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Small Delights

August 14, 2020

If you are like me, your diary entries might read like the newspapers and other media: all the best-selling bad news, all the tragedies, all the wrongs and slights, “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

So I was pleased to rediscover the joy of two small journals I began but never finished.  I think it would be uplifting to try again.  The little black book was supposed to be a gratitude journal.  It includes entries from 2004 to 2010.  I wish there were more entries because there is nothing dark or negative, only happiness.  I quit because it is awkward for me to be “grateful” when I have no god or guide to be grateful to.  Maybe a pantheist needs to simplify to a one to three sentence record of the best thing that happened that day and leave it there.

Some entries:

12-30-2004 “Drove Camel on errands and to the feed store.  He started right up and ran fine.  I loved driving the pick-up again.”

12-31-2004 “Watched the flamenco dancers at First Night.  Beautiful!”

1-13-2005 “I struggled on through with the computer and made a flyer for pet siting.  Hooray!”

4-29-2005 ” M. gave me a photo of the lamb I saved, a mug with women writers, and a book of famous last words.”

1-30-2008 “I enjoyed people’s reaction to my beret.  As always, so many people stare or smile and the men respond.  Everyone defers.  Why is this so?  Why does this hat give me so much power?”

10-18-2009 “My favorite time of the day was sitting in the swing watching the sunset, drinking a cup of coffee after four and a half hours of farm work.”

I think it is quite amazing how much can be conveyed in just a few sentences.  The reader knows a little about me already and about what is important to me, what makes me happy.

Actual diaries from the 1800s, those pocket-size books with about an inch of space for an entry, also convey a lot of information, though not so much the feelings of the diarist.  I.e. “killed three chickens today,” “planted the peas,” “visited old Mrs. Turner,” or “Sally’s baby has colic.”

The second journal in the picture, 3″ by 4″ in size with the beetle on the cover, was an attempt at haiku-like poetic thoughts.  I tried to do one every night before turning out the light.  There are no dates.

Some examples:  “Milo’s eyes twinkled when he saw me.  How flattered I am to be so loved by a cat.”

“Evie tells us: ‘My daddy is the best daddy ’cause he’s soft and cozy.'”

And: “Today I wore the sixties again

Fine in flowing orange cotton India blouse and black pants

Where did the years go?”

And:  “Blond curls. Naked butts. Romping in pool. Such beautiful edible innocence.”

And: “Cat curled on the chair.  Evie pets her, kisses her.  Annie does not run.”

And: “‘Tell you what,’ Evie says to the doll.  Smiling, I see I have been copied again.”

Each one of these short, simple entries, capturing the best moment of each day, is remarkable in the boost of happy memories it brings during today’s dark uncertain times.  It has been like going through old photo albums.  Word pictures.

Beginning Diary #81

May 27, 2020

This is a photo of my diary collection.  My own diaries take up three and a half shelves on the left.    Had I written continuously with no breaks, this collection would be enormous.  The first one I saved was 1964.  I recently began diary #81. When I wrote my first diary I never expected it to be a lifelong passion. Never thought about that at all.

Not shown here are years of letters written to and from all members of the family.  I also keep or have kept gardening journals, trip journals, dream journals, beekeeping record books, movie record books, reading record books, and quote books.  Obviously I am fond of writing things down.  An archivist by nature.

On the right are real diaries written by other people plus published diaries (those deemed “acceptable” to print), books written about journal writing, and a stash of blank books to use in the future.  I study the art of keeping diaries, the illegitimate side of written literature.

I have collected fewer than 25 handwritten diaries.  Some are presents from my family purchased off Ebay.    Even diaries written by non-famous common ordinary people are expensive to buy.  Some of the diaries were written by my mother and great-grandmother.  A very few were donations.

My favorite one was a gift from a friend, picked up at a local auction. It is written by a button collector, but oh there is so much more in that one. She was a character and described her honest feelings about people and events, even when she did not exactly appear saintly.

I write as openly and honestly as I can about people, my feelings, events in my life, my beliefs, animals, books, movies, gardening, my bookstore, nature, phenomenon, and strange synchronicities. Generally, I do not write about politics or world events, unless they touch me personally.  Since 2016 that changed and I have poured my passionate anger into my journals.

