I Answer the Survey Questions for Long-time Diarists

I am going to answer all the questions in the survey for long-time diarists, but I will string all of the answers together instead of repeating the questions.

My first diary was in 1959.  I was twelve.  I have no idea what inspired me.  I think there may have been an influx of those tiny lock and key diaries on the market at that time.  I destroyed that diary.  I began once more in 1964 when I was sixteen.  I made no vows to keep one forever, though I am on that track now.   I keep on writing because it provides me with many benefits.  It gives me a chance to meditate and reflect on my life and the people and animals in it, to extract meaning out of life’s circus, and to use my hands in a pleasurable way by handwriting most of the entries.  Many people comment on the beauty of my script.  Bookstore customers shyly admitted they kept copies of the receipts just to admire the handwriting.   To me it is a disappearing art form.

I was an adult before I knew my mother had kept a journal.   I am reading hers from 1942 now. I have a diary from my great-grandmother and my great-great-grandmother.  (See earlier blogs on first donations to the archive.)

My last occupation was/is bookdealer.  I have done so many other things: teaching, owning and managing a group day care home, landscaping, greenhouse work, retail clerk, dairymaid, worked on a ranch, set up a homestead, set up libraries, worked in bookstores, secretary, beekeeper, assistant to the editor of a bee magazine, created advertising, and more.

I write about absolutely everything and anything that strikes my fancy.  Generally the focus is on whatever “job” I have at the time.  In 1964 I was a high school student.  I wrote about school, friends, and horses.  I wrote about Synanon when I lived there.  When I worked on the ranch I described that.  I wrote about my enchantment with bees.  I wrote about working with children. I have written about all the animals I have owned – house pets and farm animals.  I have written a lot about my own daughter, my family,  and my relationships with others.  I frequently include cultural events, movies I’ve seen, books I’ve read. These days my pages are filled with people/people/people and the book business.  I do write about nature, as experienced on a small acreage with constant interaction with wildlife.

I include color and sound, sometimes fragrances.  Rarely ever tastes or tactile sensations.

Yes, I’ve always revealed the intimate details of my relationships, and sex…but hardly every encounter.

Coincidences/synchronicities, “miracles,” mysteries and dreams are the stuff that make journals beguiling.

My diary has no theme unless you might say my constant bewilderment with the behavior of people, and how they knowingly or unwittingly hurt others, my struggle to survive and lack of “success,” and my pervasive lack of faith that the world will ever amount to much.   Ah yes, that dark vision.  One other theme I touch on is the undeniable consciousness of animals.

I don’t use my journal for creative ideas.  Occasionally I will steal something out of it for other purposes.

I use both blank bound books and three-ring binders.  I paste in photos, clippings, copies of articles I like.(Easier to do with a binder.)  Sometimes I sketch.  I usually hand-write my journals. Pencil fades so I use a ballpoint pen. Sometimes I type on the computer and print it for the journal.

I enjoy writing about the astonishing things of life the most.  Those odd little experiences I mentioned earlier.  Next are the “Kodak” moments and interactions with animals.   For me, even the tragedies need to be written.

Many times I wrote nothing on important historical events.  Somebody else is capturing those.

I always tell the truth. I make nothing up.  Maybe someone else saw it a bit differently.

I have torn out one embarrassing page.  I may tear out more.

I’d say the tone of my diaries have changed from mere reporting the day to analyzing the day.  As I mature, it gets deeper, more philosophical and psychological.  My diaries increasingly contain more social and cultural history, more politics and more opinion on that.  I’ve even mentioned the Pope.

My style?  Probably verbose, sometimes flowery, poetic.  Descriptive, for sure.  It changes with the subject matter.

I am not obsessive about writing every day, though I attempt it for the benefits of “centering” and reflection.  I write too much about my cats and the weather and how tired I am.  But I use those as a “warm up the car”  writing stimulus.  I write best in the morning.  The station rarely changes anymore.  At this time it is from an old chair in my living room with a cat on my lap.

There have been years where I barely wrote at all, usually when I was too busy with school, work, or motherhood.

The most shocking thing I learned about myself was how little I’ve changed.  Those disreputable personality traits are still there.  Why is that?  Why do I respond so slowly?  Why can I never see the glass as half full? Is that hard-wired into my genetics or neural pathways? Writing about something does not inevitably bring peace.  Ultimately the resolution needs to be with the individual or situation that caused the problem.

I love re-reading my journals.  It’s like looking through old photo albums.  I have favorite entries that I like because they are well-written or evoke some wonderful  experience of the past.

Absolutely, I wish I had written more.  More about so many things.  Particularly I wish I had been recording my experience in Synanon with the eye of a reporter.  The same, of my four years working in a local greenhouse and starting from the bottom.  The people-politics was intricate.  It would have made a great sociological study.  I advise: write more, give more detail and depth.

At this time there is no one whom I will allow to read my diary.  I may publish some old entries online.  If it can be preserved I will offer it to the public in 40-50 years.

I love reading other people’s diaries, published or not.  I am trying to collect diaries but I have only a few that did not belong to family members.

What the diary has done for me: it allowed me to vent, and reintegrate when shattered; it saved me from loneliness (you always have yourself); it tells me who I was, where I came from, who I am now; it adds meaning to experience and allows me to savor the past and catch a glimpseImage of the sacred in life.

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2 Responses to “I Answer the Survey Questions for Long-time Diarists”

  1. Barbara McDowell Whitt Says:

    Cynthia, this was a great idea to compile your survey answers. I am continuing to post a nightly entry in A 1961-65 Park College Diary.

    • Cynthia Manuel Says:

      Thanks, Barbara, How are you doing?

      Do you have much of a response to your diary postings? How long have you been doing that now? I am thinking of posting selected entries from the few diaries I have collected and from my own journals. Are people interested in that? Do you think it would help?

      Would you be willing to answer the questionnaire for long-time diary writers? It’d be great if you would. I’m sure we are all different. Regards, Cynthia

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