Archive for the ‘American Diaries’ Category

Is there still interest in a National Diary Archive?

January 13, 2014

Just wondering if there are people out there  who would like to help start this archive?  Particularly someone living near Fort Collins, Colorado.  We need to get the ball rolling, I won’t be around forever.  Donations of diaries and dollars would be helpful.  For now, my garage could be used for long term storage.  I may have space within my bookstore IF it ever reopens.  Please contact me at eclecticreaderbooks.com if you are interested.

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I Answer the Survey Questions for Long-time Diarists

January 13, 2014

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.

What Were You Doing On December 28, 1986?

September 28, 2013
There’s been a long hiatus from my writing for the National Diary Archive.  I’ve been struggling to make my used and rare book store a success, and now it seems we’ve been pushed out of our beautiful store by a national pizza franchise.  I am in the process of moving 15,000 plus books into storage…until I sell the books or find a new location.
Here is something that came to my attention recently.  Please consider participating in this project:
“What were you doing on December 28, 1986? Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten wants to hear from you. His next book, “One Day,” will explore an ordinary day in the history of the United States, chosen at random by drawing numbers from a hat. That’s the date he got; it was the Sunday between Christmas and New Years.

Weingarten has collected plenty of items large and small that made national or local news that day, but he would also love to hear what was important in your life at that time. What did you write in your diary? Your scrapbook? What photos have you held onto? He is looking for things that are poignant or revealing or even things seemingly banal or mundane that might later have proved significant to your life, or predictive of things that might follow. If any memories surface that you’d like to share, please pass them along to gene.weingarten@washpost.com. Make the subject line “Dec. 28.” All emails will be treated confidentially, and he will respond to each. By writing to him, you are not offering your experience for publication; anything he uses will be with your permission only.”

This is similar to an idea I had for a journal writing project in Fort Collins, Colorado.  Some cities do a photographic study of “a day in the life of (name of city).”   Imagine if you could get hundreds of people in your city to journal about a particular day…and maybe combine that with a photo-journal of the same day. This idea is free for the taking.  Some day I might suggest it in my city.

Mini Books for Micro Journaling

January 19, 2013

Generally when I write I prefer the broad canvas of an 8 ½ by 11 inch unlined page. You can write, draw, or paste in photos or clippings. But I find the tiny, “mini journals” irresistibly attractive. While my regular journals are inclusive of all aspects of my life, these mini journals each represent a single microcosm.

The notebook with the marbled cover is a gratitude book. As a discipline, I tried to write one thing each day that I was grateful for or admired, one thing that brought joy into my life or that I thought was beautiful.

The red book with the ladybug on the cover has been the start of expressing one “haiku” thought on each page, an attempt to learn to say more with fewer words.

The gorgeous bejeweled book in the center is the book I chose to record the charming things said by my three year old granddaughter. I will do another book for the other granddaughter as she begins to talk.

These mini books are the purest joy to re-read because they filter out the negative. They sit on the table beside my bed. After a difficult day it is uplifting to remind myself of all that is good in my life.

I have started giving mini blank books as presents in the hope that others will be encouraged to use them for similar purposes. I do have other tiny notebooks I use to record things like houseplant and garden notes and the work I do in the bee yard. That notebook is covered in propolis (bee glue) and I must write with a pencil.

When purchasing these mini books, never buy one that has pages that are bound in with glue.   Look for books that are sewn in or all of your pages will fall out over time. That goes for regular journal books, too.

It is interesting that many of the antique diaries I have seen, including my great-grandmother’s and great-great-grandmother’s, were so small that the space for each entry could hardly contain one sentence. Just one sentence can still convey a lot. If you don’t believe me, read haiku poetry.
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Interview With Sally Macnamara, Collector of Handwritten Diaries

January 12, 2012

Not long ago I started corresponding with Sally Macnamara Ivey who has collected and sold diaries since about 1987. She accepted my invitation to be interviewed for the National Diary Archive blog.

I found some of her answers to be very moving.  She expresses beautifully exactly what I feel about the importance of preserving old diaries.  I especially agree with her comments that real life is more exciting and rewarding than fiction and that everyone has a story to tell and something to offer.

Her website is:  http://www.sallysdiaries.wordpress.com  and email: macnamara@wbcable.net.  Her eBay seller name is “diaries.”

Here is the interview:

First of all, are you a diarist and, if so, for how long?  What form of diary/journal do you keep?  (Notebook, bound book, large or small pages.)

