Archive for the ‘American Diaries’ Category

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

February 28, 2014

Introductory comments from Cynthia Manuel:  As a long-time book dealer, I have rather liked the fanciful notion  that the books on the shelves of my bookstore are actually “minds on shelves.”  “So many minds to explore, so little time,” to paraphrase a modern aphorism.  Non-fiction is my favorite, biographies especially, but nothing holds the fascination like a published diary if you truly want a glimpse into the mind of the writer as he or she  experiences “life’s ordinary hours.”    Barry writes “it opened up history and literature in ways I hadn’t experienced before.”  Exactly so.

In this installment, Barry answers the question: DO YOU ENJOY READING PUBLISHED DIARIES OF OTHERS?

I was an undergraduate reading from the Norton Book of American Literature when I first learned about published diaries. Until that time I thought a diary was a book that girls kept under lock and key to confide their crushes on neighborhood boys. I would love to read such diaries today, but when I was a young man I thought literature should be serious and boring. Filled with grand thoughts and abstruse reflections.

 

That is until I came upon the diaries of the puritan Samuel Sewell. He was a puritan merchant who kept account of his days and years during the colonial period in Massachusetts. Sewell’s diary was hardly exciting but it did capture something I hadn’t yet found in literature – the texture of daily life written by a person for himself.  It opened up history and literature in ways I hadn’t experienced before. It was refreshingly down to earth after pages of overwrought sermons and pious poetry. Here was a man who just lived his way into literature. In the same anthology I ran across the Quaker diary of John Woolman and was very touched by his gentle childhood reminiscences, especially the passages where he thoughtlessly killed a robin and the pangs of remorse he felt. Why did these excerpts speak so forcefully to me, instead of the great literature that often left me cold?

 

After I graduated college and began my own education I found the books of Edwin Teale, a Connecticut nature writer who kept tracks of the seasons in two wonderfully vivid diaries of every day observations. The writer Hal Borland did the same thing with his journal entries on nature published in the NYTimes. They were both older writers when I first discovered them but I had immediate affinity with their work. I’ve gone on to explore the nature writers who use the diary form to organize their observations. Right now I am reading Sue Hubbell,s “A Country Year” another little gem in diary form.

 

As a young teacher I was assigned to teach The Diary of Anne Frank. I had never read it before so I set out to work. It left a lasting and profound impression on me — this young girl in a garret hiding from the Nazi bullies. She was so filled with life, even in her closed space of innocence and terror. Although I have never reread it, her diary haunts my imagination and sense of life. She is the shadow of time and cruelty that motivate my own words. Her great courage is my small courage. There have been countless books written about WW2 but none have the poignance of her little book. Diaries often capture the human and the humane as well as any great literature can.

 

One of my favorite diaries is Walt Whitman’s Specimen Days, a record of his visits to Civil War hospitals, and of his later days enjoying the woods in his Camden neighborhood. Actually he wrote them as notes which he put in journal form, but there is really no difference to the reader. Whitman also coined one of my mantras when he wrote that so few of life’s ordinary hours are recorded in literature and he hoped to do just that.

 

I also discovered that many of our greatest writers kept great journals. You will never read anything richer than Nathaniel Hawthorne’s diary entries about his young marriage to Sophie Peabody and his “Mosses from an Old Manse” is really a diary disguised as an essay. Joyce Carol Oates published a diary. Not very revealing except of her extraordinary intelligence and amazing work habits. A poet named Howard Nemerov published one of the strangest diaries I ever read and called it a novel. Thornton Wilder has an intriguing and brilliant diary. When you get inside some of the great minds in our culture it is a shock and a privilege to enter the sanctuary of genius.

 

But I take as much pleasure in less high flying literary performances.

 


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

February 24, 2014

A fundamental question that might be asked regarding the value of keeping a journal is whether, in some way, the time and effort put into the writing has been worth it.  Has the introspection led to inward or outward changes in how you see yourself or your friends and the world you live in.   I would prefer that the diarist answer this instead of the future reader.

Even the diary on its most basic level – a record of data, (whether it is the weather, a farm or garden record book, or your activities of the day)  has value to the person keeping it.   We should not presume to judge.

On the deepest level – keeping an introspective journal – one could hope that there might be a spiritual growth, an increased awareness, a personal change for the better.

Here are Barry’s musings on the subject:

HAS KEEPING A JOURNAL CHANGED YOU?

 

Diaries and journals tend to be works of privacy and to some extent introspection. I tend toward introspection in my journals, but I realize that diaries can range from a list of simple dates  — to confidential and even scandalous confessions —  to a  record of everyday wonder and obligation in life.

