Archive for the ‘Journaling’ Category


January 22, 2011




“An unexamined life is not worth living,” shouted Socrates.  While I cannot agree with that totally, throughout my life I have felt that a dash of introspection would help others to see, to understand, and ultimately to get along better with the other gorillas.


Most everyone likes that first cup of tea or coffee.   Just that ritual, of fifteen minutes a day spent in silent contemplation of the universe and our role in it, in a quiet corner, in a special chair, with no interruptions, would do wonders for our social interactions.


I began the habit over 20 years ago when my daughter was a holy handful.  I had to get up earlier than anyone else in the household in order to have the peace I needed and the time before work.  Usually I had a cat on my lap and a journal by my side.  After the coffee and meditation I would write in my journal.  I had to get up at 5 a.m. to do this, but as a morning person that was ok.  It was worth it.


Over the years the ritual has changed.  The location, time and duration alters.  My daughter grew up.  I am single.  The cats have changed.


For a few years I sat in the cold of an outbuilding on the farm and wrote in my journal while looking out a large window and being hugged by my cat.  Day by day I could see the changes in the natural world.  It was a Thoreauvian thing to do.  While the people-world moved ever faster, the natural world moved at a snail’s pace.  Thinking and feeling with the flow of nature achieved a balanced centering.  I had time to collect myself and my thoughts.


This kind of daily contemplation is quite similar to the serendipity of journal writing.   Not only do we contain multitudes, as Walt Whitman says, but the modern world has demanded that we assume so many different roles that it is difficult to separate who is “us” and who is “them,” or what we believe and what we are expected to believe.  Journal writing allows us to collect our scattered selves.


Although there has been some ridiculous psychology lately that claims introspection is bad for you I would take the opposite point of view.  Obsessive and shallow texting/ twittering/tweeting does nothing to establish deep connection with ourselves or others.   It is only by stepping back from the crowded room and the saturated airwaves that we may find out who we truly are and decide if our behavior is what we want it to be.  Only by mindful contemplation will we be able to discover the meaning in the events of our lives and come to understand the people in it.

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.”

The Road Not Taken

June 13, 2010

Life has been overfull lately.  Facing financial crisis and surgery,  the madness of spring garden work, and the death of a friend, I battle fatigue and mild depression.  I continue to write in my journal what has been given to me because it overflows the boundaries just as in the natural world the local rivers are breaching their banks.   I struggle to live more deeply by finding meaning in this chaos and to simply survive it by letting it out. 

My journals are not self-improvement work.  Nor gratitude books.  (Though I once tried to write a sentence a day blessing book.)  They are my stories, my personal newspaper, my life. 

Sometimes I think I am shallow not to include more news and world events and  I drag my attention back to oil spills and mass shootings for a while.  Then I get selfish again and think “we have places to write about those things.”  There are newspapers, magazines, books, and blogs for those events, but there is no one writing the story of Cynthia Manuel as seen through her own eyes. 

I do regret not saying more about historic events but I did not begin a diary to record history.  What is curious is my strange selectivity.  At 20 I wrote a silly “creative piece” about the 1967 Detroit race riots as the tanks rolled past my neighborhood.  Did I write about hearing Martin Luther King speak?  The first moon walk?  I had not yet  begun my journal when JFK was shot.  That had a big impact on me but I never wrote one word about my reaction.  During the better part of the sixties I used my journals for creative writing.

At 51 I wrote about the Columbine High School massacre.  Today I neglect to report many shootings.  I am no longer shocked and I don’t know what to say or what I can do about these recurrent tragedies.

I did write about the first World Trade Center bombing and predicted it would be attempted again.  I was effusive on 9-11-01 and predicted we would use it as an excuse to start a war someplace.  

There are two experiences I have had where I very much regret my lack of exact reporting.  What I mean by this is that I feel my diaries would be of  greater value to the future had I made it a priority to record as much  as possible – with precise dates and names and my reaction to events as they unfolded.  

The first is my eight years in Synanon, a drug rehabilitation organization turned utopian community turned cult.  I have letters, diaries and other ephemera from that experience.  All incomplete.  I had no sense at 20 of what an opportunity I had to record the history of a fascinating and unique social phenomenon.  Alas, I saw myself as a participant and not an outside, objective reporter. 

The second experience I missed recording in the same way.  I worked four years in a greenhouse.  Production line to small time manager.  I saw a working class job from the inside.  I saw the truth behind the image of the “green industry.”   I was a careful observer of the soap opera and social politics.   Some of it made it to the pages, most did not.  What if you approached such a chapter of your life as a reporter, an anthropologist? 

All diaries are different, and should be.   I’d like to stir up some discussion and ask my journal writing companions what they think we should write about.  Should we feel a responsiblity to record history or merely personal history?   And for you – what is the road not taken, the writing you regret not doing?