I started my first diary at the age of 10. Most of those entries were one liner’s like “went to school” or “went to choir” etc. Later on through my high school years my diary entries became much longer and I wrote on every available space the page would allow. I am now 55 years old and have kept a diary for many of the years of my life. I would say I have over 50 diaries but have never counted them as they are all over my house in trunks, on shelves, in drawers, etc. As far as what form of diary I keep it’s really a variety of different types of journals; notebooks, 5 year diaries and sometimes just loose pieces of paper. I must say a beautiful cover really draws me in and I have several blank journals that I purchased because I couldn’t pass them up (because of their beauty) and they are just waiting to be filled.

If you keep a diary, what are your plans for it after you die?

I have four children (the two younger ones are step children although I consider them my own). Bret is 30, Cass is 28, Reese is 27 and Kera is 25. Although all of the children are so precious to me, my diaries will go to my two biological children because most of my personal diaries have to do with my life before I married my second husband Kevin. I believe Cass is the one who knows her moms deepest thoughts and because she is also keeping a diary, I feel she would cherish and understand them the most.

 

What would you say is the purpose of your writing?

I’ve always had this deep desire and need to write down my thoughts and a few years back I had an epiphany about my journaling. I seem to write more often during my times of difficulty and sorrow. Sadly my life has been very difficult since I was a little girl and without getting too deep (and too long winded) my childhood was that of neglect (putting it lightly). Then my 1st marriage, which was to a rock musician, was that of unfaithfulness on his part, then my divorce from that 14 year marriage, the recovery and finally my 2nd marriage to Kevin, who in my eyes was the most amazing man in the world. Then his tragic sudden death 3 years ago. I have diaries for most of the years in my life except the 14 years I was married to Kevin; my happy and content years. These last 3 years, because of his death, I’ve done more writing in a diary then ever before in my life.

 

What subjects do you write about?

My subjects are about anything and everything but mostly my deepest feelings. I also love writing about my travels, my precious children, daily events, etc. But mostly my thoughts and feelings.

Do you include anything other than writing in your journals?

Very little although that’s one of my favorite things to find when collecting other peoples diaries. When I find bits of ephemera (such as photos, tickets stubs, drawings, letters, notes, etc.) between the pages, it is such an added bonus when reading the authors story. I’ve never done that and I don’t know why but I think it’s because I’m so busing writing that I forget. However that leads me to your next question…

Has anyone else in your family kept a diary?

My daughter Cass keeps a diary and the pages of her diaries are stuffed with all kinds of ephemera and drawings. She’s also a big traveler and she’ll put mementoes of her trips inside her diaries representing all the places she’s been. In fact when my husband died she gathered leaves from the trees and also from many of the flower bouquets we got and pressed them for me. I have pressed flowers all over the house now. I do however have several drawers full of ephemera that I am keeping that I one day hope to put in my diaries; don’t know why I haven’t done it yet. An interesting thing for me to ponder.

What made you want to start collecting other people’s diaries? Did you begin with the idea that you wanted to sell them or did that happen later as you acquired a large collection?

When I was little my mother use to take me “dump diving” or so I called it. I found an old paper check stub and was amazed that it lasted as long as it did. We would also sneak into old abandon houses, or rather she would mostly, and she would tell me the stories of what she found. I was so amazed. Her stories staid with me and coupled with the fact that I wrote in my own diary, I guess one day I thought why wouldn’t old antique diaries survive. That began my interest in searching for and eventually finding “other people’s diaries.” EBay really got me going too because it opened up a whole world, literally, of diaries and they were right at my finger tips.

Are the diaries you have collected historic? Which ones are most interesting and why? And do these diaries go into depth of either emotion or experience? Describe a favorite selection from one of the diaries.

Here’s the part I could go on and on about. Many of the diaries (and letters as I collect handwritten manuscripts too) in my collection are historic but I never purchased them for that reason. When I buy a diary I can usually tell with the first few minutes if it’s going to stay in my collection or if I’m going to sell it. The actual feel of the journal itself, the emotion and depth of the writing, sometimes the amount of writing but not always and sometimes the subject are key factors in my collecting. Date doesn’t really matter as I have diaries from the early 1800’s and as late as the 1970’s. I also have a particular passion for shipping, (as in the sea) diaries.  The 1st one in my collection that comes to mind as far as historic or interesting was written by a young immigrant girl named Olga whose parents didn’t have enough money to raise her and so when she was in her late teens she was placed in a home for “wayward girls” run by a very strict religious group. The diary starts out in the early 1900’s and opens up with Olga’s best friend laying in her lap dying. The friend has taken poison in an attempt to kill herself and sadly she does die. Olga’s entries are so deep and she holds nothing back. It really reads like a movie script. I also have an amazing diary from a young lady who attends the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair Exposition and it’s full of drawings, ephemera and detailed accounts of her trip. And possibly my most historical diary was written by George Eaton who in 1912 was with Hiram Bingham discovering and uncoveringMachu Picchu inPeru. The diary is from that discovery. Then there’s the 2,000+ handwritten letters (and photos) I have from one family that read like a diary. They represent the years spanning 1870-1940 and they are from anOregon family who owned a stage coach line and also telegraph company. I could go on and on and as you can see I’m obsessed with my collection and other people’s diaries. I would say I have over 250 diaries (maybe more) not counting letter collections.

