Archive for May, 2010

What I Write: Sturm und Drang

May 14, 2010

What I Write:  Sturm und Drang

I’m stumbling around trying to find something relating to diaries that someone might want to discuss.  I’ve been feeling like I’m “talking to the hand” in this blog on establishing a national diary archive.  Today I’ll switch and make this more personal.

I decided to count my diaries.  I hope I found them all.  I came up with 57 books and notebooks, not counting notebooks full of letters.  I began my journal in 1964 at the age of 16.  I’ve heard 16 mentioned by many diarists as the year they began to record their stories.

There were some years I skipped a lot.  I also remember years where I completed a book every three months.  That’s why I can’t buy those beautiful leather bound blank books…too expensive.  Pens…as long as they write smoothly and are easy for me to hold it doesn’t matter what kind.   My journals are all sizes.  Some are on cheap paper, some on beautiful Italian paper.  I’ve pretty much settled on a paper size of 8.5 x 11.  I’ve tried three ring binders and using high quality paper for either a handwritten entry or one composed on the computer, but find it more satisfying when the pages are already bound in a book.  Then I feel like a “writer,” even though it is essentially a vanity press.

“Mon Dieu!,” you might say. 57 books, whatever does she write about?   The emphasis has changed over the years as I go through different life stages.  I suppose the day approaches when I will write about my doctor visits, medicines, and operations.    Don’t smirk, you know you will be there, too, someday.

My journals contain:

Reflections and self-examination


Family, friends, strangers, co-workers

Relationships – love, sex, hate, frustrations


Craziness and absurd behavior  (in others)

My women’s group

The detestable masses

Birth and death


Joys and sorrows – struggling with my dysthymic Eeyore nature

Complaints and rants





Personal stories both common and astonishing

History/sometimes politics

Events in the lives of others around me

Comments on things in the news

Theatre, music, art, museums, shows

My 8 years in a drug rehabilitation organization/commune – turned utopian community – turned cult – were all recorded


Cats, cats, and more cats

Pet antics

Farm stories

Wild animal experiences

Natural phenomenon

Weather (we have a lot of that here)

My beekeeping experiences (39 years)

My gardens


Remembering the past

“Here and now” descriptions of where I am and what is going on around me at that very moment  – all the sounds, smells and happenings

Health problems (oh-oh)

Choices I am trying to make

Ideas (inventions I come up with)

Dreams (used to be in a separate book from the main journal)

Metaphysical events


Close calls – “near death” experiences

Very strange occurrences  (the UFO in 1967)

Book reviews/movie reviews – occasional entries

Quotes (I used to have a separate book for quotes, now I incorporate them in the   journal)

Clippings, drawings, photos

So, what do I write about?  The answer is: just about everything…if it interests me.

As Muriel Barberry put it: “the tumult and boredom of everyday life.”

And you?


A Hound Dog on the Wrong Trail?

May 14, 2010

                                A Hound Dog on the Wrong Trail?

Of all people, you’d think I would have a treasure trove of old diaries.  After all, I’ve been a book dealer for 27 years.  The number of boxes of books I have pawed through numbers in the thousands.  How many diaries and journals have I found?   None!  Nada.  Zero.  (Not counting the inchoate diary I pulled out of the trash once.)

I am usually at a book sale when “the starting gun” goes off.  As a book hound I’ve been on my hands and knees crawling under tables.   I’ve sniffed through book collections dragged out of basements and attics.  I’ve even tried willing diaries to come to me. 

Like a near-sighted person trying to find a contact lens on the floor, am I looking in the wrong places?  Perhaps I should attend more auctions and estate sales.   Where exactly do you find these elusive things?   Anyone want to share their secrets?

It has seemed to me that there has been a steady interest in journal writing since the seventies.  Art stores and bookstores often have dazzling displays of blank books …even today when I would expect the popularity of handwritten journals to decline as the computer takes over and a new generation of writers is pained by the turtle speed and physical effort of producing readable handwriting.  (Do they even teach handwriting anymore?)   

With all these journals being written – where are they?  Maybe the problem is that we are not dead yet.   We baby boomer diarists are still plodding along happily filling up our blank books.    If we have neglected writing a will with instructions for the cremation or burial of our diaries is it because we are in denial of the inevitability of our death? 

Years ago there was a book dealer who specialized in handwritten diaries and journals.  Today you can buy diaries on eBay.  Obviously, creating a national diary archive will require either a generous budget or some ingenuity in finding the lost diaries of America.  Anyone willing to tell the tale of how they found a diary?

Creative Ideas for Journal Writing

May 4, 2010

Some years ago I read a chapter in a book on – shall we call them “unique” individuals – about a man who recorded what he did every minute of his life.   By most standards, that is a bit obsessive, a word he used to describe himself.  I believe this man may have been Robert Shields, who suffered from “hypergraphia,” an overwhelming urge to write.  He kept this diary from 1972 until he had a stroke in 1997.  He died in 2007.  His is said to be the world’s longest diary.  He left nothing out.  His diary is now in the archives of Washington State University.

