Italy’s National Diary Archive Foundation

August 24, 2014

Exciting news:  A reader has just sent me a connection to an article that appeared on August 19 in the New York Times.   It seems that Italy already has a diary archive, containing 7,000 memoirs written by “ordinary” people.  It is located in Pieve Santo Stefano, Italy, now known as the “City of Diaries.”

 

The project was begun in 1984 by Saverio Tutino, a foreign correspondent.  The current director is Natalia Cangi.

 

Go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/20/world/europe/a-trove-of-diaries-meant-to-be-read-by-others.html

 

I have no news on the National Diary Archive for the USA.  I am currently so involved with my final attempt to succeed with a brick and mortar used, out-of-print and rare bookstore that I have little time for the archive.  (I work six days a week.)  The archive needs funding.  If The Eclectic Reader bookstore succeeds, so will the archive.

I have had an interesting donation for the archive this summer- a “commonplace book,” which is  a scrapbook of letters, copies of poems, articles and pictures cut out of newspapers dating from 1870 to 1881.   The only clue as to ownership of this book is the name William Robertson of Glasgow on a certificate of the National Secular Society from 1879.  There are references to Glasgow, Santa Rosa, California, and Grand Rapids, Michigan.   The scrapbook is definitely religious in nature.   The creator of this book could have been a minister. It came to me from the  estate of a minister.  The handwriting is exquisite, but often hard to read.  I’ll try to do a post on it soon.

Writing and the Irish – Guest columnist – Barry Wallace

March 18, 2014

Almost everyone in my family writes well. My twin brother is a poet; my two sisters have collaborated on an unpublished novel and one of them writes a weekly column for a small Florida paper. My younger brothers surprise me with their articulate emails; my father was a gifted speaker; my mother wrote me wonderful vivid letters when I was away at college. I have kept journals for decades and tried other forms of writing. Always writing.

 

For a long time I wouldn’t have associated this gift with our being Irish, but the older I get the more powerful the connections grows. Our story is a familiar one. Famine Irish from the mid 19th century. We never knew much more than that. Staunch Irish Catholic, meatless Fridays, weekly confessions, Sunday Mass and the Holy Days of Obligation. We were poor but didn’t mind it. This world didn’t matter as much as the next. That’s when the Irish would get their share of what life had conspired to take away from them. Mother had second hand furniture. My father couldn’t afford a car that worked. Our TV never held a station. We couldn’t get sick because Dad had no money to pay the doctor.

 

But we had words. Always words. There was no shortage of words. My father loved to talk about the world. My grandmother and her brothers and sisters argued over politics and religion at every meal. Only my mother was silence, and in her silence I also heard words, unsaid words, quiet words that may have led me to write a diary instead of trying to produce the great American Novel. Of course there were plenty of Irish writers that the world knew about. We read James Joyce’s “Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man” when we were in Catholic high school. Our literature writers included short stories and poems by Frank O’Connor and Sean O’Faolin and William Butler Yeats. These were new names to me but I instantly recognized something in them that I had never before felt in a classroom – kinship with the  ideas and the people they wrote about. I sensed that I knew them and that they were my own.

 

Why in the world did I decide at 17 that I wanted to become a writer when I hardly had read a book on my own? Where did that come from? Why were words so important to me? Why did I need them? They were like the air I breathed. I needed them before breakfast and after supper. I needed to dwell in words all day. I didn’t know anything about Ireland or the life of the pubs. Or the unique heritage of stories and poems in a small enchanted nation brutalized by colonialization and rended by Civil War. I began to read as much as I could, and many of my interests and questions brought me back to my Irish roots. We had lost contact with our past, but we hadn’t lost the trauma, the gift and the humor that came with it.

 

My great grandmother Mary Clark, whose parents were born in Cork, kept a diary throughout her long life. Nothing fancy – she entered birthdays and holidays, Sunday Mass, spring time drives into the country, good meals, weddings, deaths and parties. Grandma Ma as we called her was barely literate. She sounded out words she couldn’t spell, but I love her diaries and consider them next to my dearest books. The Irish wrote to say, “We were here.” It was a powerful statement given the cultural genocide they faced in the old country, and the fight for survival in the bustling new world they entered full of fight and blind endurance.