I’ve read diaries by published and famous writers and diaries by people who led private lives. I’m not sure there is a self-awareness component in journals. Some people seem horribly deluded about themselves in their writing, and some seem very aware of their conflicts. Some diaries are filled with vanity and the most wrong -headed thinking you can possible imagine. Some are chatty and busy. I guess mine is more philosophical and literary, but written clearly in a common language.

 

Sometimes I think that the best diarists have already hardened into selfhood and meet the world by bumping into surfaces unlike their own. By that I mean that there may not be a record of change in personal diaries, but just the opposite – personalities that have taken a stand where they are and want to report from that vantage point. I am here –the rest of the world is there. How do we intersect, or why do we fail to intersect? Diarists may have problems with self-definition or they simply feel outshouted in a culture of exhibitionists and loud mouths.

 

I have no doubt that I use my journals to drop in on myself and listen to what I have to say. In this sense I monitor my personality. This is easiest for me to do in looking back at older journals rather than seeing patterns in every day entries. I work hardest at establishing emotional intimacy in my diaries. That has been the toughest thing for me to do—to face my truest and sometimes ugliest feelings on the page. At least that is how I feel when I write. It may not be what others see in my writing. Just the act of consciousness to sit down to keep a journal requires a certain periphery of self and world. I have my say in this way.

 

When I was in my late 30s I did the ultimate amount of self-searching with three years of psycho-therapy on the old Freudian couch three times a week. In many ways it was like keeping an oral journal because you have to hear your own voice and listen to what you say and how you say it. In this sense my journal has taught me to know myself and sometimes to wince at what I know. Did I write journals because I was changing, or did I keep them because I refused to change, at least the essential understandings of who I was and what motivated me. No easy task whether you are in therapy or you are opening a blank book to try to capture something about your life. It can be a terrifying ordeal to write from the heart. As I age and write more often I feel less anxious and uptight in front of a blank page.

 

When I read my journals I am tempted to say there is no self-knowledge — no matter how honest we attempt to be. Life is filled with surprises that candor itself can’t improve upon. What does this mean? To me it means that I don’t know whether I captured a life in motion or frittered one away at my desk. Did I write because I wanted to change or because I wanted to have it all my way in the department of final judgments?

 

On the other hand I can’t deny that spending so much time in my books has made me more careful with words and more aware of how cruel we can be in everyday life, cruel, self-centered,  judgmental. To this extent I have tried to learn from my limitations, especially in regard to  my loving wife. I learned to love much later than I should have, or maybe I always knew how to love but didn’t know how to say it. The words eventually came to me but it wasn’t the words that were important, but rather the disposition, woven of language, that what we think about ourselves and others determines how we look at the world we are describing.

 

Did I find myself in a diary or did I invent myself in my diary? Or did I transcribe a soul as well as I could? Some of each I am sure.

 

DO YOU REREAD YOUR JOURNALS?

 

Always.

Looking for signs of life, sparks of creativity.

More so now than ever. Not because I admire myself but because I am  my own most important writer. I need other writers in my life, but I have learned to value myself. I’m not sure this is an ego thing. If I come across a passage I think is well written, I am actually surprised that I wrote it. Then I doubt it is any good anyway. There is pleasure for me in words. When I use them well I feel as if I made something beautiful the way my carpenter grandfather used to. I had no such talent. For years I thought I had no gifts at all.

 

In reading my own work it is a way of saying to myself, I’M HERE.

For some reason this is important to me. Yes I lived those days, yes I thought those thoughts; yes I survived this and that; yes I laughed hard and ate well and loved my life.

 

SURPRISE SURPRISE. I WAS HERE TOO WITH THE GREAT POETS AND THE GREAT WRITERS AND THE GREAT STATESMAN. THIS IS MY OWN SMALL SONG. MY CRICKET CHIRP.

 

I also read to  see if I can learn something about my own writing. How to do something better. I’m not sure this is possible but I try.

As an introvert I guess I like my own company.

 

 

 

 

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

February 23, 2014

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.

 

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

February 19, 2014


DESCRIBE WHAT FORM YOUR JOURNAL IS IN

For years I have bought cheap blank books anywhere from 5 to 15 dollars. They are both lined and unlined. It doesn’t matter to me.

I have to admit that I require some sense of affinity with the book I take in hand. Either  because of its simplicity or occasionally for a nature theme on the cover or something embossed.

