The Lost Cemetery of Prose – a Tribute to Open Diary.
In March 2001 I started writing in an online diary called Open Diary. It was the predecessor to pretty much every blog that currently takes up space on the Information Superhighway. It existed alongside Livejournal, it’s really that old. This weekend just gone, on 7 February 2014, it disappeared from the Internet forever, leaving thousands of people bereft, because for anything up to 16 years (Open Diary was founded in 1998) they had relied upon it to house their secrets, their friendships and the prose that spilled from their brain as often as needed, because before the world existed in Facebook statuses or 140 characters, there were places you could go to write down your thoughts and share them, anonymously or not, with the world, and Open Diary was one of those places, and Open Diary was that place for me.
The Front Page of Open Diary. For 15.5 years.
When it began, I was just 17, and still at school. I would log on at lunchtime, from the sixth form IT room and write about how hard my day was and how much coursework I had to wade through and how much I loved my boyfriend and hated my best friends. I would write about my after-school job and what I wanted to study at University and then my Grandma died and I was close to her so I wrote about how that made me feel, and I wrote about how irritating I found my younger brother and how I didn’t know which boy to choose and what festivals I was going to that summer. I wrote about my favourite songs and my social life and my petty quarrels with people I cared about, thought I cared about or wanted to kill with a spade. And I carried on doing that for 12 years, although I had no idea what I was starting when I began typing that first day. All my friends had Open Diaries too and we used them to squabble among ourselves – it became the height of teenage passive aggressive behavior, and I was perhaps the biggest culprit of all. As the years went on, my school friends dropped off this early example of lifestyle blogging (although much more personal and mostly without the pictures of home baking) and went out and got Real Lives, and I kept on writing. People I’d never met before began leaving notes and before I knew where I was, I’d made friends. Internet friends! Back in the day when we were all told that Internet friends were all axe murderers waiting on tenterhooks for us to give our location away so they could come and kill us.
I can tell you now that none of the friends I met through Open Diary were murderers. Some of them went on to become some of my best friends and favourite people. In fact, the night that Open Diary went offline forever, I was staying in Cardiff with my friend Jess, because we both loved Frank Turner and we both loved Cardiff and we live at opposite ends of the country, so we met there and got drunk and exchanged messages with Open Diary users from all over the world from the comfort of the pub next to our Cardiff hotel the night we found out Open Diary was finally being pulled from the airwaves. That night was special and poignant, because even though a huge part of my life was disappearing forever, I got to spend it with someone I had become close to via that web site, watching a gig by one of my favourite musical artists – and a running theme throughout my diary was music – some days it was all I wrote about – and it was somehow just as life intended.
Jess and I kept online diaries for over 10 years and now we have matching tattoos! We are the ultimate Internet geeks.
I can’t explain to you what Open Diary meant to me, what it means to me. I can’t explain unless you were there. You’d think I was strange if I told you that the people whose online diaries I read for 12 years knew more about me than the friends I saw every day, and still do. You’d wonder what the hell kind of dynamic that was – how people could be completely honest and open with one another who had never met one another. And I’ll tell you that you don’t need to know because if you were there then you GOT it – but you should know that there are different types of cemetery, different types of memorial, and some do not exist in the physical world. They cannot even be accessed by computer – and Open Diary is one of those things, because it no longer exists, anywhere except in our memories. And so the beauty of what we wrote and what we had when we wrote it and the relationships we have with each other as a result lives on in our hearts and in our minds, and that makes Open Diary exactly like a Victorian Londoner who never got to be buried in Highgate West or Brompton or Kensal Green. There are a lot of ways to remember a person or a thing or a time in your life. Some of the ways aren’t physical monuments – sometimes there are no giant mausoleums.
But if Open Diary were a physical monument, it would be very grand indeed. Grand enough for one of the Magnificent Seven.
If Open Diary were a monument…?
Russian Doll Tattoos by Tasha Pollendine at Physical Graffiti, Cardiff.
Bottom photograph by Christina Owen – Abney Park Cemetery November 2013