 

I later realized that an entire nation had a gift of words, even the silent ones like my mother. I explored my own Irishness in my diaries. I kept coming back to certain indivisible aspects of my own personality and they seemed set for me in far-away places like Cork and Armagh and Sligo, places that I would visit years later and be brought to tears by my sense of having been there in a prior life, the life of a race of people.

 

On this St Patrick’s Day I am once again driven by words. Words to write in a diary, words to send out into endless space of the internet. With words I hold onto what I love and value most; with words I join the community of writers and ordinary people; with words I pain the world I have known. I won’t take a drink on St Pat’s Day. I won’t attend any of the parades. But I will sit down with a book and breathe in the soul of a people with the voice of the Irish to console and to guide and to remind me of why this day matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Answer 4 (Part VII) Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists: Barry

February 28, 2014

Introductory comments from Cynthia Manuel:  As a long-time book dealer, I have rather liked the fanciful notion  that the books on the shelves of my bookstore are actually “minds on shelves.”  “So many minds to explore, so little time,” to paraphrase a modern aphorism.  Non-fiction is my favorite, biographies especially, but nothing holds the fascination like a published diary if you truly want a glimpse into the mind of the writer as he or she  experiences “life’s ordinary hours.”    Barry writes “it opened up history and literature in ways I hadn’t experienced before.”  Exactly so.

In this installment, Barry answers the question: DO YOU ENJOY READING PUBLISHED DIARIES OF OTHERS?

I was an undergraduate reading from the Norton Book of American Literature when I first learned about published diaries. Until that time I thought a diary was a book that girls kept under lock and key to confide their crushes on neighborhood boys. I would love to read such diaries today, but when I was a young man I thought literature should be serious and boring. Filled with grand thoughts and abstruse reflections.

 

That is until I came upon the diaries of the puritan Samuel Sewell. He was a puritan merchant who kept account of his days and years during the colonial period in Massachusetts. Sewell’s diary was hardly exciting but it did capture something I hadn’t yet found in literature – the texture of daily life written by a person for himself.  It opened up history and literature in ways I hadn’t experienced before. It was refreshingly down to earth after pages of overwrought sermons and pious poetry. Here was a man who just lived his way into literature. In the same anthology I ran across the Quaker diary of John Woolman and was very touched by his gentle childhood reminiscences, especially the passages where he thoughtlessly killed a robin and the pangs of remorse he felt. Why did these excerpts speak so forcefully to me, instead of the great literature that often left me cold?

 

After I graduated college and began my own education I found the books of Edwin Teale, a Connecticut nature writer who kept tracks of the seasons in two wonderfully vivid diaries of every day observations. The writer Hal Borland did the same thing with his journal entries on nature published in the NYTimes. They were both older writers when I first discovered them but I had immediate affinity with their work. I’ve gone on to explore the nature writers who use the diary form to organize their observations. Right now I am reading Sue Hubbell,s “A Country Year” another little gem in diary form.

 

As a young teacher I was assigned to teach The Diary of Anne Frank. I had never read it before so I set out to work. It left a lasting and profound impression on me — this young girl in a garret hiding from the Nazi bullies. She was so filled with life, even in her closed space of innocence and terror. Although I have never reread it, her diary haunts my imagination and sense of life. She is the shadow of time and cruelty that motivate my own words. Her great courage is my small courage. There have been countless books written about WW2 but none have the poignance of her little book. Diaries often capture the human and the humane as well as any great literature can.

 

One of my favorite diaries is Walt Whitman’s Specimen Days, a record of his visits to Civil War hospitals, and of his later days enjoying the woods in his Camden neighborhood. Actually he wrote them as notes which he put in journal form, but there is really no difference to the reader. Whitman also coined one of my mantras when he wrote that so few of life’s ordinary hours are recorded in literature and he hoped to do just that.

