Monday, July 08, 2024

St. Sammy Peeps 

Samuel Pepys, Portrait by John Hayls, 1666

At this year’s TCAF (the Toronto Comic Arts Festival), I saw a talk given by Rosena Fung about her book “Age 16”, which is a work of fiction that borrows from her own life. It wasn’t an autobiography or memoir but clearly her personal experiences helped imbue her characters with a certain truth. In talking about her work she mentioned how she created a lot of “self documentation”.

Of course, I could empathize. For over twenty years, I’ve maintained a blog. For 17 years I’ve taken entries from that blog and published an annual compendium. Since I’ve owned a smartphone I have taken random photos that I have kept that not only record an image, but the exact time, date and usually a geographic location (my iCloud album goes back 22 years). For the last 9 years I’ve kept sketch books, which started as a daily way to keep up my sketching and use up empty sketchbooks. I now have 14 of them. Since 2010, I’ve kept my work notebooks (this is surely something that I could give up). I have letters and other sketchbooks that go back to the 1990s. After maintaining a blog for over twenty years and a comic book journal for almost ten, my remarkably dull and inoffensive journaling is more like a public "notes to self" than a really honest and insightful diary. I've also started logging my workouts, keeping track of what I eat, allowing Google Maps know my location and I've started using Apple's Journal app (and may occasionally use the Kennedy app which does pretty much the same thing). While none of these are revealing any deeply held secrets or worrying psychosis, they certainly are a record of self-documentation, perhaps of the dullest kind.

I’ve since learned from David Owen’s New Yorker piece, How To Live Forever, that this self-recording is known as solipsism. “Solipsism (from solus 'alone', and ipse 'self') is the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist. As a position, solipsism holds that knowledge of anything outside one's own mind is unsure; the external world and other minds cannot be known and might not exist outside the mind.”
- Wikipedia

When I first picked up a copy of Wired magazine, I looked to the colophon or masthead, to see who made this vibrant and (what was then) niche publication. There I saw the note that prominent Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan was listed as the magazine's patron saint. Who, I wondered, was my patron saint? Designer Dieter Rams? Too prescriptive and methodical. Designer Paul Rand? Too pedantic? Architect Mies van der Rohe? Too German. In reading the history of London, one name that was oft referenced was London-based civil servant Samuel Pepys (pronounced unexpectedly and for reasons unknown as “peeps”). Who was this diarist Samuel Pepys?

Again from Wikipedia:
"The detailed private diary that Pepys kept from 1660 until 1669 was first published in the 19th century and is one of the most important primary sources for the English Restoration period. It provides a combination of personal revelation and eyewitness accounts of great events, such as the Great Plague of London, the Second Dutch War, and the Great Fire of London." Samuel Pepys might be the patron saint of everyone who is blogging, publishing, logging, tracking and sketching. Surely, you’d think someone has opened a “Samuel Pepys Journal and Stationery Shop” by now? A quick Web search says not so. While Pepys did note quotidian details of daily life (paying workman, hiring staff), he also witnessed and documented notable events in and around London. Additionally, he captured his more salacious thoughts and affairs. These more private notes were written in an easily decoded shorthand, indicating Pepys had a sense that his diaries would be read after his death, which of course they are as part of a library in Cambridge based on his personal collection.

Perhaps years ago I thought like Pepys, that historians would appreciate “my solipsistic record”, as David Owen put it, but that was clearly fantasy. Did I really think anyone other than myself would be interested in my life? Now I record my life for myself. What was I doing ten years ago? I don’t have to go far to find out. Sometimes I take a sketchbook from the shelf and flip through my memories and am reminded of a funny thing or moment. Then that memory is freshly imprinted in my mind, strengthening it (whether it is an accurate retelling or not may be debated). Why do I do it? I don’t really know. Maybe I do it to prove to myself that I exist outside of my mind.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home