I have continued to teach occasional journal writing workshops. If anyone is interested in joining me in the creation of an archive, contact me at The Eclectic Reader at 970-223-4019.

 

 

Not Just for Diaries

May 7, 2020

The National Diary Archive I intend to establish will include letters.  Letters are a different sort of private writing, a more nuanced level of self-exposure.  They may not be written with the desire to reveal much, yet they often betray their creator with impunity.   Everything you write, even what you do not say, brings your character to light.   What does it say about you?  Your choice of pen, paper, even the stamp, whispers truths.

I suppose the level of honesty in one’s letters depends a great deal on who the recipient is, i.e. your father, mother, grandmother, or sister, and, of course, your relationship to that person…close or fraught with tension.

As much as re-reading my journals, I experience the voyeuristic pleasure of reading a stranger’s secrets.  Surprise! They are my own.  Some of my letters contain stories of experiences I had forgotten.  Who can remember 50 years ago?  Now a senior, I cannot reliably remember what happened last Tuesday.

What I do remember from last week is the discovery of a shoebox full of around 50 letters I wrote between 1970 and 1976.  A real treasure!   I am reading about parts of my life that have become dim in memory.   Luckily I come from a family of hoarders of ephemera, who preserved my literary outpourings.

Unless the letters stored in your attic are so banal you would hide from embarrassment, I encourage you to preserve them.  You can make them into a pseudo-diary.  Preserve them in a three-ring binder, or a notebook without harmful fasteners, or put them individually into plastic pockets and then into a binder. Your family, your descendants, may appreciate them.  If not, a total stranger of the future world.

The Gift of Time

April 24, 2020

 

April 23, 2020

Still alive, still healthy, still working (hunkering down in my bookstore…all alone), I have allowed myself to have a few hours of free time devoted to wandering here and there around the home castle and puttering like a honeybee in a hive looking for a job that pleases her fancy.   What’s a diarist to do during coronavirus lockdown besides write about it?  Answer:  re-read your old journals.

Since it was around the anniversary of my brother’s death on my mother’s April 15th birthday, I pulled out this 1998 diary.  Yes, it says “addresses,” but I have frequently re-purposed other bound books.  This one had glossy pages with pictures of horticultural interest.  I am also a gardener and a houseplant collector.

I discover many things when I take a look back at my life.   First, I am grateful for the opportunity to read a portrait of my former self and my life experiences, in my own words, expressed and written when it happened.  Who can remember the past so exactly from memory?  Can you remember what you looked like as a teenager except through old photos?  It is the same with a written record.  Memory changes things, generally a whitewash.  You forget what you said, or did.  You color it brighter or darker than it was.  The details fade.  When I re-read I exclaim “oh,” and “oh,” and I am astonished.  I remember the truth.

Second, I see that I wasn’t such a bad writer.  All journals are “first draft.”  No revisions.  The thoughts spring from deep within your psyche, free flowing, with no censor.  The writing follows no rules as to form or content.  There should be a separate category of literature just for journals.  But there isn’t.  We diarists are the illegitimate offspring of the writers’ world.

My brother died of complications from meningitis overlaid on a lifetime of alcoholism.  He died conveniently on my mother’s birthday as his parting shot.   It took him 55 years to complete death by alcohol and a hedonistic lifestyle.   I laughed out loud at his funeral because the minister (who did not know him) made some mistakes while describing his stellar life. The pages of writing I did about my brother’s death and my feelings about him were the most honest eulogy anyone could have written.   I never hated him.  My love seeps through the writing even though I said some bad things about him.

There were other things in that journal, such as some clear signs that my partner was unhappy with all the work on the farm and would be leaving me for a life of freedom and new horizons.  There was joy, as well.  I re-lived the birth of my memorable buck goat, Hemingway, and his sister, Anais.  (It was a literary names year on the farm.)

The third benefit of looking back in your diaries is you discover the actual date of when something happened.  Now I extract those dates to prepare for the creation of a timeline of my life.  Someday, if I ever retire, I may finish that project.

So, if you are looking for something to do during the pandemic’s “gift of time,” I highly recommend becoming a time-traveler and diving into your old journals for the memories and insights. You will be rewarded.