 

I also discovered that many of our greatest writers kept great journals. You will never read anything richer than Nathaniel Hawthorne’s diary entries about his young marriage to Sophie Peabody and his “Mosses from an Old Manse” is really a diary disguised as an essay. Joyce Carol Oates published a diary. Not very revealing except of her extraordinary intelligence and amazing work habits. A poet named Howard Nemerov published one of the strangest diaries I ever read and called it a novel. Thornton Wilder has an intriguing and brilliant diary. When you get inside some of the great minds in our culture it is a shock and a privilege to enter the sanctuary of genius.

 

But I take as much pleasure in less high flying literary performances.

 


Answer 4 (Part VI) Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists: Barry

February 24, 2014

A fundamental question that might be asked regarding the value of keeping a journal is whether, in some way, the time and effort put into the writing has been worth it.  Has the introspection led to inward or outward changes in how you see yourself or your friends and the world you live in.   I would prefer that the diarist answer this instead of the future reader.

Even the diary on its most basic level – a record of data, (whether it is the weather, a farm or garden record book, or your activities of the day)  has value to the person keeping it.   We should not presume to judge.

On the deepest level – keeping an introspective journal – one could hope that there might be a spiritual growth, an increased awareness, a personal change for the better.

Here are Barry’s musings on the subject:

HAS KEEPING A JOURNAL CHANGED YOU?

 

Diaries and journals tend to be works of privacy and to some extent introspection. I tend toward introspection in my journals, but I realize that diaries can range from a list of simple dates  — to confidential and even scandalous confessions —  to a  record of everyday wonder and obligation in life.

I’ve read diaries by published and famous writers and diaries by people who led private lives. I’m not sure there is a self-awareness component in journals. Some people seem horribly deluded about themselves in their writing, and some seem very aware of their conflicts. Some diaries are filled with vanity and the most wrong -headed thinking you can possible imagine. Some are chatty and busy. I guess mine is more philosophical and literary, but written clearly in a common language.

 

Sometimes I think that the best diarists have already hardened into selfhood and meet the world by bumping into surfaces unlike their own. By that I mean that there may not be a record of change in personal diaries, but just the opposite – personalities that have taken a stand where they are and want to report from that vantage point. I am here –the rest of the world is there. How do we intersect, or why do we fail to intersect? Diarists may have problems with self-definition or they simply feel outshouted in a culture of exhibitionists and loud mouths.

 

I have no doubt that I use my journals to drop in on myself and listen to what I have to say. In this sense I monitor my personality. This is easiest for me to do in looking back at older journals rather than seeing patterns in every day entries. I work hardest at establishing emotional intimacy in my diaries. That has been the toughest thing for me to do—to face my truest and sometimes ugliest feelings on the page. At least that is how I feel when I write. It may not be what others see in my writing. Just the act of consciousness to sit down to keep a journal requires a certain periphery of self and world. I have my say in this way.

 

When I was in my late 30s I did the ultimate amount of self-searching with three years of psycho-therapy on the old Freudian couch three times a week. In many ways it was like keeping an oral journal because you have to hear your own voice and listen to what you say and how you say it. In this sense my journal has taught me to know myself and sometimes to wince at what I know. Did I write journals because I was changing, or did I keep them because I refused to change, at least the essential understandings of who I was and what motivated me. No easy task whether you are in therapy or you are opening a blank book to try to capture something about your life. It can be a terrifying ordeal to write from the heart. As I age and write more often I feel less anxious and uptight in front of a blank page.

 

When I read my journals I am tempted to say there is no self-knowledge — no matter how honest we attempt to be. Life is filled with surprises that candor itself can’t improve upon. What does this mean? To me it means that I don’t know whether I captured a life in motion or frittered one away at my desk. Did I write because I wanted to change or because I wanted to have it all my way in the department of final judgments?

 

On the other hand I can’t deny that spending so much time in my books has made me more careful with words and more aware of how cruel we can be in everyday life, cruel, self-centered,  judgmental. To this extent I have tried to learn from my limitations, especially in regard to  my loving wife. I learned to love much later than I should have, or maybe I always knew how to love but didn’t know how to say it. The words eventually came to me but it wasn’t the words that were important, but rather the disposition, woven of language, that what we think about ourselves and others determines how we look at the world we are describing.