What about a diary that records what you are doing at the same time every day?  I recall the 1995, independent American film:  “Smoke,”  which the late film critic Roger Ebert called “a beguiling film about words, secrets, and tobacco.”   The main character took a photo on the same street corner of New York at the same time every day of the year and put them all in a scrapbook.    Although not usually so meticulous in time or place, that is what we do when we keep a journal.

In another blog, I  mentioned a diarist who kept a journal of “to do” lists.  Can’t see doing this for a very long time, but it is definitely a creative solution to writer’s block.  I have actually uncovered a few “to do” lists from my past during ephemera archaeology.    Mildly fascinating, indeed.  This is a reminder that mundane minutiae  can become marvelously captivating as time passes.

Making lists is a fun exercise, especially if you are bored with your writing.  Once I wrote “these are a few of my favorite things,” in the back of one of my journals.   I keep adding to that list.  It works well as a self portrait.   Someday I will write a list of my dislikes (i.e. skunk perfume absolutely slays me).  The possibilities for lists are endless:  things you love or hate, hopes, fears, friends, foes, food you like or hate, things you think are erotic, things that repulse you, pets you have had, the many things you have experienced or witnessed in your life (birth, death, nature, accidents, pain, thrills, etc.)

You can write a lot on your memories.  The journal is a time-machine that has already been invented.   Go anywhere in your past that you’d like to go and stay as long as you like.  No need to worry about bringing back a butterfly in the cuff of your pants…or is there?

I am not sure how many creative journaling ideas are completely original because I see the same suggestions over and over again.  There are unsent letters, sketches, doodles, charts and graphs and maps, blessings, affirmations, and character descriptions.  Write a complete portrait of one of your friends or a family member.  I don’t do that very often because the people in my life are mentioned so frequently that their actions become  “character development,”  as in a novel.  I suppose I should attempt a physical description, though for some reason that is harder.

I don’t know that I’ve ever been at a loss for something to say, but an enjoyable exercise for me, and one that I suspect might be interesting for a future reader, is to write a “be here now.”  In that, I attempt to completely describe exactly where I am and what I see, hear, and smell.  I want the future reader to be in the room with me.   I don’t think I’ve ever run across this in anyone else’s diary.

A useful idea I have borrowed from someone else is to think of each day as a basket.  At the end of the day…what is the gift in your basket?  There is so much in a day, even an hour.  The true dilemma is to select.   I love the way we can choose telescope or microscope, cosmic themes or minutiae.

The primary focus of a diary is, of course, You.  And then all things as they relate to you.  The value of a diary archive is in being able to step into someone’s shoes and see life as they see it, to walk a mile in their moccasins.

For more ideas on what to write about see my blog “What I Write: Sturm und Drang” from May 14, 2010.



The Eclectic World of the Diary

May 2, 2010


                               THE ECLECTIC WORLD OF THE DIARY   

I think it should be obvious that there are as many different types of diaries as there are people who write them.  They are, above all, artistic expressions of the self.  If not in the type of diary, at least in the style, they are as unique as the individual who put pen to paper.  Reading diaries and journals you will come as close as possible to reading someone else’s mind or to walking a mile in their shoes.

Certainly what is important to me is not the same for you and what is important to me today may not be so a few years from now.  From a confused college student in the turbulent sixties to confusion and upheaval in my sixties, the chapters of my life include everything from living in a utopian community and cult to milking cows, from teaching to single parenthood, from homesteading to bookselling, from disastrous marriages to love.

 A journal is a continuous novel with only one main character guaranteed from beginning to end.   The theme may remain the same but the other characters shift and the plot and setting may flip like frenetic channel surfing in the soap opera of life.   

Unlike a novel, a diary is written in your “true voice,” which is like the clothes you wear around the house when you are sure no one is going to see you.   A journal can be written with an honesty that is too raw, possibly too politically incorrect, and too self-exposing to be disguised as a writer’s work of fiction.   I have often found the truth to be unbelievable.   At times I have written what could not be printed in the paper.

Consider what a National Diary Archive would contain:  history, social culture, adventure and travel description, religious experiences, hobbies, recipes, nature stories, weather phenomenon, garden notes, teen-age angst, motherhood, parenthood (parental angst), relationships, sex, dreams, art sketches, photos and so on.  The perspective could be emotional, psychological, sociological, spiritual, or historical.   

I cannot imagine a more fascinating library.  Even if I don’t want to read what Julia Child ate in every restaurant in France, maybe someone else would.   

Wouldn’t you think it would be more important for the Library of Congress to want to preserve this than everything  ever said on Twitter?

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