How do you feel when you read someone else’s innermost thoughts? Was that part of the attraction of reading diaries? How have you benefited from knowing the truth of someone else’s life? What have you learned?

First of all I have the highest respect for any and all of the authors I have ever read or will read when it comes to their entries. And what have I learned? Oh my goodness. The most important thing I would say is that real life is so much more exciting and rewarding to read about then any story anyone could make up. And that, no matter who you are, every life, every true story, has fascinating aspects to it and that we all have a story to tell. So many people think they have nothing to share, nothing to teach, nothing that’s worthwhile in their life but that is so untrue. After reading thousands of other people’s diaries, honestly all of them are amazing in their own right.

How do you feel about dividing up all the diaries written by someone over many years? What is your position on that and why?

I hate it. I know that’s a strong word but it just breaks my heart to see a persons life, a person who spent years and years writing down their most cherished thoughts, and then having those manuscripts being split up for monetary reasons. And I say monetary because I can think of no other reason for this to even happen. I go broke trying to keep lots together too. My main goal for selling diaries is not for the money (although it does help of course so I can buy more for my collection) but the reason I sell and share them is so people can feel the way I do when they read them. I could share so many instances where the diaries I sell have gone to wonderful homes and many times even back to the original families. In fact I want to share an email here from a college I’ve sold to for several years now, and I quote….. “We’ve had an incredibly busy fall with classes coming to use our collections, often for assignments. When I first came to the college, we had six class sessions in the fall semester. This fall, we’ve had sixty-seven and a few more still to come, with more than 1,500 students. We’re getting so well-known on campus that faculty come to us now rather than us having to go beg them to come. So the stuff you’ve sold us is getting lots of use!”

I just love knowing that the students and faculty in this college are able to use the diaries I’ve sold as a form of study and I can’t imagine giving them just “part” of the story to study with. When you split up diary lots its like taking a limb from your body, taking a memory out of your mind, the story is broken and historically and ethically it is so wrong to me.

How do you find diaries?

EBay is my main source of diaries now although there seem to be less and less of them out there. I also find them at antique shows and fairs, paper shows, estate sales (rarely) and also have people who know I collect them and occasionally they come to me with one.

Why do you think we should attempt to save the diaries/journals written by the common person?

The internet has taken over the way we live. Not as many people write in journals anymore and “deleting” our thoughts is so easy and they are forever lost. To hold a handwritten diary in your hand, to be able to preserve it for future generations, to experience someone else’s life through their own writing, is so very important in this day where books, paper and the pen are becoming extinct. Reading other peoples diaries, to me, is the closest thing you can get to time travel. Sounds a little goofy I know but believe me, after reading all the diaries I have read in the last 25 years, all of them have taken me back to a place where I long to be. People I would have loved to have met and visited with, traveled with, cried with, laughed with. Diaries allow me to do that. Diaries are who we were, who we are and who we will become hopefully never to be “deleted.”

What You Can Do to Support a National Diary Archive

April 6, 2011

“What can those of us near you in heart but not geographically do to help?”

One of my readers asked this question and I will try to answer it, based on where the archive is now in its formation progress.

First of all, tell your friends about it, especially those who keep diaries.    You never know what connections might be made. If you teach journal writing, inform your students that there may soon be an archive.  If you keep an on-line diary you could ” blog” about the archive.  Everyone who keeps a journal should think about what will eventually become of them.

Assuming you are a diarist, stipulate in your will that you would like your diaries/journals to be donated to an archive upon your death and include at what point they may be open to the public.   If you wish to protect friends and family who are still living from reading what you truly felt about them, then consider stating how many years the diaries should remain closed.  You might allow staff of the archive to prepare them by transcribing them or digitizing.   You may want them to be available only to those visiting the actual location of the archive and for research purposes.   When an archive is opened in the United States, you could specify that archive in your will.