I have kept very long journals of three hundred or more pages but I like to fill a book with 150-200 pages and then put it on the shelf. I do this for two reasons. I like to see my writing on a shelf at home, and two, I get bored after a hundred pages and it begins to feel like homework. So when I can finish a diary and put it away I have a sense of accomplishment and time well spent. I have a number of pocket-sized notebooks like reporters used to carry. The ones with the brown covers. I mainly scribble poetry in them and field  notes or notes from the city, and then I put them away and never notice what I have written. My ideal journal is book sized rather than fat and squat. Nothing with locks or clasps please.

 

My wife has purchased a couple of expensive Italian leather diaries and I have bought myself very good journals in Nth Ireland and in Spain. But sadly an expensive journal doesn’t improve my writing a bit. I write just as well in a cheapo and feel closer to my own roots in doing so. My background is blue collar working class. I’m a common person with no elegance at all. My handwriting isn’t beautiful or artistic. I wish it were. One of the problems I have today is that many of the cheaper journals are now printed in China and the paper is too thin to handle the gel inks I usually write with. I don’t like ball points. The ink never seems to come out of them and I end up feeling as if I have chiseled my words in stone. I have to confess that most of my pages look sloppy. This isn’t on purpose but it is a result of trying to get things on page before I lose my trend of thought. I can be absent minded when I write and leave out some things I intend to say.

 

Actually pens are important to me. I have bought expensive ones that were worthless and cheap ones that were great. My wife buys me one of the beautiful Levenger pens every year and they sometimes confer dignity on my work when I don’t feel it in my life. So I write with them, but I also go to Walmart and buy a pack of gels just for a change. If you write a lot you know how easy it is to go through a pen in thirty pages of hard writing.

 

My early journals are all handwritten, but in the last ten years I have printed because my handwriting is awful and I couldn’t even read what I wrote. Print slows me down a bit but also makes me more deliberate in my writing. Do I print so that someone else may one day read me? Well, when you keep a diary that is always in the back of your mind. You want some ideal reader somewhere to pick it up and say, MY this guy was an interesting person or an honest person or intelligent or whatever. Yet I don’t put much faith in my journals outliving me. So print is a way of making clear to myself what I have to say. It irritates me when I can’t read words in a passage.

 

If possible I like to write in the morning when I wake up, but that isn’t often the case. I can write in school when my kids write or when I have a free period. This leads to many distractions both from teaching and writing, but I have to take the time where I find it. I hate writing at noon to 3. I don’t know why. I do enjoy writing after supper but that is only in the summer when I’m not teaching and my  mind is gentled and refreshed.

 

I write at a desk in my room or any flat surface I can find. I set up a table outside on the lawn and write there. I don’t write on my lap or on a train. This has proved to be a disaster. I like the room to be silent but I have written on a whim with a classroom filled with boys talking and laughing. I grew up in a big family and learned to filter out noise right in my midst.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

February 13, 2014

Cynthia comments:  I think many of us write about the weather because it is a grounding element.  No matter what else is happening in our lives the weather is always there, and yet it is always changing.  Odd dichotomy: steady, but mutable.  It can usually be described without much angst (notable exceptions here), and it can be peaceful, beautiful.   Nature may not always be idyllic but it can be entertaining and very interesting.

This photo is a sunset on my farm in Colorado, October 2013.

This is how Barry replies to the question “Do you record nature?”

IMG_0563Years ago I read in a literature anthology that New England writers never felt comfortable in writing about the emotional and sexual life, but nature, given by god, was an open field for their enthusiasm and desire. If that is the case then I have a major work of sublimation in my years of writing about the weather.

 

I write about nature as much as possible. It is the one subject I never tire of. I do read the nature writers with profound pleasure and appreciation. Every new day brings another page of wildflowers, clouds and trees. Writing about nature has made me mindful of what I love and brought me closer to it. From my very first diary in 1971 I began to notice trees and rocks and open fields.

 

I don’t do much more than describe nature, over and over again. I can’t explain it. I’m not a scientist nor do I have the bent of mind that wants to know everything we can know about a plant or a landscape. I do learn from such material but as a writer I just like to write about being there in the moment. Many of my pages are descriptions of walks I take along the shore or through local parks and neighborhoods. Many of the pages are even closer to my home looking out the window as I write or sitting under the maple tree and surveying my garden. I can’t even tell you why I do this and why it means so much to me. Perhaps because I am completely free to indulge this sensual pleasure without guilt, morality or judgment. So much of it is connected to childhood delight. I grew up on a quarter acre lot next to a brook in the industrial city of Bridgeport, Ct. The contrast between nature and factory streets fascinated me and dominated my imagination.

