Sarah Manguso is the author of an 800,000-word diary that she’s been writing for more than 25 years. She’s also the author of the short, 93-page book Ongoingness: The End of a Diary, which comes out on March 3rd. The title is sort of misleading, as the diary hasn’t ended yet—she’s still writing it every day. The book explores how her attitude toward writing the diary changed over time.
Early in the book, she portrays the diary as a frenzied attempt to hold onto memories, a way of dealing with mortality:
I didn’t want to lose anything. That was my main problem… 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.
But halfway through the book, something changes. She gets pregnant. Though she doesn’t stop writing, during her pregnancy, and after her son is born, she begins to think about the writing differently. She cares less about forgetting things, doesn’t feel as strongly the need to record and reflect on moments:
How could I have believed that if I tried hard enough, I could remember everything?...
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.
Below is a lightly edited transcript of my conversation with Manguso about memory and writing, and how they affect thinking about time and life.