The Road Not Taken

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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2 Responses to “The Road Not Taken”

  1. Barbara McDowell Whitt Says:

    Cynthia, I am fascinated by your idea for establishing a National Diary Archive. I have just read though your posts that you began on March 3, 2010, after finding a reference to your blog on Tristine Rainer’s Center for Autobiographic Studies site.

    I began keeping a diary on January 1, 1954 when I was eleven but I stopped abruptly in the summer of 1965 when a boy friend at the time encouraged me to do so after I told him diary keeping made me feel as if I needed to conform my life to what would be appropriate for a diary. I went dateless through high school but was fortunate to begin dating shortly after I arrived at Park College 1n 1961.

    On January 1, 2010, I began compiling the diaries I kept from 1960 (when I was sixteen and growing up on an Iowa farm) through my college years ending in 1965.

    I lived a sheltered life. So far no one has has left a comment on my blog asking “Where were the boys?”–not even when I wrote about going to the junior-senior prom with Mrs. Diekman.

    I wish you all the best as you as you go forth with your dream. How do you plan to find the diaries?

    • cynthiamanuel Says:

      Barbara, thanks for commenting. I think all experience is valid. There will be someone out there (now or in the distant future) who will be interested in knowing what life was like on an Iowa farm in the sixties. My farm stories will probably be more entertaining than my personal life.

      Yea for non-conforming! My life will never be conforming and my journal does indeed contain “inappropriate material.” The joy of writing in a journal is the absolute exquisite freedom of being able to say exactly what you think and feel about anything and anyone with no censorship and no editors. You can be your real self. Where else is that possible? I do wonder if I have changed my writing knowing that I hope to preserve it for a future reader. I think not. But my public writing is always of higher quality even though it is not nakedly honest.

      Question for all diarists: Is your writing better or does it lose something when it is self-censored? What is gained or lost?

      Re finding the diaries: If there is interest I would like to set up a non-profit organization and one, accept donations, and secondly use funds to buy diaries from eBay and antique dealers.

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