 

If you take nature out of my diaries they would probably shrink by half. This is one reason I write in diaries. I can write about nature every day and damn well do as I please without an editor’s permission. It is my love and my reason for writing. The most accessible part of my imagination and my emotional life. This isn’t to say that I don’t write about family, travel, reading etc. but everything starts with a look out my window or a foot on the pavement.

 

 

 

 

 

Answer #4 to Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists: Barry

February 12, 2014

Yesterday I received quite a gift from a long-time diarist I corresponded with two years ago.  I asked him if he would be interested in answering the questionnaire I had posted. He began with a few questions at a time and answered with a depth that I felt was extraordinary.  His replies are thoughtful as well as thought-provoking.  I will present them to you one page at a time over several days.

 

What is your current occupation?

High school English teacher about to retire at age 64

 

Has anyone else in your family kept a diary?

My great grandmother on my father’s side who lived 88 years and died in 1962

My grandmother, her daughter, who kept diaries but destroyed them in old age.

My father kept a diary of his days in the Pacific during world war II 1943-44-45.

I started my diary in 1971, the year I began my married life. I kept it sporadically through the years but became a devoted diarist only when I turned 50. My last 14 years have been very busy with journal writing, memories, ideas.

 

Intimate details of sexual experiences?

 

No.

 

At one point I wanted to write honestly about sexuality, but there is always the privacy factor for many good and bad reasons.

Part of my reluctance was my Irish Catholic upbringing. Part of it also is how little I understood about my sexuality or anyone else’s. it would have been easy for me to write in a descriptive way or keep a “tell all” of real and imagined experience, but that would have been no victory for me because I needed to enter and explore my emotional life as both the cause and effect of sexuality. I came to distrust anything that I could break into pieces as a separate part of myself.

 

So I began to work on my emotional life, and as you know for an American male this is an almost impossible undertaking. Only then could I ask myself, Do I really know anything about sex? Is there anything we can know about from the mystery of our emotional needs? What is sex? What is the soul? Have I ever really been deeply anchored in a rich emotional life that I can enter into the instinctive and find in my body the truth of my soul? Yes, I had a few sins and a few secrets, but it was thinking that made them so.

 

Is this an evasion? Perhaps it is, but I have never trusted the whole sexual dialogue in this country. Even when I read women’s magazines (my wife and daughter’s) they sound so full of soulless gimmicks and adolescent games. My question: do we really lead adult lives in America? Do we feel that sex makes us adults and that sexual technique is a form of wisdom? Would I be a better writer if I kept blow by  blow descriptions of the act itself? Should there be any secrets in the age of confessions?

 

So, the answer is that one might surmise who I am from my diaries, but they would have to imagine and fill in the blanks in the way that we look at current sexuality. I don’t think I would come across as a sexless man or a prude, but a reader would notice my decision not to include the details. Perhaps I thought that we made too much of sex in our time but somehow lost sight of the person and the soul of people. I was much more alive in my wholeness.  Another caution for me is that sex can take over a writer. It becomes its own reason. I’m sure my hesitance has been partly generational. It would be accurate to say there was a lot of darkness around my sexual awareness because of my religion and my family attitudes. It wasn’t discussed in any way, nor would it be something you would share with another, not even yourself.

 

Hardly enlightened, but not the worst upbringing either when I look around and see what has happened to modesty, restraint and common sense in our current national sexual attitudes. Needless to say I have never reconciled my own ideas and conflicts in this area, but found it much safer to write about sex as an idea rather than a personal record. By the way, I have read some sexual diaries. While I admire the frankness, they never seem to get out of the bedroom. I feel like I need a pair of goggles and rubber gloves. I do enjoy diaries that seem to reveal and conceal at the same time. Beyond this I truly believe that women are much better at writing about the sexual life and anything they write in this regard fascinates me. Men almost  write about sex as if they were playing with toy soldiers. Or changing the oil in their cars and checking the dip stick. I didn’t think I could add anything or make much sense of myself. And yes, it is a tendency in my diary to explain myself rather than to expose myself. All very rich themes from your questions

 

 

 


 


 

Lying

February 8, 2014

IMG_0683The man and his wife were an older couple, obviously married for a long time as the woman smiled knowingly as her husband launched into an engaging dialogue with me on the subject of lying. His sharp mind leapt to the intellectual challenge as a cat to a mouse.  Whatever led us to that topic?  Lying, now there’s a thing to be defined.

I was already fascinated by these two people even before they admitted they had a private book collection of 20,000 books (probably more than I had in my bookstore) and had no intention of quitting their passion now.  They bought scholarly history books, plant identification books, and mysteries.  I would guess by his oratorical voice that he was a former  professor, or maybe a pastor.