 

Did I find myself in a diary or did I invent myself in my diary? Or did I transcribe a soul as well as I could? Some of each I am sure.

 

DO YOU REREAD YOUR JOURNALS?

 

Always.

Looking for signs of life, sparks of creativity.

More so now than ever. Not because I admire myself but because I am  my own most important writer. I need other writers in my life, but I have learned to value myself. I’m not sure this is an ego thing. If I come across a passage I think is well written, I am actually surprised that I wrote it. Then I doubt it is any good anyway. There is pleasure for me in words. When I use them well I feel as if I made something beautiful the way my carpenter grandfather used to. I had no such talent. For years I thought I had no gifts at all.

 

In reading my own work it is a way of saying to myself, I’M HERE.

For some reason this is important to me. Yes I lived those days, yes I thought those thoughts; yes I survived this and that; yes I laughed hard and ate well and loved my life.

 

SURPRISE SURPRISE. I WAS HERE TOO WITH THE GREAT POETS AND THE GREAT WRITERS AND THE GREAT STATESMAN. THIS IS MY OWN SMALL SONG. MY CRICKET CHIRP.

 

I also read to  see if I can learn something about my own writing. How to do something better. I’m not sure this is possible but I try.

As an introvert I guess I like my own company.

 

 

 

 

Answer #4 (Part V) Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists: Barry

February 23, 2014

We are on to part V of Barry’s answers to the questionnaire.  One more to go for now.  I particularly agree with his statement:  “What I discovered was that I was only truly myself as a writer when I wrote for myself in the journal form.”

I have repeatedly said that journal writing is the only truly free form of writing.  You can break all the rules.  You can say anything you want about anything you want.  (You can’t do that in a newspaper.)  You can change your style.    You can be trivial or profound.

I can appreciate Barry’s answer to this question:

DO YOU TELL THE TRUTH?                If I knew it I would love to tell it.

 

HAVE YOU TAKEN BREAKS IN YOUR WRITING? 

Yes, between the ages of 30 and 50 I kept journals but spent more time trying to write other things for possible publication. I did write a newspaper column in my town paper, just stories about growing up Catholic in the 1950s. This went on for 25 years. When I gave it up at 50, I was glad to be done with it. And from then on I wrote only for myself. I wanted to lift the restrictions that a small town newspaper obviously imposed on a writer. But I wasn’t a professional. I was a school teacher with a typewriter.

 

I also believe that at this time when I no longer kept faithful diaries I was in too much confusion to have the kind of perspective that good journal writers need. I wouldn’t have been able to understand or write down what was happening to me. I was overwhelmed with life itself and I felt an intense drama and lyricism that I lacked the art to put on the page. It would have been a feast for another kind of writer but not for me. I scribbled on a lot of pages that I literally can’t even read today. The confusion in my mind is evident on the scrawled page.

 

What I discovered was that I was only truly myself as a writer when I wrote for myself in the journal form. I tried my hand at a novel, at short stories, at poetry, but it always felt as if I were trying to write like someone else to some prescribed notion of acceptable literature. My stomach churned and I felt outside myself in an unpleasant way. On the contrary when I came back to the journal I found myself around yard and home and neighborhood in a way that I was relaxed and fluent. I had found my sources in this humble form but one I dearly love and respect.

 

So my 4o years of keeping journals were interrupted for long periods and I am sure I lost things I should’ve written down, lost moments I would love to have preserved. Yet there are journals for each decade and I always came to it sooner or later.

 


HAVE YOU EVER TORN OUT PAGES?

Yes.

There are some pages that remain too painful to read. Some things I wish that weren’t. Some days when I gave into despair.

I like to keep an even tone in my journals. It is part of the discipline of writing for me. Part of the nature of seeking some balance in my life. Often enough we are the only ones who can do this work. What is my life? What have I made of it?  I can get too dark and sometimes even belligerent.  I don’t like just blowing off steam. It’s not fun to read or to write. I generally don’t confide secrets and keep an enemies list in my writing, but this does leach into my words on some pages.

