Archive for June, 2010

The Road Not Taken

June 13, 2010

Life has been overfull lately.  Facing financial crisis and surgery,  the madness of spring garden work, and the death of a friend, I battle fatigue and mild depression.  I continue to write in my journal what has been given to me because it overflows the boundaries just as in the natural world the local rivers are breaching their banks.   I struggle to live more deeply by finding meaning in this chaos and to simply survive it by letting it out. 

My journals are not self-improvement work.  Nor gratitude books.  (Though I once tried to write a sentence a day blessing book.)  They are my stories, my personal newspaper, my life. 

Sometimes I think I am shallow not to include more news and world events and  I drag my attention back to oil spills and mass shootings for a while.  Then I get selfish again and think “we have places to write about those things.”  There are newspapers, magazines, books, and blogs for those events, but there is no one writing the story of Cynthia Manuel as seen through her own eyes. 

I do regret not saying more about historic events but I did not begin a diary to record history.  What is curious is my strange selectivity.  At 20 I wrote a silly “creative piece” about the 1967 Detroit race riots as the tanks rolled past my neighborhood.  Did I write about hearing Martin Luther King speak?  The first moon walk?  I had not yet  begun my journal when JFK was shot.  That had a big impact on me but I never wrote one word about my reaction.  During the better part of the sixties I used my journals for creative writing.

At 51 I wrote about the Columbine High School massacre.  Today I neglect to report many shootings.  I am no longer shocked and I don’t know what to say or what I can do about these recurrent tragedies.

I did write about the first World Trade Center bombing and predicted it would be attempted again.  I was effusive on 9-11-01 and predicted we would use it as an excuse to start a war someplace.  

There are two experiences I have had where I very much regret my lack of exact reporting.  What I mean by this is that I feel my diaries would be of  greater value to the future had I made it a priority to record as much  as possible – with precise dates and names and my reaction to events as they unfolded.  

The first is my eight years in Synanon, a drug rehabilitation organization turned utopian community turned cult.  I have letters, diaries and other ephemera from that experience.  All incomplete.  I had no sense at 20 of what an opportunity I had to record the history of a fascinating and unique social phenomenon.  Alas, I saw myself as a participant and not an outside, objective reporter. 

The second experience I missed recording in the same way.  I worked four years in a greenhouse.  Production line to small time manager.  I saw a working class job from the inside.  I saw the truth behind the image of the “green industry.”   I was a careful observer of the soap opera and social politics.   Some of it made it to the pages, most did not.  What if you approached such a chapter of your life as a reporter, an anthropologist? 

All diaries are different, and should be.   I’d like to stir up some discussion and ask my journal writing companions what they think we should write about.  Should we feel a responsiblity to record history or merely personal history?   And for you – what is the road not taken, the writing you regret not doing?


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