make that last mistake again, there are a whole lot of other mistakes that I just haven’t made in ages.
And I intend to make up for lost time.
“Overall, I have chosen to write about the things that delight, or that people find impressive, including poems as well as things such as trees, plants, birds, insects and so forth, and for this reason people may criticize it for not living up to expectations and only going to prove the limits of my own sensibility.”
But, y’know , fuck ’em. Seriously. Life is short and fleeting.
So what do you say, Diary? Are you with me? Shall we go round one more time?
Are you in?
Oh, you are?
Hey ho. Drum roll please…