If you keep a diary/journal, give some thought to organizing and preserving it.  (See my post on that subject: “Now Where Did I Put That?”)  At the very least, put your name in each volume and where it was written.  If possible, create an index for each volume, each year, and the sum total of your work.   This will also make it easier for you to go back and re-read, which is an important benefit of this genre… an opportunity for self-insight and depth.

For all who would like to see a national diary archive I would recommend collecting diaries.  It is an expensive hobby so you might think of asking for “handwritten diaries” as presents, as I did.    Becoming the caretaker and  conservationist of someone else’s work gives you a sense of the importance of your own writing.   It might also show you how to improve your own writing.

If you begin your own collection of handwritten diaries you could transcribe them and put them online, or allow an archive to put them online.  The actual diaries could be kept by you and donated upon your death.

If you live near this archive of the future (Fort Collins, Colorado?) you are more than welcome to volunteer your time.

And, if none of the above works for you, you could always donate money.  So, keep watching our progress.

“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?

Whether Weather

February 27, 2011

Whether or not we should bother writing about the weather in our diaries, most of us do.  Whether the weather is a backdrop or an actual character in our writing probably says more about our connection with nature, or lack of anything else interesting to write about.  Unquestionably it influences our daily lives. Weather changes our moods, our activities, sometimes our lives.  I consider it a major player in Fate:  icy roads, sub-zero temperatures, the extremes of hurricanes, tornadoes and floods, create hardship and tragedy.

It is easy to forget how frail we become if we should lose the security of modern technology.  Experience one power outage in the dead of winter and you will have a new outlook.   Become trapped once by a change in the weather and you will be a wiser human.  Battle for your life against the elements and you will test your limits.   I  snort in disbelief when I see college students in flip-flops in sub-zero weather.  How naive they are, how trusting in their fate.

The older diaries in my possession all record the weather:

Josephine Conklin’s 1880 New York diary mentions the weather in the first sentence of every three sentence entry.  9-1-1880: ” It has been awful warm today and I have washed the colored clothes and baked bread…”  And 11-13-1880: “It has snowed some. I have baked pies and a cake and made applesauce…”

My great grandma, Olive Sophia Barnard,  says in her Wayne, Michigan diary on 7-3-1902: “Began raining last night and continued all night – heavy thunder showers, garden and Lena’s place entirely under water.  Cows had to swim on the flats this morning.  Took pictures of river.”

My great great grandma, Pamelia Pattison Chubb says in her 7-17-1873 entry (also from Wayne, Michigan): “Rain with high wind, picked berries made current wine.”  And 5-16-1873: “Rather pleasant but a cool wind, missed our usual rain, water getting rather low in cellar.”

Mrs. Herbert Abbott (I presume), from Coloma, Michigan, says on 6-5-1934: “Still very hot and dry.  Strawberry crop almost a failure.”  On 5-9-1934: “Terrible electric storm before we were up.  It struck our radio.”  Later she said, “got our radio fixed.” On 3-19-1934: “Washed a 2 week washing and did nearly all the ironing.  Quite a nice day to dry them.”

Obviously, in “the olden days,” weather had a more direct impact on a person’s life.  Too much rain or too little could change many things.  Today it is the farmers and gardeners who pay the most attention to the weather.

I looked for weather in my own journals.  Mostly it appears as a mood changer, occasionally as a phenomenon:   5-13-2004 “38 degrees this morning and snow is falling.  It turns to water as it touches the earth.  A quiet morning because of muffled sound from the heavy overcast sky and the dis-spirited animus of the living things.  We all want to sleep.  Zoe-cat is in my lap, croodling.  We are close, clinging against the weather-change back to winter.    On 3-5-2004  the farm was inside a snowglobe, a lovely sensation –  “This kind of snow quiets everyone, like a lullaby.  Even the young males do not race their cars down the street.”

Because I did not start an index until recently I will have to search for the day I witnessed the birth and ephemeral one minute life of a 30 foot snow-tornado only yards from where I stood.  This was a private showing – just between the universe and me.   Or the time it snowed rectangular snowflakes.  Or best of all, the day in Arizona that I saw the end of the rainbow.

I think too much weather can be boring, but how important an element in some  lives.   If nothing else is happening, at least the weather is.

