Archive for the ‘diaries’ Category

Diaries and Letter-Writing in Fiction and Non-fiction Books

January 25, 2014

A guest blogger shares some of her favorite books:

Comments are encouraged.

Dear Diary, Dear Letter Writer

Dear Diary, Dear Letter Writer,

Come.  Won’t you share your splendid book shelves with us? Those dozens of glorious spines silently huddled together, yet, oh, what a wonderful noise their words make when the pages fall open in your hands or march across the screen of your Kindles and Nooks. 

Here’s the book subjects.   I’ll start, then you share.  Good?

Epistolary Fiction.  Diary/Journal Writing Nonfiction.  Letter Writing Nonfiction.

To quote George C. Scott from the movie Patton (but gearing towards the subject typed above, of course) I say full with passion and obsession: “God help me, I do love it so.”

Epistolary fiction is described as stories that are enhanced with the inclusion of letters, diary entries and various fictional documents.  These books tend to be my personal favorites in fiction and how my heart skips giddy when I find another to read!

Possession by A.S. Byatt   tops my fav list. It’s an investigative story by 2 main scholars as they search to uncover  a Victorian mystery- was there a connection between the highly respected poet Randolph Henry Ash and the reclusive poetess Christabel  LaMotte.

My second cherished book is The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova  featuring  yet another scholarly duo as they travel across Europe in search of the next clue to finding if Vlad the Impaler (Dracula) was based on a factual person.

More Epistolary fiction making appearances on my shelves (and Nook) are:  As Always, Jack (Emma Sweeney);  The Wandering Heart (Mary Malloy); P.O. Box Love (Paola Calvetti); The Ghost Writer and The Séance (John Harwood); Letters From Father Christmas (J.R.R. Tolkien); The Map Of Love(Ahdaf Soueif); The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows);The Monsters Of Templeton (Lauren Groff);  Daddy Long Legs (Jean Webster); The Year Of Secret Assignments (Jaclyn Moriarty); Goodnight Tweetheart (Teresa Medeiros);  Frankenstein (Mary Shelley);  Dracula (Bram Stoker)

Diary/Journal Writing Nonfiction makes my hands very grabby. Especially in a library and bookstore!  I do not own many, and I need to reread what I have, but my most recent purchases are Speaking Of Journals by Paula W. Graham.  A packed little book of 15 interviews with children’s storybook writers, their journaling history, and what the diary/ journal meant to them.

Note to Self by Samara O’Shea is not a publication for the faint of heart as she shares rather intimate entries. Her book is an enjoyable read as she imparts her advice in the art of personal writing. Her first book on the market is called For The Love Of Letters.

Other Diary/Journal nonfiction volumes staring out from my library walls are: Writing As A Way Of Healing (Louise Desalvo); Life’s Companion (Christina Baldwin); A Life In Hand (Hannah Hinchman): and a scant 3 issues of the old magazine Personal Journaling.  How I wish I’d overlooked the price tag back then and just bought a subscritption.

Letter Writing Nonfiction to my embarrassment is my tiniest lot of the 3 subjects, but they are no less dear! I’ve just finished a library copy of an exquisite new book on this topic and now my debit card is at the ready!  It’s called To The Letterby Simon Garfield.  He covers letter writers from tablet days to paper; from famous writers to a World War II soldier’s love letters to his girl. And Mr. Garfield delves into the history of the postage stamp, formation of the post office, and the sad dead letter office.  Truly, I’m not joking, you’ll find yourself eager to read it to the end.

 Sandwiched in the shelves as well are: Gift Of The Letter (Alexandra Stoddard) and How To Write Love Letters (Michelle Loveric)

Sharing with you was fun! You have some fun too! What Epistolary Fiction; Diary/Journal Writing; and/or Letter Writing Nonfiction books do you own? Some of us may rush straight way to the library or turn on computers to order a copy!

Kindredly yours,

Cindy

 

Advertisements

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.