 

Whenever I have been harsh with a person I almost always realize it is a momentary reaction and not what I truly feel.   Sometimes my censor reaches across the page and tells me I have revealed too much, gone too far. I usually listen to my censor but in a few cases I have left material in the books that I would rather rip out or burn. Why? Maybe I don’t want to whitewash the record. Maybe I want my life to be more honest than I am comfortable with. The funny thing is the material that offends me might not even raise an eyebrow in another reader. Sometimes the wound still feels fresh and the passage just reopens it. Sometimes I am disgusted with my own weakness. There are a lot of reasons for self-hate but it isn’t best to indulge it. As for candor, I never lie in my journal but I have often suppressed parts of the truth that I am unwilling to face or unsure of how to face. How much honesty can any of us take even in regard to our own private myths and projections of self?

 

In a few cases I have written about family in a way that  is hardly diplomatic or compassionate. Most of my hardest words are aimed at myself. I never had a Dear Diary relationship with my journals. Maybe I should have, but I tended to keep them at arm’s length from my heart until I was sure what I wanted to say. I didn’t trust myself or my journal to know what I was feeling or what I understood. This was all murky to me and uncertain. For weeks I could dance around an admission or troubling entry. When I did write it out plainly it sounded petty or ridiculous. So much of my work is indirection because that is how I experience life. In other words I may be the last one to know about myself. My pages have to wait until I get there. And then I may be entirely wrong about this.

 

Answer #4 (Part IV) Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists: Barry

February 19, 2014


DESCRIBE WHAT FORM YOUR JOURNAL IS IN

For years I have bought cheap blank books anywhere from 5 to 15 dollars. They are both lined and unlined. It doesn’t matter to me.

I have to admit that I require some sense of affinity with the book I take in hand. Either  because of its simplicity or occasionally for a nature theme on the cover or something embossed.

I have kept very long journals of three hundred or more pages but I like to fill a book with 150-200 pages and then put it on the shelf. I do this for two reasons. I like to see my writing on a shelf at home, and two, I get bored after a hundred pages and it begins to feel like homework. So when I can finish a diary and put it away I have a sense of accomplishment and time well spent. I have a number of pocket-sized notebooks like reporters used to carry. The ones with the brown covers. I mainly scribble poetry in them and field  notes or notes from the city, and then I put them away and never notice what I have written. My ideal journal is book sized rather than fat and squat. Nothing with locks or clasps please.

 

My wife has purchased a couple of expensive Italian leather diaries and I have bought myself very good journals in Nth Ireland and in Spain. But sadly an expensive journal doesn’t improve my writing a bit. I write just as well in a cheapo and feel closer to my own roots in doing so. My background is blue collar working class. I’m a common person with no elegance at all. My handwriting isn’t beautiful or artistic. I wish it were. One of the problems I have today is that many of the cheaper journals are now printed in China and the paper is too thin to handle the gel inks I usually write with. I don’t like ball points. The ink never seems to come out of them and I end up feeling as if I have chiseled my words in stone. I have to confess that most of my pages look sloppy. This isn’t on purpose but it is a result of trying to get things on page before I lose my trend of thought. I can be absent minded when I write and leave out some things I intend to say.

 

Actually pens are important to me. I have bought expensive ones that were worthless and cheap ones that were great. My wife buys me one of the beautiful Levenger pens every year and they sometimes confer dignity on my work when I don’t feel it in my life. So I write with them, but I also go to Walmart and buy a pack of gels just for a change. If you write a lot you know how easy it is to go through a pen in thirty pages of hard writing.

 

My early journals are all handwritten, but in the last ten years I have printed because my handwriting is awful and I couldn’t even read what I wrote. Print slows me down a bit but also makes me more deliberate in my writing. Do I print so that someone else may one day read me? Well, when you keep a diary that is always in the back of your mind. You want some ideal reader somewhere to pick it up and say, MY this guy was an interesting person or an honest person or intelligent or whatever. Yet I don’t put much faith in my journals outliving me. So print is a way of making clear to myself what I have to say. It irritates me when I can’t read words in a passage.