A Criminal Act

February 17, 2011

Since, as with most baby-boomers, my life is already crowded with too much material “stuff,”  I had the brilliant idea this past holiday season to ask for one thing for future “presents”:  handwritten diaries for the archive I hope to establish.    Santy Claws fulfilled my wish with two diaries purchased through eBay.  I mentioned them briefly in a blog.  Shortly afterward, I received an email from someone who had also purchased a diary by one of these women – Josephine Conklin of Mount Morris, Livingston County, New York.

My first reaction was a happy excitement.  We could transcribe the diaries and share.   This was followed by a second reaction of slow-burning rage at the eBay seller.  Why?  Because two thoughts occurred to me.   The owner of the other diary told me that the seller had even more by the same woman.  This means that the seller took the entire collection of Josephine Conklin’s diaries and split them up, possibly figuring she would make more money that way.

I don’t know about you, but as a diarist myself I think this is about the most horrible thing someone could do.   You can take someone’s artwork and sell each piece separately because each piece is a work unto itself, but a diary kept over many years is all part of the same work.   To mutilate it in this fashion is criminal.  Would anyone tear apart a canvas and sell off the fragments?  Would anyone take a book and sell it by the chapters?   A collection of journals is a complete tapestry of someone’s life…why, why destroy it?

It is true that both of the diaries I received were part of a larger collection.

One other thing disturbs me about these eBay sellers.  So many of the ads for handwritten diaries use these phrases:  “Amazing!!,” ” one-of-a-kind,”  “fabulous piece of Americana,” ” private window into American History.”   I don’t know why, but “amazing” disturbs me the most.  Mrs. Conklin was just recording her  ordinary day-to-day  activities.  What was  amazing was her dedication to that,  a point belittled by the behavior of the seller in destroying the integrity of the work by dividing it for increased profit.

Those advertising slogans remind me of circus barkers.  They cheapen the hallowed recording of someone’s life story.   “One of a kind” is also a lie when there is a box-full by the same diarist which are about to be torn apart.  Have these profiteers no conscience?

Favorite Published Diary: A Diary of the Century by Edward Robb Ellis

February 10, 2011

I would like to begin talking about a few of my favorite published diaries.  I think my absolute top choice would have to be A Diary of the Century by Edward Robb Ellis, which contains selections from the diary he wrote for over 70 years.  Ellis was born in 1911 and died in 1998.  He was a newspaper reporter, diarist, and author of several books, most notably on New York and on the Great Depression.  His diaries are now archived in the Fales Library/Special Collections  in New York City.  The published diary is available through Bookfinder.com

A Diary of the Century opens with an introduction by Pete Hamill, whose first paragraph is a simple and  extraordinarily beautiful description of why we write:

“The diarist has one essential goal: to freeze time.  With each entry, he or she says that on this day, a day that will never again occur in the history of the world, I lived.  I lived in this city or that town, upon which the sun shone warmly or the rain fell steadily.  I ate breakfast, walked city streets or country roads, drove a car or entered a subway.  I worked.  I dreamed.  Other human beings said witty things to me, or stupid things, or brutal things;  or I the same to them.  I laughed.  I wept.  The newspapers told me about the fevers of politics, distant wars, and who won the ballgames.  I experienced a work of art or read a novel or heard music that would not leave my mind.  I was bored.  I was afraid.  I was brave.  I was cowardly.  I endured a headache.  I broke my leg.  I loved someone who did not love me back.  I suffered the death of a loved one.  This day will never come again, but here, in this diary, I will have it forever.  Casual reader, listen:  I, too, have lived.”

Pete Hamill has been a novelist, essayist and journalist for over 40 years.  He is also a New Yorker.  (www.petehamill.com)

Although Edward Robb Ellis does not fall in the category of the “common” man and his diary has many entries about the rich and famous, I am drawn to the style of his diary,  perhaps because that is the type of diary I write.  Ellis writes like the reporter that he was – a record of the events of his life, with a background of the history taking place around him.  Unlike a reporter, he reveals his true feelings and emotions about those events, and says things about famous people that could not be printed in any paper.   I am especially intrigued with the deep insights that come to him through the discipline of writing for so many years.

In May of 1932, his elder sister tried to talk him out of keeping his journal. He wrote: “As usual, I’m going to ignore her advice.  What must be kept in mind is the fact that someone should have the courage and integrity to put down on paper all his life’s happenings precisely as they occurred.  It is my belief that the historian of the future will thank me.  In these pages he will not find a record of world deeds, mighty achievements, conquest.  What he will discover is the drama of the unfolding life of one individual, day after day after day.”


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