What I Write: Sturm und Drang

May 14, 2010

What I Write:  Sturm und Drang

I’m stumbling around trying to find something relating to diaries that someone might want to discuss.  I’ve been feeling like I’m “talking to the hand” in this blog on establishing a national diary archive.  Today I’ll switch and make this more personal.

I decided to count my diaries.  I hope I found them all.  I came up with 57 books and notebooks, not counting notebooks full of letters.  I began my journal in 1964 at the age of 16.  I’ve heard 16 mentioned by many diarists as the year they began to record their stories.

There were some years I skipped a lot.  I also remember years where I completed a book every three months.  That’s why I can’t buy those beautiful leather bound blank books…too expensive.  Pens…as long as they write smoothly and are easy for me to hold it doesn’t matter what kind.   My journals are all sizes.  Some are on cheap paper, some on beautiful Italian paper.  I’ve pretty much settled on a paper size of 8.5 x 11.  I’ve tried three ring binders and using high quality paper for either a handwritten entry or one composed on the computer, but find it more satisfying when the pages are already bound in a book.  Then I feel like a “writer,” even though it is essentially a vanity press.

“Mon Dieu!,” you might say. 57 books, whatever does she write about?   The emphasis has changed over the years as I go through different life stages.  I suppose the day approaches when I will write about my doctor visits, medicines, and operations.    Don’t smirk, you know you will be there, too, someday.

My journals contain:

Reflections and self-examination


Family, friends, strangers, co-workers

Relationships – love, sex, hate, frustrations


Craziness and absurd behavior  (in others)

My women’s group

The detestable masses

Birth and death


Joys and sorrows – struggling with my dysthymic Eeyore nature

Complaints and rants





Personal stories both common and astonishing

History/sometimes politics

Events in the lives of others around me

Comments on things in the news

Theatre, music, art, museums, shows

My 8 years in a drug rehabilitation organization/commune – turned utopian community – turned cult – were all recorded


Cats, cats, and more cats

Pet antics

Farm stories

Wild animal experiences

Natural phenomenon

Weather (we have a lot of that here)

My beekeeping experiences (39 years)

My gardens


Remembering the past

“Here and now” descriptions of where I am and what is going on around me at that very moment  – all the sounds, smells and happenings

Health problems (oh-oh)

Choices I am trying to make

Ideas (inventions I come up with)

Dreams (used to be in a separate book from the main journal)

Metaphysical events


Close calls – “near death” experiences

Very strange occurrences  (the UFO in 1967)

Book reviews/movie reviews – occasional entries

Quotes (I used to have a separate book for quotes, now I incorporate them in the   journal)

Clippings, drawings, photos

So, what do I write about?  The answer is: just about everything…if it interests me.

As Muriel Barberry put it: “the tumult and boredom of everyday life.”

And you?

Creative Ideas for Journal Writing

May 4, 2010

Some years ago I read a chapter in a book on – shall we call them “unique” individuals – about a man who recorded what he did every minute of his life.   By most standards, that is a bit obsessive, a word he used to describe himself.  I believe this man may have been Robert Shields, who suffered from “hypergraphia,” an overwhelming urge to write.  He kept this diary from 1972 until he had a stroke in 1997.  He died in 2007.  His is said to be the world’s longest diary.  He left nothing out.  His diary is now in the archives of Washington State University.

What about a diary that records what you are doing at the same time every day?  I recall the 1995, independent American film:  “Smoke,”  which the late film critic Roger Ebert called “a beguiling film about words, secrets, and tobacco.”   The main character took a photo on the same street corner of New York at the same time every day of the year and put them all in a scrapbook.    Although not usually so meticulous in time or place, that is what we do when we keep a journal.

In another blog, I  mentioned a diarist who kept a journal of “to do” lists.  Can’t see doing this for a very long time, but it is definitely a creative solution to writer’s block.  I have actually uncovered a few “to do” lists from my past during ephemera archaeology.    Mildly fascinating, indeed.  This is a reminder that mundane minutiae  can become marvelously captivating as time passes.

Making lists is a fun exercise, especially if you are bored with your writing.  Once I wrote “these are a few of my favorite things,” in the back of one of my journals.   I keep adding to that list.  It works well as a self portrait.   Someday I will write a list of my dislikes (i.e. skunk perfume absolutely slays me).  The possibilities for lists are endless:  things you love or hate, hopes, fears, friends, foes, food you like or hate, things you think are erotic, things that repulse you, pets you have had, the many things you have experienced or witnessed in your life (birth, death, nature, accidents, pain, thrills, etc.)

You can write a lot on your memories.  The journal is a time-machine that has already been invented.   Go anywhere in your past that you’d like to go and stay as long as you like.  No need to worry about bringing back a butterfly in the cuff of your pants…or is there?

I am not sure how many creative journaling ideas are completely original because I see the same suggestions over and over again.  There are unsent letters, sketches, doodles, charts and graphs and maps, blessings, affirmations, and character descriptions.  Write a complete portrait of one of your friends or a family member.  I don’t do that very often because the people in my life are mentioned so frequently that their actions become  “character development,”  as in a novel.  I suppose I should attempt a physical description, though for some reason that is harder.