 

If possible I like to write in the morning when I wake up, but that isn’t often the case. I can write in school when my kids write or when I have a free period. This leads to many distractions both from teaching and writing, but I have to take the time where I find it. I hate writing at noon to 3. I don’t know why. I do enjoy writing after supper but that is only in the summer when I’m not teaching and my  mind is gentled and refreshed.

 

I write at a desk in my room or any flat surface I can find. I set up a table outside on the lawn and write there. I don’t write on my lap or on a train. This has proved to be a disaster. I like the room to be silent but I have written on a whim with a classroom filled with boys talking and laughing. I grew up in a big family and learned to filter out noise right in my midst.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Answer #4 (Part III) Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists: Barry

February 16, 2014

DO YOUR DIARIES HAVE A THEME?

 

Probably more theme than they should. I mean I tightly controlled my concerns in the diary and tended to write to them exclusively – the past, family, nature, poetry, ideas, god.

All of this is placed in the day to day life, but eventually my diary got to these and other favorite areas.

I have to say I wrote about what concerned me, puzzled me, angered me, pleased me.

 

Sometimes when I take up an older diary I am absolutely shocked to see how succinctly I wrote about themes that I thought I had only recently explored in my journals. Not only the same themes, but the same incidents and enigmas in my life. Words from discussions, half-remembered incidents, childhood intuitions…

 

It would be fair to say that I had serious concerns that I brought to my diary. What does it mean to have a family/ to fall in love/ to be a good father and husband/ to be a teacher/ to be an American? To be a Catholic? These get worked out repeatedly throughout the decades. Sometimes I wrote better than I knew as a young man; at other times I hit the mark more forcefully in middle age.

 

The existence of God or the absence of God, the sound of God and the silence of God all play a part in my journals. Sometimes I curse the day I ever was taught religion; other days I am alive with the sense of god in all things, all creatures, all time and space. Although I happen to be one I am not often impressed with Christians and their claims of superior ethical and philosophical thinking.

I do like to write about some of the ideas I come across in a month of reading. I mention the names of other writers and books when they intrigue me and I try to work out my own response to their themes.

 

I am an identical twin so there are more than a few pages about growing up in a large Irish Catholic family and having a brother who is a soul mate and also a question. What does it mean to be a person? How does one person really differ from another when they have the same DNA?  Is identity a ruse, a false assumption or is it a separate fate for every living thing?

 

Some of my pages are taken up with the 42 years of teaching I have done. What does it mean to teach? Does anybody really learn anything from school? What is intelligence? What is creativity? What is genius? What is character?

 

I tend to write in an anecdotal way and usually don’t employ academic jargon or any kind of specialized language because I detest it. I try to make everything plain as if I am asking my class the questions that I am asking myself.

 

In truth I can  no longer take measure of the many words I have written. In one sense they are all in the same neighborhood of culture and concern, but I don’t really know what others would see and hear in my words. I am sure they would pick up on things I hardly notice or be surprised how important my questions are to me. I’m not good at giving myself answers. All I can do is carry along my honest explorations from day to day. If there is a clearing in the forest I have rarely found it.

 

I do try to write with humor to break the self-serious tone I can get caught in. Also humor is a way of acknowledging that life is beyond all of us. It is an Irish gift in my family and we all value it.

I have this idea that I am exploring my own human nature in the time I live. This can be tedious but it also requires a certain amount of honesty and courage. I do this not so much by telling everything I did, but rather trying to understand it. Trying too hard at times. Our society is all about winners, champions, the rich and famous, the biggest man in the room. None of that interests me very much. I like the idea of a being a small almost invisible part of the organic world. The private life is nearly dead but I am doing my best to live one with my wife and to find our place in the beauty of ordinary days in the midst of an empire that wobbles from sensation to sensation, bigger than life, and ultimately meaningless. I don’t mind poking along the roadside of my own era looking down at the weeds as the traffic passes.