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.
IMG_0162

Journal as Novel, Part II- Recording and Reflecting on Your Life Story

January 15, 2013

Just read an interesting post from Bob Leckridge on his Word Press blog, “Heroes Not Zombies,”  titled “Plots and Fate” :

Plots and Fate

January 13, 2013 by bobleckridge

“Each of us lives out a story, a dynamic narrative whose only consistency is that we somehow show up in each of the scenes. While the plots line may be unknown to us, there is one.” Creating a Life. James Hollis

“We know ourselves and others through the stories we tell. We create meaning and gain an understanding of the events and experiences of our lives by creating a narrative. And isn’t that quote so true? Doesn’t it sometimes seem as if the only constant in our life story is that we show up in each of the scenes. All of life, the world we live in and experience, is woven into these stories, which always, in some way, contain ourselves.”

I suggest you read the entire blog and see the connections with journaling.  I looked up Creating a Life by James Hollis and that also seems an appropriate reference for those who are recording their life story in diaries.    It appears to have received five star reviews on Goodreads.

 

The Journal as Novel

January 12, 2013

Is a diarist a “writer”?  Can we say we have written many “books”?  (Don’t they look like books?) If life is story, then are you a novelist?  Possibly a novelist of tedious prose, with far too many details, a novelist in need of an editor?    When you have written about your life for nearly fifty years, as I have, it becomes a sort of opus perpetualis, a never-ending novel, although it will, of course, come to an end some day, and that’s called the denouement.

 

I enjoy reflecting on the similarities and differences between diaries and novels.  The truth in a diary might be stranger than the fiction in a novel.  The protagonist of the diary lives in the ongoing present moment yet possesses the ability to transgress time – relive the past and imagine the future.  A future reader might know the last chapter of the story, even as the diary writer can look back in time and know the outcome of all the choices of his/her past.

 

Although a diary certainly lacks the cohesiveness of a novel, I agree with Patricia and Robert Malcolmson, editors of Nella Last in the 1950s, that “The unifying force in a diary is usually the mind of the diarist …”

 

All the elements of a novel are present in a diary:

The protagonist – complete with flaws (some tragic)

The main characters – family, friends, pets, allies or enemies

Minor characters – side-kicks, cameo appearances, angels and helpers, imaginary friends, antagonists and villains

Plots and subplots – challenges, entanglements, misunderstandings, conflicts, spicy sexual liaisons or tepid dalliances, insights and changes, and possibly the evolving of the protagonist

Settings – what an amazing variety in an average life!

Action and adventure

 

Depending on the unique tapestry of your writing you will either be a fascinating read in one hundred years or mundane and boring.  Who knows?  Who cares?  I write my journal for myself and seldom think about how shallow it might be.  I suppose I should care but I wish neither to entertain or enlighten anyone but myself.

 

My continuous novel looks like this:

Protagonist:  me

Strengths: perseverance, mellow personality, even–tempered, honesty, reliability, courage, knowledge in     certain areas, relative lack of prejudices

Flaws: indecisiveness, slowness to anger or take action, inability to play social politics, tendency to be too diplomatic, lack of energy

Weapons: the pen, determination

Stumbling blocks: often misjudged, seen as a threat, wrongly accused

 

Main characters:  family, friends, pets, boyfriends, husbands, acquaintances, bookstore customers

Various settings:  five states, cities and rural towns, a ranch, a farm, a cottage, bookstores, travels

Antagonists: sometimes those I love – family, friends, boyfriends; renters, technology, machines, weather, predators, Fate, Time, lack of money, cancer

Theme – good question

 

Plot – the protagonist attempts to:

1.  make enough money to live on in a variety of jobs (day care, landscaping, pet sitting, bookdealer)

2. create a wonderful, community-oriented, thriving bookstore

3.  love and support family

4.  grow organic vegetables and beautiful gardens

5.  maintain prosperous honeybees

6.  live a totally conscious life with awareness of and respect for nature and the environment

7.  participate in activities that will encourage community

8.  create a National Diary Archive

 

That’s the outline of my never-ending novel, a best seller for sure.   Comments?  You may email me at bluemoon47@qwestoffice.net

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.”