I don’t know that I’ve ever been at a loss for something to say, but an enjoyable exercise for me, and one that I suspect might be interesting for a future reader, is to write a “be here now.”  In that, I attempt to completely describe exactly where I am and what I see, hear, and smell.  I want the future reader to be in the room with me.   I don’t think I’ve ever run across this in anyone else’s diary.

A useful idea I have borrowed from someone else is to think of each day as a basket.  At the end of the day…what is the gift in your basket?  There is so much in a day, even an hour.  The true dilemma is to select.   I love the way we can choose telescope or microscope, cosmic themes or minutiae.

The primary focus of a diary is, of course, You.  And then all things as they relate to you.  The value of a diary archive is in being able to step into someone’s shoes and see life as they see it, to walk a mile in their moccasins.

For more ideas on what to write about see my blog “What I Write: Sturm und Drang” from May 14, 2010.



The Eclectic World of the Diary

May 2, 2010


                               THE ECLECTIC WORLD OF THE DIARY   

I think it should be obvious that there are as many different types of diaries as there are people who write them.  They are, above all, artistic expressions of the self.  If not in the type of diary, at least in the style, they are as unique as the individual who put pen to paper.  Reading diaries and journals you will come as close as possible to reading someone else’s mind or to walking a mile in their shoes.

Certainly what is important to me is not the same for you and what is important to me today may not be so a few years from now.  From a confused college student in the turbulent sixties to confusion and upheaval in my sixties, the chapters of my life include everything from living in a utopian community and cult to milking cows, from teaching to single parenthood, from homesteading to bookselling, from disastrous marriages to love.

 A journal is a continuous novel with only one main character guaranteed from beginning to end.   The theme may remain the same but the other characters shift and the plot and setting may flip like frenetic channel surfing in the soap opera of life.   

Unlike a novel, a diary is written in your “true voice,” which is like the clothes you wear around the house when you are sure no one is going to see you.   A journal can be written with an honesty that is too raw, possibly too politically incorrect, and too self-exposing to be disguised as a writer’s work of fiction.   I have often found the truth to be unbelievable.   At times I have written what could not be printed in the paper.

Consider what a National Diary Archive would contain:  history, social culture, adventure and travel description, religious experiences, hobbies, recipes, nature stories, weather phenomenon, garden notes, teen-age angst, motherhood, parenthood (parental angst), relationships, sex, dreams, art sketches, photos and so on.  The perspective could be emotional, psychological, sociological, spiritual, or historical.   

I cannot imagine a more fascinating library.  Even if I don’t want to read what Julia Child ate in every restaurant in France, maybe someone else would.   

Wouldn’t you think it would be more important for the Library of Congress to want to preserve this than everything  ever said on Twitter?

We need a national diary archive!

March 3, 2010

 In an age where blogging is de rigueur for the young, and we baby boomers are approaching the end of the road, we are in danger of losing an important part of our cultural history: the diaries, journals and letters of the common person. 

As I write this I imagine hundreds of such treasures are being sent off to ignoble graves in the landfills of America, flung in the trash by unappreciative or overwhelmed heirs exclaiming: “look at all this junk Mom and Dad collected!” 

 Many people before me have envisioned a National Diary Archive – a safekeeping place where all those “common” folk (those of us who are not famous) might bequeath their diaries for the benefit or entertainment of unknown readers and researchers of the future.  Who, how and where are the major challenges.    

 Besides acquiring funding it will be necessary to find a location safe from natural disasters, accessible to the public, and suitable for long-term storage.  The archive must be capable of storing the diaries unopened until all persons in them are dead and will no longer be hurt by the diarist’s blunt honesty.  There will be a need for someone to work on cataloging and referencing these diaries for research when released to the public and possibly publishing them on the internet. 

 As you might have guessed, I have a personal connection with this cause and do shamelessly present myself for the position.  I began writing a diary in 1964 and have kept one (not always religiously) ever since then. The more than 50 volumes comprise a large part of my life’s work.  No, they are not great literature.  Neither do I want them to end up as compost. 

 I have arbitrarily chosen Fort Collins, Colorado, my hometown, as the ideal location in the heart of the country, for a national diary archive.  We seem basically disaster free and have a dry climate.

 I believe there is enough interest in old diaries and journals to support establishing an archive.  Recently on eBay a policeman’s log book from 1941 and a teen-ager’s diary from 1905 sold for over $50 each.  A schoolteacher’s uniquely “emotional” journal from 1872 – describing whippings and discipline problems – sold for $378.  One thing to remember is that what is commonplace today will in a hundred years or less become intriguingly, charmingly vintage. 

 Ultimately, we cannot imagine what use these diaries and letters will have in a distant time or what impact the small tidbits or deeply examined lives will have on future generations.  But if we don’t save them now, we will never know.

For comments, ideas, or donations of diaries and journals, contact Cynthia at

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