Answer #4 (Part V) Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists: Barry

We are on to part V of Barry’s answers to the questionnaire.  One more to go for now.  I particularly agree with his statement:  “What I discovered was that I was only truly myself as a writer when I wrote for myself in the journal form.”

I have repeatedly said that journal writing is the only truly free form of writing.  You can break all the rules.  You can say anything you want about anything you want.  (You can’t do that in a newspaper.)  You can change your style.    You can be trivial or profound.

I can appreciate Barry’s answer to this question:

DO YOU TELL THE TRUTH?                If I knew it I would love to tell it.

 

HAVE YOU TAKEN BREAKS IN YOUR WRITING? 

Yes, between the ages of 30 and 50 I kept journals but spent more time trying to write other things for possible publication. I did write a newspaper column in my town paper, just stories about growing up Catholic in the 1950s. This went on for 25 years. When I gave it up at 50, I was glad to be done with it. And from then on I wrote only for myself. I wanted to lift the restrictions that a small town newspaper obviously imposed on a writer. But I wasn’t a professional. I was a school teacher with a typewriter.

 

I also believe that at this time when I no longer kept faithful diaries I was in too much confusion to have the kind of perspective that good journal writers need. I wouldn’t have been able to understand or write down what was happening to me. I was overwhelmed with life itself and I felt an intense drama and lyricism that I lacked the art to put on the page. It would have been a feast for another kind of writer but not for me. I scribbled on a lot of pages that I literally can’t even read today. The confusion in my mind is evident on the scrawled page.

 

What I discovered was that I was only truly myself as a writer when I wrote for myself in the journal form. I tried my hand at a novel, at short stories, at poetry, but it always felt as if I were trying to write like someone else to some prescribed notion of acceptable literature. My stomach churned and I felt outside myself in an unpleasant way. On the contrary when I came back to the journal I found myself around yard and home and neighborhood in a way that I was relaxed and fluent. I had found my sources in this humble form but one I dearly love and respect.

 

So my 4o years of keeping journals were interrupted for long periods and I am sure I lost things I should’ve written down, lost moments I would love to have preserved. Yet there are journals for each decade and I always came to it sooner or later.

 


HAVE YOU EVER TORN OUT PAGES?

Yes.

There are some pages that remain too painful to read. Some things I wish that weren’t. Some days when I gave into despair.

I like to keep an even tone in my journals. It is part of the discipline of writing for me. Part of the nature of seeking some balance in my life. Often enough we are the only ones who can do this work. What is my life? What have I made of it?  I can get too dark and sometimes even belligerent.  I don’t like just blowing off steam. It’s not fun to read or to write. I generally don’t confide secrets and keep an enemies list in my writing, but this does leach into my words on some pages.

 

Whenever I have been harsh with a person I almost always realize it is a momentary reaction and not what I truly feel.   Sometimes my censor reaches across the page and tells me I have revealed too much, gone too far. I usually listen to my censor but in a few cases I have left material in the books that I would rather rip out or burn. Why? Maybe I don’t want to whitewash the record. Maybe I want my life to be more honest than I am comfortable with. The funny thing is the material that offends me might not even raise an eyebrow in another reader. Sometimes the wound still feels fresh and the passage just reopens it. Sometimes I am disgusted with my own weakness. There are a lot of reasons for self-hate but it isn’t best to indulge it. As for candor, I never lie in my journal but I have often suppressed parts of the truth that I am unwilling to face or unsure of how to face. How much honesty can any of us take even in regard to our own private myths and projections of self?

 

In a few cases I have written about family in a way that  is hardly diplomatic or compassionate. Most of my hardest words are aimed at myself. I never had a Dear Diary relationship with my journals. Maybe I should have, but I tended to keep them at arm’s length from my heart until I was sure what I wanted to say. I didn’t trust myself or my journal to know what I was feeling or what I understood. This was all murky to me and uncertain. For weeks I could dance around an admission or troubling entry. When I did write it out plainly it sounded petty or ridiculous. So much of my work is indirection because that is how I experience life. In other words I may be the last one to know about myself. My pages have to wait until I get there. And then I may be entirely wrong about this.

 

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