 


 


 

 

Love Quotes

February 15, 2014

IMG_0033A reader’s habit, perhaps,  but I have been saving my favorite quotations in separate blank books almost as long as I have been keeping a diary.   I extract them like tiny gems from nearly every book I read.  A book with no quotes to offer is like a table with no food and indicates my lack of bonding with the writer or respect for their views.

Quotations  also adorn the opening pages of each journal.   Sometimes they relate to something happening in my life at the time.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, here are some of my “captured” quotes on Love.  The rose, symbol of love, is here an Angel Face rose in my garden.

“To love, begin anywhere.”   –  David Grayson

“What I have loved well no one can ever take from me.”    –  David Grayson

“A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”    –  Kurt Vonnegut

“You fall in love with what’s missing in you.”   –  Wayne Dyer

“The grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.”   –  Joseph Addison

“Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to our own.”  –   Robert Heinlein from Stranger in a Strange Land

“Love is the passionate and abiding desire on the part of two or more people to produce together conditions under which each can be and spontaneously express his real self, to produce together an intellectual soil and emotional climate in which each can flourish, far superior to what either could achieve alone.”  –  F. Alexander Magoun (sociologist)

“Love is an attitude between two people who have many things in common – tastes, interests, points of view –  and that they share these things in common, in companionship, to the degree that they are stronger together than either one is alone.”    –  Murray Banks (psychiatrist)

“…Beware…love never dies of a natural death.  It dies because we do not know how to replenish its source, it dies of blindness and errors and betrayals.  It dies of illness and wounds, it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings, but never a natural death.  Every lover could be brought to trial as the murderer of his own love.”  – Anais Nin

“Attention is the most basic form of love, through it we bless and are blessed.” – John Tarrant

“Every act of love is a work of peace no matter how small.”   –  Mother Teresa

“Don’t cry because it’s over.  Smile because it happened.”     –   Dr. Seuss

“A bitter woman says ‘all men are the same.’  A wise woman decides to stop choosing the same kind of man.”     –   Annetta Powell (?)

“Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.”     –   Zora Neale Hurston

Answer #4 (Part II) Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists: Barry

February 13, 2014

Cynthia comments:  I think many of us write about the weather because it is a grounding element.  No matter what else is happening in our lives the weather is always there, and yet it is always changing.  Odd dichotomy: steady, but mutable.  It can usually be described without much angst (notable exceptions here), and it can be peaceful, beautiful.   Nature may not always be idyllic but it can be entertaining and very interesting.

This photo is a sunset on my farm in Colorado, October 2013.

This is how Barry replies to the question “Do you record nature?”

IMG_0563Years ago I read in a literature anthology that New England writers never felt comfortable in writing about the emotional and sexual life, but nature, given by god, was an open field for their enthusiasm and desire. If that is the case then I have a major work of sublimation in my years of writing about the weather.

 

I write about nature as much as possible. It is the one subject I never tire of. I do read the nature writers with profound pleasure and appreciation. Every new day brings another page of wildflowers, clouds and trees. Writing about nature has made me mindful of what I love and brought me closer to it. From my very first diary in 1971 I began to notice trees and rocks and open fields.

 

I don’t do much more than describe nature, over and over again. I can’t explain it. I’m not a scientist nor do I have the bent of mind that wants to know everything we can know about a plant or a landscape. I do learn from such material but as a writer I just like to write about being there in the moment. Many of my pages are descriptions of walks I take along the shore or through local parks and neighborhoods. Many of the pages are even closer to my home looking out the window as I write or sitting under the maple tree and surveying my garden. I can’t even tell you why I do this and why it means so much to me. Perhaps because I am completely free to indulge this sensual pleasure without guilt, morality or judgment. So much of it is connected to childhood delight. I grew up on a quarter acre lot next to a brook in the industrial city of Bridgeport, Ct. The contrast between nature and factory streets fascinated me and dominated my imagination.