Remember the old song “Fifty Ways to Leave a Lover”?   How many ways of lying?  Does lying come with as many definitions as the Eskimos’ words for snow?  I told the man “I don’t lie…well, not directly…well, maybe once that I can remember…for someone else.”  But if you include lying by omission then I am a great liar.    Libel or malicious, intentional lying – no.  Fabrication – no.  Exaggeration – maybe.  Moving along the continuum into “simple” dishonesty…dishonesty  about who you are or your intentions –  I don’t think so.   Mistakes not corrected, such as the wrong change – no.  Stealing – no.  Betrayal is a form of the lie and is — in my philosophy— the worst sin.  Have I ever betrayed anyone – I don’t think so.   I do feel like I have betrayed some animals.

The afore-mentioned great conversation I had with the charismatic debater has now faded into memory.   Yet I return to the subject of lying because I participate in the one form of writing which should have the highest standard of truth-telling: the private diary.  Here, at last, one is unleashed from all restraint.  The bold, naked truth can be told.  No one to impress, no politics to play, no fear of social rejection, no hurt feelings of friends or family.  (That is, if it can be kept private.)  Why would you EVER lie in your journal?

Most famously, it is said that my favorite diarist, Anais Nin, fabricated stories in her diary. Do I believe this?  This was a woman married to two men at the same time, flying back and forth to see them, keeping a notebook of her lies so she would not forget what she told each man.  That’s quite a lie.  I pass no judgment there.  If she really did make up parts of the diary though, I feel betrayed.  I will read it as fiction.  It is good fiction, no, it is astonishingly beautiful and insightful fiction.  Her writing is all poetry.

But why did she do this – lie?  The only lying in my journals is where I am fooling myself into believing what is not true.  I try not to omit details that would reveal truth.  I try to quote accurately.  I never intentionally lie in my journals.  I want the truth to be told…at last…to someone (the unknown reader of the future)…and this outweighs my fear of being judged.  We are all judged.  We all judge others.

Are you familiar with the story of King Midas?  Let the truth be told in your journals.  “King Midas has asses ears.”

Who lies in their diary?

Email: eclecticreaderbooks@gmail.com or post comment here

Answer #3 Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists: Michie

January 23, 2014
When did you begin your diary and why? 
I was 12 and my father suggested it.
 
Did you know back then that you would be doing this for a long time?
No
 
Why do you keep on writing?  Do you think you will ever stop?
I don’t write anymore because the way my life has gone there has been a lot of trauma, so many of my thoughts and observations are cyclical. I don’t have anything new to say. I wrote for about three decades.
 
Has anyone else in your family kept a diary?
No, except my mother for a brief time when she was going through her divorce from my father.
 
What is your current occupation? Past occupations?
Editor and production manager of nonfiction books. I have also worked at florists, as an archivist, and as a portrait artist.
 
What do you write about and has that changed over the years?
I wrote about my observations of people and situations. I drew a lot in my journals too. Toward the end of my journal writing career I started jotting down only dates and events. That is when I knew I didn’t have time or interest anymore.
 
Who do you write about?
People I know.
 
Do you record nature? Colors, sound, tastes, tactile sensations? I put leaves, dried flowers, and such in my journals and also drew nature pictures but did not record sounds, tastes, tactile sensations.
 
Do you record intimate details of relationships or sexual experiences? Relationships
 
Do you write about coincidences/synchronicities, “miracles,” mysteries, dreams? No
 
Does your diary have a theme, i.e. your religious or spiritual growth, your development as a dancer or musician? No theme
 
Was it to record a military experience, parenting, or some other important time in your life? Just to record my thoughts on various philosophical and relationship issues.
 
Do you use your diary creatively to record ideas for future writing or sketches for art projects? I did.
 
Do you include more than writing, such as photos, sketches, clippings, etc.? Yes
 
Describe what form your journal is in: bound book (large or small), notebook, on the computer. Spiral notebooks.
 
Is your journal handwritten or typed? Pencil or pen?  Handwritten, with some copied off emails and otherwise done in both pencil and pen.
 
What do you enjoy writing about the most? Analyzing my world as well as coming up with new ideas about things.
 
Have you ever neglected to write about important historical events that happened? Yes, all the time.
 
Do you always tell the truth? Yes.
 
Are you embarrassed about anything you wrote about?  Have you torn out pages? No and no.
What is the tone of your writing – social, psychological, philosophical, historical? Psychological and philosophical.
 
Has this changed over the years? No.
 
