Archive for March, 2011

David Grayson

March 6, 2011

There are still some of us who can remember vividly the magic of the moment we discovered a book that deepened or influenced our lives.  One such day for me occurred in 1987 on a road trip with my daughter.  We stopped for a break in Prescott, Arizona and browsed through a row of thrift stores and antique shops.  As usual, I went straight to the books.  The title of an old book caught my eye immediately – The Countryman’s Year by David Grayson.  “Maybe a kindred spirit,” I thought.

I had not skimmed far when I began almost trembling with excitement.  Here was a farmer, gardener, beekeeper, like me, writing poetic-prose about life in the country.  What lyrical thoughts and quotable passages, so uncommon in the popular literature of the thirties.  Why had I never heard of this writer?  We bonded immediately.  Thus began my love affair with David Grayson.

Are we attracted to writers because they think like us or because they make us think?  I experience an intellectual hunger to know more of the life and philosophy of these writers.  I must know more.

The Countryman’s Year was the first book I read by David Grayson and the most engaging for a modern reader.  (All of his other fiction books are similarly embellished with philosophy, but the old-fashioned charm of a bygone era may not appeal to many.)  The reason I mention this particular book is that it is written like a diary.  The Countryman’s Year was created from gleanings taken from his daily notebooks.  It includes not just nature, farming, gardening and beekeeping, but observations of people, comments on books and writers, meditations on life and penetrating reflections.  None of it is boring or dry.

Also worth reading by David Grayson, Under My Elm is a series of essays on country living, beekeeping, books, and illness.

David Grayson was a pen name.  Ray Stannard Baker (1870-1946) was an American journalist and author who worked for the Chicago News Record and the muckraking McClure’s magazine.  He helped create The American Magazine in 1906.  In 1908 he wrote Following the Color Line, on racial issues in America.  He was a close friend of Woodrow Wilson and served as his press secretary in 1918, later writing a lengthy biography of Wilson for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940.  He wrote two autobiographies, as well as an entire fiction series as the character David Grayson, which was based on the years he retired to a farm in Amherst, Massachusetts.  His life’s work is archived in four separate collections and includes notebooks, diaries and journals.

David Grayson is as quotable as Shakespeare.

A few random favorites:

“We are bored not by living, but by not living enough.”

“It is certain, to an uninteresting man nothing interesting ever happens; to an interesting man, everything.”

“What I have loved well, no one can ever take from me.”   And… “To love, begin anywhere.”

“Long ago I made up my mind to let my friends have their peculiarities.”

“Wherein men differ most is in the power of seeing.  I mean seeing with all that goes with it and is implicit in it.  Seeing lies at the foundation of all science and all art.  He who sees most knows most, lives most, enjoys most.”

“I tag myself with no tags: for when I accept another man’s classification I accept also what that man means by the words he uses.”

“As to advice, be wary: if honest, it is also criticism.”

“Live life as though you had forever.  Live life as though you will die Monday.”

“This idea, this vision, this bit of life, seems interesting to me, somehow beautiful.  I will put it in my Book.  Why not?  What else have I?”


“Where Did I Put That?”…On Organizing and Preserving Your Journals

March 5, 2011

While searching for entries in my journals on the subject of the weather, I became acutely aware of how much easier it would have been with a master index. The older I get the more my frustration increases with objects and information “lost.”  If you are over 50 years old you know what I’m talking about.

I have said before that when I began my journal in 1964 I had no goal in mind.  47 years later I know exactly how helpful it would have been to create an organizational plan.  To do so at this late stage is a task as daunting as trying to create order out of old photos thrown haphazardly in a box.

About seven years ago I began writing an index in the back of each volume.  This works for me because I like to write in full-sized books 8 ½” by 11” with plenty of room. Obviously the index only works if each entry has a subject and a date or page number to refer to. A fanciful title is ok only if the subject is clear.   When I am writing about people I put their name in the title, i.e. “John Q. Begins Writing a Novel.” Or I might say: “Garden – The Drought Continues,” or “Bees – Caught Two Swarms on the Same Day,” or “Cats – Annie Shows Tucker How to Catch a Mouse.”  If someone wanted to read about a single subject in my journal – say cats – they could skip all the rest of the boring stuff and go right to the cats.

I recognize that some people keep more of a “diary” than a “journal.”  Although the two words can be used interchangeably, I think of a diary as a simple record of the day’s activities (“up at 7 a.m.,” “had dinner with J.,” “went to a movie”) more than a description of those events. Even with that style of writing it would be useful to jot down the highlights, i.e. “April 4 – J. and I got married,”  “October 17 – new dog – ‘Chewbacca’.”

I cannot make this point too strongly — if you want to be able to find a particular experience later on or if you want to help a poor archivist of the future, then begin now to do the following:

In the cover of each volume write your name, the date, the city and state you live in and how old you are.  (If you write your name, address and phone number and then lose your diary, someone will be able to return it after they have read it and demanded a ransom.)

Either date each entry or number your pages.

Write a subject for each entry; a title can be a creative and humorous addition.

Create an index for each volume.

Create an index for all your journals.

Store them in chronological order in a plastic box, better yet, in an archival quality box. This will preserve them from water damage, pet and insect depredation, and dust.

Do not ever store them in a basement or an attic.  Try to keep the relative humidity below 65%; avoid high heat and light.

For more detailed information on preserving your diaries and journals I recommend searching the internet.

Just an added note here: As a long-time book dealer I have found these to be the worst culprits at ruining books: water, cigarette smoke, objects left in books (including fat bookmarks), and sunlight.  Letting books fall over on a shelf or not storing them flat can cause them to be permanently slanted.  That’s what bookends are for – they keep those books squarely upright.

Although I love to randomly re-read my journals, it is decidedly more satisfying to be able to find an entry when I need it.  As you continue writing you can’t always trust that aging memory to remember what you did when.

Now where did I leave my slippers?

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