Lately I have been thinking about legacies and writing.
My (night) job for the last two years has been as a nurse in charge of a dementia unit. I have seen the end product of these victims' minds slowly unraveling, but never knew them in the days when their minds were active, vibrant, and rational. To me who they are is the person I help care for now, but to their family members they were once someone else. Whenever a family member reveals a part of their past unknown to me, it is a revelation, like when I found out one lady who now wanders aimlessly getting into other people's things was a foster parent for years. Who we are now is a snapshot in time that speaks to the essence of who we are, but may fade away before we die, and certainly is unretrievable once we are gone to those who didn't know us.
Unless, of course, we leave a legacy. A diary can transmit some of our essence clearly to future generations, but perhaps we aren't comfortable with writing out our personal thoughts, or don't have the time to keep one. I have a treasure box of items belonging to my precious deceased grandparents, which is a comfort to me, and helps me try to keep their memory alive for my children who were still too young at their passing to remember them well. My grandfather's letters to my grandmother from the Pacific during World War II are the most valued part of the collection because they reveal a whole different side of my grandfather in them.
So, what does writing fiction have to do with diaries or mementoes? With all the creativity, time, tears, and joy that goes into creating a novel that allows others to escape into a different world, I would say the novels we leave behind speak volumes indirectly about the author. Someday most of my trinkets might end up in a landfill, but I hope my novels will still be around for my descendants (and others) to get a glimmer of my essence.