Archive for the ‘Does journal writing change your life?’ Category

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 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

 

 

 


 


 

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

 

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.

Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists

January 12, 2014

                                     Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists

Quite some time ago I promised to write up a questionnaire/interview form for those diarists who have kept a journal for a long time.  So here are thirty-six questions I would like to ask.

First, I guess we need to define what “a long time” means.  Five years?  Ten?  25 or 50?  Although I am not opposed to ANYONE answering these questions, I would personally suggest ten years.  I am just beginning my 50th year.

When did you begin your diary and why?

Did you know back then that you would be doing this for a long time?

Why do you keep on writing?  Do you think you will ever stop?

Has anyone else in your family kept a diary?

What is your current occupation? Past occupations?

What do you write about and has that changed over the years?

Who do you write about?

Do you record nature? Colors, sound, tastes, tactile sensations?

Do you record intimate details of relationships or sexual experiences?

Do you write about coincidences/synchronicities, “miracles,” mysteries, dreams?

Does your diary have a theme, i.e. your religious or spiritual growth, your development as a dancer or musician?

Was it to record a military experience, parenting, or some other important time in your life?

Do you use your diary creatively to record ideas for future writing or sketches for art projects?

Do you include more than writing, such as photos, sketches, clippings, etc.?

Describe what form your journal is in: bound book (large or small), notebook, on the computer

Is your journal handwritten or typed? Pencil or pen?

What do you enjoy writing about the most?

Have you ever neglected to write about important historical events that happened?

Do you always tell the truth?

Are you embarrassed about anything you wrote about?  Have you torn out pages?

What is the tone of your writing – social, psychological, philosophical, historical?

Has this changed over the years?

Is your style flowery, poetic, elliptical, cut and dried, verbose, descriptive?

Are you obsessive about writing every day or about recording certain details?

Have you had breaks in your writing and, if so, for how long?

What time/place do you like to write?  Does that change?

What is the most surprising thing you learned about yourself?

Has keeping a journal changed you? How?

Do you like to re-read your journal?

Do you have favorite entries?

Was there anything you did not record which you wished you had?

Who would you allow to read it?

Who should not 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?

Do you enjoy reading published diaries of other people?

Do you collect diaries?

Any further comments:

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This questionnaire is open to everyone.  I will publish my own answers soon.  You may respond via “comments,” but I think it will work best if you email your answers to me and then tell me if you wish your answers to be private, or if it is all right to publish them with just your first name or with your email address.  If you have questions, email me at: cynthiamanuel22@gmail.com.

The Art of Slogging Through the Downpour

September 1, 2010

In the beginning there was no particular plan.   I cannot remember being inspired by any person or event to keep a journal.  Although I tried keeping a diary in 1959, my oldest existing journal is from 1964.  I was 16.  It mentions school, friends, special events and horseback riding lessons.  Nothing exceptional. 

By 1968, when I had dreams of becoming a writer, my journal turned toward practice in creative writing.  Important events were happening in the world which were ignored in my journal. 

By the early 70s I was beginning to write about relationships and the entries had more depth and insight.  I recorded a variety of experiences I had while working on a ranch.  I was struggling to find my place in the world, my “work,” and to find the right man.    There was much inner turmoil while the place I lived was a tempest of a social environment.

After 46 years of writing, the journal has become almost a living entity, a companion of sorts.  My relationship to it has changed as I have changed.  The focus of the journal has shifted as the stages of my life have progressed.   Marriage and child-bearing are no longer even an idle thought.  Companionship and grandparenting have taken the frontline.  Relationships still predominate.    The world is the tempest. 

How Has My Relationship With My Journal Helped Me?…

The journal shows me who I was and who I am now and traces the paths I chose.   Looking back is like seeing a photo of that gangly kid in the mismatched clothes sitting proudly on the new bike.   Embarassing.  Poignant.

Re-reading helps integrate my life into a whole.   I love re-reading.  The journal has provided a “photograph” of my past, preserving both  the best and the worst moments.  To erase the sad times and the battles also erases the journey.  To suck all the marrow from life you must savor the full spectrum of your experience.  At the end you can say “I have suffered and come through”…lending meaning to the pain.

The act of writing has been an anchor during stressful experiences and a soothing meditation during the blues.   If I feel shattered, the simple act of moving my pen across the page represents a going forward.  Shaping an experience into words can organize my thinking and allow clarity and insights.  It can vent and deflate anger.

The journal can be an escape (only if it replaces action), but it also allows one to live more deeply.

Has my journal  really changed anything in my life?  Yes, I think it has a couple of times.  When I lived in a communal society – which evolved into a cult – my diary and letters allowed me to voice “negative thoughts” that were not allowed public expression and to retain a clandestine critical thinking  that was necessary for my eventual escape.   

A similar experience happened during a tragically wrong marriage when I was fooled into thinking my husband was what he was not.    The journal told the complete story and helped me survive this dark episode. 

Has writing in a journal made me a better person?  Can’t say.  I have had the same moral code of honor for as long as I can remember. 

Will it be of value to anyone else someday?  Can’t say. 

Mostly it has given me the opportunity to say “I  have lived, and this is my story, and these are the characters and the events of my life.”


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