Is your style flowery, poetic, elliptical, cut and dried, verbose, descriptive? Cut and dried.
 
Are you obsessive about writing every day or about recording certain details? No
 
Have you had breaks in your writing and, if so, for how long?
Yes, I have stopped now and only write occasionally in a composition book.
 
What time/place do you like to write?  Does that change?
Not applicable
 
What is the most surprising thing you learned about yourself?
That I am smarter than I think I am
Has keeping a journal changed you? How?
Made me wary of other people’s seeing what I am thinking. I have had my journals discovered and read by two other people without my permission. That made me conscious of some things I didn’t want to write.
 
Do you like to re-read your journal?
Sometimes
 
Do you have favorite entries?
The artistic ones and the deeply philosophical ones
 
Was there anything you did not record but wish you had?
Perhaps more current events to put some cultural perspective on the time I was living in
 
Who would you allow to read it?
My best friend
 
Who should not read it?
My children
 
Would you make it public some day? Would you want it burned when you die, or preserved in an archive, or kept in your family?
Either burned when I die or given to a neutral, unknown third party who doesn’t know me, like an archive.
 
Do you enjoy reading published diaries of other people?
Not really
 
Do you collect diaries?
No
 
Any further comments:
 No.

Answer #2 Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists: Anna

January 15, 2014
Cynthia,
Thank you for letting me know about the survey! I am certainly interested in answering the questions.  Here you go, feel free to post all or part of it as you wish:
When did you begin your diary and why?
I started keeping a diary in May 1997 (I think. It may have been ’98…my older diaries are at my parent’s house, so I can’t check!) when I was eight years old.  I’m not sure why I did, I only know that a purchased a small notebook with my allowance at the grocery store and started writing in it that same day.
Did you know back then that you would be doing this for a long time?
I don’t think I had any idea, although I don’t remember my thoughts clearly from the time!
Why do you keep on writing?  Do you think you will ever stop?
I keep writing because it keeps me sane, helps me sort out my thoughts and because I have an inexplicable fear of forgetting all the little moments that make up my life.
Has anyone else in your family kept a diary?
My father has kept one for many years; I’m not sure about anyone else in my family.
What is your current occupation? Past occupations?
I am currently a certified nursing assistant and a nursing student.
What do you write about and has that changed over the years?
I write about my day to day life, thoughts, things I do, books I read, places I go, people I see.  Mostly it’s factual, the weather, my goings on, but I do work in thoughts and even spiritual “quests.”
Who do you write about?
I write about anyone whose paths cross mine.  In my line of work, there are a lot of privacy concerns so I refer to patients of mine vaguely without medical specifics and only by their initials or by pseudonyms, to avoid betraying their privacy.
Do you record nature? Colors, sound, tastes, tactile sensations?
Occasionally, usually with regard to the weather, but not often.
Do you record intimate details of relationships or sexual experiences?
Sexual experiences, no, but relationships, yes.  Call me a prude, but I don’t much like to talk about sex, let alone write about it!
Do you write about coincidences/synchronicities, “miracles,” mysteries, dreams?
Yes, often.  Whenever they seem significant.
Does your diary have a theme, i.e. your religious or spiritual growth, your development as a dancer or musician?
Nope.  Just a record of my life!
Was it to record a military experience, parenting, or some other important time in your life?
Nope! I don’t remember what made me start writing in it!
Do you use your diary creatively to record ideas for future writing or sketches for art projects?
Not usually.  I am a writer but I usually brainstorm elsewhere.
Do you include more than writing, such as photos, sketches, clippings, etc.?
Occasionally I include paper things that I want to save and sometimes I have put photos in, but usually I don’t.
Describe what form your journal is in: bound book (large or small), notebook, on the computer
It’s currently in a bound book, although I’m on volume fifteen so I have used a wide variety of books, mostly ones designed to be journals.
Is your journal handwritten or typed? Pencil or pen?
It’s handwritten, all of it, and most of it is in pen, although there are a few portions in the very first volume that are in pencil.
What do you enjoy writing about the most?
I enjoy writing about almost anything.  I’m not sure there is one thing that I enjoy more than others.
Have you ever neglected to write about important historical events that happened?
I don’t think so.  In fact, on 9/11 I was twelve years old and one of the first things I did was write about it in my journal, which is one of the more interesting entries that I think I have.
Do you always tell the truth?
Yes, but I sometimes omit things that I’m not ready to talk about, although I sometimes come back to those later.  But I’ve never written anything that is not true, I don’t think.
Are you embarrassed about anything you wrote about?  Have you torn out pages?
When I was a younger, I would often write about boys I had crushes on, and then later get embaressed.  There was one page that I wrote a big X through when I was about ten, but it’s still legible.  But I’ve never torn any pages out, and I’m not embaressed about them now!
What is the tone of your writing – social, psychological, philosophical, historical?
I think it’s pretty social, like a conversation, although I keep it organized, with a new paragraph for each topic and proper grammar and punctuation (although my spelling leaves something to be desired!)
Has this changed over the years?
Actually, no.  Obviously the tone when I was a child was more like a child, but the way I’ve written and the things I’ve written about are pretty much the same as they’ve always been.
Is your style flowery, poetic, elliptical, cut and dried, verbose, descriptive?
My style is pretty cut and dry I think, althoug I do tend to use a lot of words to describe events!
Are you obsessive about writing every day or about recording certain details?
I have certainly gone through phases where I was obsessive about writing every day and there have been times when I’ve been stressed out and I couldn’t wait to get home and write in my journal because I knew it would help.
Have you had breaks in your writing and, if so, for how long?
There have been two or three times when I haven’t written for six months or a year, but mostly I don’t miss more than a week or two, and I often write every day
What time/place do you like to write?  Does that change?
I generally write in the mornings and sometimes in the evenings, but it changes often.  I write whenever I get a chance and have something to say!
What is the most surprising thing you learned about yourself?
Hmmm. I went through a sort of “spiritual quest” a couple years back and wrote about it extensively in my journal and I learned a lot about myself through that process, plus it represented a change in the things I wrote about because prior to that I had rarely written about feelings (other than my romantic feelings…my early journals are filled with various boys I liked!).
Has keeping a journal changed you? How?
I do think it’s changed me a little.  I noticed once a while ago that all the best decisions I have made in my life have come from times when I was actively journaling about the decision.  It helps me objectively evaluate how I feel and what the pros and cons are of the decision.
Do you like to re-read your journal?
I do, although I’ve only read them through from start to finish once or twice.  There’s a lot there to read these days!
Do you have favorite entries?
I have a couple of entries where I mentioned things in an off-hand way that would later turn out to be important and I didn’t realize it at the time, so those are sort of fun to read later!
Was there anything you did not record which you wished you had?
There were a few times where I went a couple of months or more without writing and I read back through and wish I had written, because I don’t really remember what was going on during that time and it makes me sad.  Also, when I first started falling in love with my now-husband, I was dating someone else at the time and I felt guilty so I didn’t write about how I felt, which, looking back, I wish I had!
Who would you allow to read it?
I don’t allow anyone to read it now, but if I were dead, I don’t think I’d mind!
Who should not read it?
I don’t think theres anyone who should not read it if I were dead, but for now, I absolutely do not allow anyone to read it!
Would you make it public some day? Would you want it burned when you die, or preserved in an archive, or kept in your family?
I absolutely want it to be preserved when I die, both for my family and for historians or anyone else who might be interested in it!
Do you enjoy reading published diaries of other people?
I love to read published diaries, especially those by “regular” people who wrote about day to day things.
Do you collect diaries?
I don’t currently, but someday when I have more money I might!
Any further comments:

Not much, except that I think a National Diary Archieve is a great idea and is something that needs to be done! One of my greatest fears is that something will happen to my journals and they will be lost forever, so something like this is great!

Answer #1: Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists: Cindy

January 15, 2014
I
When did you begin your diary and why?  I had begun many times in my youth as I loved the fact that my Grandmother had kept a gazillion travel journals.  It did not cement in me until college 28 years ago, so I’ve been officially journaling for 28 years.  From 1986 to the present.
Did you know back then that you would be doing this for a long time?  I don’t know what I expected. I wanted to keep a record for my children.  As I had none they will go to my nephew and niece if they want them.
Why do you keep on writing?  Do you think you will ever stop? As it is an addiction, I’ll write forever.
Has anyone else in your family kept a diary? Mom kept pregnancy diaries; my grandparents kept travel journals.  In a way, my grandfather did concerning his brief time in the Navy during WWI. He wrote many letters home. My father, at present, types up all of his fabulous trips. My younger brother gave it a shot after his first child was born.
What do you write about and has that changed over the years? I journal about the same things, happy times, sad times, obsessions, world events, movies and books..etc. etc.
Who do you write about?  Family, best friends, loves, and people I meet.
Do you record nature? Colors, sound, tastes, tactile sensations?  Most of my journaling life, I’ve written of the above. Especially when I go hiking or I sit outside or I stare out the window.  My journal goes with me everywhere.
Do you record intimate details of relationships or sexual experiences? I do, or I elude to it. I’m thought of as pretty pristine….however, there are secrets in my journal that show  I’m not always the angel I’m thought to be.
Do you write about coincidences/synchronicities, “miracles,” mysteries, dreams? I write about everything.  There is not limit.
Do you use your diary creatively to record ideas for future writing or sketches for art projects? I used to write stories and yes, I’d  tell it all my brainstorming ideas.
Do you include more than writing, such as photos, sketches, clippings, etc.? Photos, sketches, but took out newspaper articles as I read they could cause problems to the pages in the future.
 Describe what form your journal is in: bound book (large or small), notebook, on the computer I like best hardcover spiral journals and if possible, unlined. Never small books. I write too much.
Is your journal handwritten or typed? Pencil or pen? I’ve always prefered pen, tho my grandparents wrote in pencil back in the 40’s and it still looks good.
What do you enjoy writing about the most? Experiences and emotions I’ve shared with my friends, my nephew and niece. My personal spirit; and opinions and intersets.
Have you ever neglected to write about important historical events that happened? I’m sure I have. The days may have been too busy to get the chance to pen it down.
Do you always tell the truth? I do occasional keep out particular details which sometimes makes me feel as if I’m white lying.
Are you embarrassed about anything you wrote about?  Have you torn out pages?  I at present have 124 journals written.  I began to recognize that that’s far too many for anyone to want to read, so slowly I’ve begun going thru them and slicing out the boring stuff or not so pleasant comments I made concerning people I know.  I’m not doing too well so I’ll go thru them repeatedly in the future to keep wittling the pages down.
What is the tone of your writing – social, psychological, philosophical, historical? The only limit to my writing – is the dimension of time.
Has this changed over the years? For a few years in there I couldn’t bare to go a single day without writing which is why I’ve got too many journals.  I’m no longer inclined to write everyday.
Is your style flowery, poetic, elliptical, cut and dried, verbose, descriptive? Gosh, Thoreau, Emily Dickinson and poetry were huge influences on my writing style.  I wrote beautifully for a decade or more.  No longer.  I just write plainly because I think in a plain way now.
Have you had breaks in your writing and, if so, for how long? Most of my breaks are a few days apart, however in my college years and earlier 20’s there were many months between entries.
What time/place do you like to write?  Does that change? All through out the day and anywhere that my journal tags along.
What is the most surprising thing you learned about yourself?  How marvelously creative I used to be.  And the spiritual wisdom I’ve had since my 20’s.
Has keeping a journal changed you? How? The addiction gets crazy at times, obssessive. However, believe it or not – I do see 2 down sides to my journaling.  Once a memory is written – I don’t recall it in the future.  And the other is with my complaining entries – it only makes the situation on the outside worse because I’ve reinforced it by writing it down.
Do you like to re-read your journal? Yup. 
Do you have favorite entries? I sure do.  My flowery, poetic writing years. My music groupie years. My times with those I love. Falling in love. My fantasy worlds…
Was there anything you did not record which you wished you had? Hmm.  I guess I wish in my high school and college years I’d written more.  One day for whatever reason, I felt compelled to bring my journal into work with me.  When as an escort on a bus to pick up diabled kids, a parent told us planes crashed into the twin towers – as soon as I got back to the school, with my most shaking penmanship nearly illegible, I wrote  the blow by blow of announcements even before the towers fell, until the administrator said “Turn all radios off.” I didn’t write again until the schools closed early.  I’m from New Jersey.
Who would you allow to read it? I read excerpts which are funny to friends.  I share some with people I’ve come to…fall in love with.
Who should not read it? Well, to be honest, once I’m gone from life – everything I wrote, tho skewed by my personality, IS who I was.  However I mainly prefer the future children of my family to read it rather than any immediate family members. My best friend has asked that someday I share with his son, the entries I wrote of who his father was.(my friend’s health is precarious) umm…there are a lot I just can’t share with the son as they are too critical towards father, mother and at times especially the son.
Would you make it public some day? Would you want it burned when you die, or preserved in an archive, or kept in your family? If my nephew and niece do not want them (I’ve actually put it into my Will that all of my writings – stories, poetry, journals be given to them) – then I hope they will donate the bins by the hoards to a local historical society.
Do you enjoy reading published diaries of other people? I love it!!  Tho I tend to love it more when they are compilations of entries from various people.  Or books written about journal writing and the author gives examples of their own writing.
Any further comments: I’m very very glad to have journaling as a part of my life.  When anyone thinks of me, books and journals instantly pop into their minds. I can never be separate from my journal as it is …the all of me.
Cindy

 

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