 

If you take nature out of my diaries they would probably shrink by half. This is one reason I write in diaries. I can write about nature every day and damn well do as I please without an editor’s permission. It is my love and my reason for writing. The most accessible part of my imagination and my emotional life. This isn’t to say that I don’t write about family, travel, reading etc. but everything starts with a look out my window or a foot on the pavement.

 

 

 

 

 

Answer #4 to Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists: Barry

February 12, 2014

Yesterday I received quite a gift from a long-time diarist I corresponded with two years ago.  I asked him if he would be interested in answering the questionnaire I had posted. He began with a few questions at a time and answered with a depth that I felt was extraordinary.  His replies are thoughtful as well as thought-provoking.  I will present them to you one page at a time over several days.

 

What is your current occupation?

High school English teacher about to retire at age 64

 

Has anyone else in your family kept a diary?

My great grandmother on my father’s side who lived 88 years and died in 1962

My grandmother, her daughter, who kept diaries but destroyed them in old age.

My father kept a diary of his days in the Pacific during world war II 1943-44-45.

I started my diary in 1971, the year I began my married life. I kept it sporadically through the years but became a devoted diarist only when I turned 50. My last 14 years have been very busy with journal writing, memories, ideas.

 

Intimate details of sexual experiences?

 

No.

 

At one point I wanted to write honestly about sexuality, but there is always the privacy factor for many good and bad reasons.

Part of my reluctance was my Irish Catholic upbringing. Part of it also is how little I understood about my sexuality or anyone else’s. it would have been easy for me to write in a descriptive way or keep a “tell all” of real and imagined experience, but that would have been no victory for me because I needed to enter and explore my emotional life as both the cause and effect of sexuality. I came to distrust anything that I could break into pieces as a separate part of myself.

 

So I began to work on my emotional life, and as you know for an American male this is an almost impossible undertaking. Only then could I ask myself, Do I really know anything about sex? Is there anything we can know about from the mystery of our emotional needs? What is sex? What is the soul? Have I ever really been deeply anchored in a rich emotional life that I can enter into the instinctive and find in my body the truth of my soul? Yes, I had a few sins and a few secrets, but it was thinking that made them so.

 

Is this an evasion? Perhaps it is, but I have never trusted the whole sexual dialogue in this country. Even when I read women’s magazines (my wife and daughter’s) they sound so full of soulless gimmicks and adolescent games. My question: do we really lead adult lives in America? Do we feel that sex makes us adults and that sexual technique is a form of wisdom? Would I be a better writer if I kept blow by  blow descriptions of the act itself? Should there be any secrets in the age of confessions?

 

So, the answer is that one might surmise who I am from my diaries, but they would have to imagine and fill in the blanks in the way that we look at current sexuality. I don’t think I would come across as a sexless man or a prude, but a reader would notice my decision not to include the details. Perhaps I thought that we made too much of sex in our time but somehow lost sight of the person and the soul of people. I was much more alive in my wholeness.  Another caution for me is that sex can take over a writer. It becomes its own reason. I’m sure my hesitance has been partly generational. It would be accurate to say there was a lot of darkness around my sexual awareness because of my religion and my family attitudes. It wasn’t discussed in any way, nor would it be something you would share with another, not even yourself.

 

Hardly enlightened, but not the worst upbringing either when I look around and see what has happened to modesty, restraint and common sense in our current national sexual attitudes. Needless to say I have never reconciled my own ideas and conflicts in this area, but found it much safer to write about sex as an idea rather than a personal record. By the way, I have read some sexual diaries. While I admire the frankness, they never seem to get out of the bedroom. I feel like I need a pair of goggles and rubber gloves. I do enjoy diaries that seem to reveal and conceal at the same time. Beyond this I truly believe that women are much better at writing about the sexual life and anything they write in this regard fascinates me. Men almost  write about sex as if they were playing with toy soldiers. Or changing the oil in their cars and checking the dip stick. I didn’t think I could add anything or make much sense of myself. And yes, it is a tendency in my diary to explain myself rather than to expose myself. All very rich themes from your questions

 

 

 


 


 


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