Anais Nin: A Legend of Journal Writing

September 6, 2011

Passionate, intense, emotional, deep, lyrical, magical,  intuitive, highly perceptive of the subtleties of human behavior, deceptive, sensuous, exotic, erotic…these are all adjectives I would use to describe the writings of Anais Nin, queen of the diary.  There are so many complexities to her life that Anais Nin will remain forever a tantalizing mystery to her biographers, as I suspect she was during her life to her friends and lovers.  One of her favorite words was “labyrinth.”  Nin was a labyrinth! I have read that no one is lukewarm about Nin or her writings.  You either love her or hate her.  Put me on the side of love.

In 1971, in a dusty used bookstore in Point Reyes Station, California, I reached for a slim volume of prose: Under a Glass Bell.  In that moment I connected with the woman who was to become a major influence in the way I thought about women writers and the diary.   At the time, I scarcely knew there were women writers, and I had been keeping my own diary only eight years.

Under A Glass Bell (published in 1944) was an astonishing discovery for me.  Even in 1971, women writers were rarely acknowledged and their work and their way of seeing the world was dismissed as frivolous, rarely admitted as serious literature.  I know because I was an English lit major and we read only male writers.  In a college course in 1968, my textbook of 100 poets had only one woman poet, and that was, of course, Emily Dickinson.

As for keeping a diary, such writing was considered of little merit, particularly if you were a woman, were not a famous artist or writer, and were not involved in a historic event.  Until the early seventies, and the dawn of the Women’s Movement and the promotion of women’s writing, I don’t believe diaries were  even considered a “genre” of writing.

It is still a struggle to find acceptance for this style of writing.  Keeping a diary is frequently believed to be more of a self-indulgence than a serious attempt to deepen life and expand the boundaries of experience.    Just try saying, if you are among a group of writers and are asked what you write,   “I am a diarist,” without being met with a dismissive indifference or superiority.

Anais Nin liberated my thinking.  I soon found her diaries and began devouring them.  I was in my early twenties and I wanted to be Nin. (My own diaries began changing – deeper, more explicit. )  I was most impressed with her analysis of people and relationships and the way she described the nuances of interaction and the layers of meaning in experiences.    Next I read her continuous novel: Cities of the Interior.  In my 40s I returned to Nin and read her pornography, and then Henry and June, the unexpurgated version, (made into a very erotic movie  with look-alike Maria de Medeiros.) Last of all, I read her thought-provoking essays and lectures (she was a popular speaker on college campuses).

I deeply regret that I was never able to meet her.  (I do have an inscribed copy of Cities of the Interior.)  Recently I listened to a tape of an interview she did in 1971 with Studs Terkel.  What a beautiful voice.  There are many interviews available on the internet.

For those already familiar with Nin, I have found A Cafe in Space: The Anais Nin Literary Journal, online.  I think most of her books are available as ebooks as well as real books.

There are websites devoted to Anais Nin quotes.  As a collector of quotes over many years, here are some favorites:

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”

“There is not one big cosmic meaning for all, there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.”

“…Beware…love never dies of a natural death.  It dies because we do not know how to replenish its source, it dies of blindness and errors and betrayals.  It dies of illness and wounds, it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings, but never a natural death.  Every lover could be brought to trial as the murderer of his own love.”

“War is the great pleasure of people whose love is atrophied, who need war to feel alive, who find in violence and clash a semblance of relationship.  Relationship by hatred.”

So, here is my second favorite published diarist, and if you have never experienced her writings before then you are missing a truly unique writer who can transport you to the “cities of the interior.”

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.


%d bloggers like this: