Archive for January, 2011


January 22, 2011




“An unexamined life is not worth living,” shouted Socrates.  While I cannot agree with that totally, throughout my life I have felt that a dash of introspection would help others to see, to understand, and ultimately to get along better with the other gorillas.


Most everyone likes that first cup of tea or coffee.   Just that ritual, of fifteen minutes a day spent in silent contemplation of the universe and our role in it, in a quiet corner, in a special chair, with no interruptions, would do wonders for our social interactions.


I began the habit over 20 years ago when my daughter was a holy handful.  I had to get up earlier than anyone else in the household in order to have the peace I needed and the time before work.  Usually I had a cat on my lap and a journal by my side.  After the coffee and meditation I would write in my journal.  I had to get up at 5 a.m. to do this, but as a morning person that was ok.  It was worth it.


Over the years the ritual has changed.  The location, time and duration alters.  My daughter grew up.  I am single.  The cats have changed.


For a few years I sat in the cold of an outbuilding on the farm and wrote in my journal while looking out a large window and being hugged by my cat.  Day by day I could see the changes in the natural world.  It was a Thoreauvian thing to do.  While the people-world moved ever faster, the natural world moved at a snail’s pace.  Thinking and feeling with the flow of nature achieved a balanced centering.  I had time to collect myself and my thoughts.


This kind of daily contemplation is quite similar to the serendipity of journal writing.   Not only do we contain multitudes, as Walt Whitman says, but the modern world has demanded that we assume so many different roles that it is difficult to separate who is “us” and who is “them,” or what we believe and what we are expected to believe.  Journal writing allows us to collect our scattered selves.


Although there has been some ridiculous psychology lately that claims introspection is bad for you I would take the opposite point of view.  Obsessive and shallow texting/ twittering/tweeting does nothing to establish deep connection with ourselves or others.   It is only by stepping back from the crowded room and the saturated airwaves that we may find out who we truly are and decide if our behavior is what we want it to be.  Only by mindful contemplation will we be able to discover the meaning in the events of our lives and come to understand the people in it.


Searching for Handwritten Diaries

January 21, 2011

I think now that anyone searching for old diaries might have better luck in heading for eBay than estate sales, although the price tag may be drastically different.  I have searched garage sales for 28 years and never found any diaries.   For my solstice/birthday present this year I asked for original handwritten diaries and low and behold I now have two more.

Prior to the holidays I scanned the items for sale on eBay and my hopes plunged as common things were bid over $50.

There was a set of diaries from a Michigan woman, late 1800s-early 1900s.  She visited Detroit (where I grew up) and Belle Isle and other locations I would be familiar with.  I thought it spoiled the historic value for the seller to divide them up.

There were diaries from New York from the 1800s.   The best of those was the diary of a housewife who was something of a busybody, but that trait made for great reading as she seemed to know everything that was going on.  The bidding rose to $180 and then I lost track of it.

Those diaries from the late 1800s and early 1900s vividly depicted how close life and death were back then.  Once a week, a death to report from accidents, childbirth and disease.   Sometimes Death just ran through a whole family.

I was also stunned to read about a horrific murder where someone broke into an old couple’s home and killed them, cut them to pieces, then set their house on fire.  I just didn’t think that kind of crime  happened back then.

I read parts of a diary from WW II — a soldier with a low opinion of the military who was offended by drunken soldiers, swearing, prostitution (especially a married commander sleeping with a girl), and appalling warnings about syphilis.

There was a sketchbook/journal from the Civil War.

There was a 1936 diary written by a 16 year old girl who had an insider’s view into the world of British diplomacy and the roots of terrorism in the Middle East.   The bidding on that one was up to $435,000 when I quit my search.  Obviously she had a reporter’s sense of history.  When I assume that there are enough people writing about local, national and international events I forget the value of an insider story.   I once had the chance to record a social phenomenon I was a part of and did not have the sense to do it.

The new diaries I was given will become a part of the diary archive.  The first was written in 1880 by Josephine Conklin of  Mount Morris, Livingston, New York.  She was born in 1850.  It is only 3 by 5 inches.  There is a lovely tintype and a photo with the diary.  The second diary was presumably written by Mrs. Herbert Abbott of Coloma, Michigan in 1934.  It is nearly 4 by 6 inches.

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