2014 in review

January 7, 2015

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 8,000 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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

February 19, 2014


DESCRIBE WHAT FORM YOUR JOURNAL IS IN

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

February 16, 2014

DO YOUR DIARIES HAVE A THEME?

 

Probably more theme than they should. I mean I tightly controlled my concerns in the diary and tended to write to them exclusively – the past, family, nature, poetry, ideas, god.

All of this is placed in the day to day life, but eventually my diary got to these and other favorite areas.

I have to say I wrote about what concerned me, puzzled me, angered me, pleased me.

 

Sometimes when I take up an older diary I am absolutely shocked to see how succinctly I wrote about themes that I thought I had only recently explored in my journals. Not only the same themes, but the same incidents and enigmas in my life. Words from discussions, half-remembered incidents, childhood intuitions…

 

It would be fair to say that I had serious concerns that I brought to my diary. What does it mean to have a family/ to fall in love/ to be a good father and husband/ to be a teacher/ to be an American? To be a Catholic? These get worked out repeatedly throughout the decades. Sometimes I wrote better than I knew as a young man; at other times I hit the mark more forcefully in middle age.

 

The existence of God or the absence of God, the sound of God and the silence of God all play a part in my journals. Sometimes I curse the day I ever was taught religion; other days I am alive with the sense of god in all things, all creatures, all time and space. Although I happen to be one I am not often impressed with Christians and their claims of superior ethical and philosophical thinking.

I do like to write about some of the ideas I come across in a month of reading. I mention the names of other writers and books when they intrigue me and I try to work out my own response to their themes.

 

I am an identical twin so there are more than a few pages about growing up in a large Irish Catholic family and having a brother who is a soul mate and also a question. What does it mean to be a person? How does one person really differ from another when they have the same DNA?  Is identity a ruse, a false assumption or is it a separate fate for every living thing?

 

Some of my pages are taken up with the 42 years of teaching I have done. What does it mean to teach? Does anybody really learn anything from school? What is intelligence? What is creativity? What is genius? What is character?

 

I tend to write in an anecdotal way and usually don’t employ academic jargon or any kind of specialized language because I detest it. I try to make everything plain as if I am asking my class the questions that I am asking myself.

 

In truth I can  no longer take measure of the many words I have written. In one sense they are all in the same neighborhood of culture and concern, but I don’t really know what others would see and hear in my words. I am sure they would pick up on things I hardly notice or be surprised how important my questions are to me. I’m not good at giving myself answers. All I can do is carry along my honest explorations from day to day. If there is a clearing in the forest I have rarely found it.

 

I do try to write with humor to break the self-serious tone I can get caught in. Also humor is a way of acknowledging that life is beyond all of us. It is an Irish gift in my family and we all value it.

I have this idea that I am exploring my own human nature in the time I live. This can be tedious but it also requires a certain amount of honesty and courage. I do this not so much by telling everything I did, but rather trying to understand it. Trying too hard at times. Our society is all about winners, champions, the rich and famous, the biggest man in the room. None of that interests me very much. I like the idea of a being a small almost invisible part of the organic world. The private life is nearly dead but I am doing my best to live one with my wife and to find our place in the beauty of ordinary days in the midst of an empire that wobbles from sensation to sensation, bigger than life, and ultimately meaningless. I don’t mind poking along the roadside of my own era looking down at the weeds as the traffic passes.

 


 


 

 

Is there still interest in a National Diary Archive?

January 13, 2014

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

National Diary Archive Update: January 2013

January 6, 2013

The New Year has begun and I am returning to my work on the National Diary Archive which was interrupted by the intense labor of moving and then re-creating my used, out-of-print and rare bookstore, The Eclectic Reader, in Fort Collins, Colorado. In September of 2011 we moved 12,000 books and their bookcases and miscellaneous store furniture into a retail location close to home. It was an amazing transformation from a blank canvas to:”voila!” – a used bookstore. Although it took more than seven days, I am pleased.

You may visit The Eclectic Reader on Facebook.

So this will be the year of setting up the archive. If no one shows up to help, I will do it myself, “begin it now.” My philosophy on this is summed up in this quote cobbled together from various sources, (but definitely not Goethe):

“The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decisions, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”

I am planning to have a website and a non-profit status by the end of 2013. I do not anticipate being so lucky as to have a physical building for the archive unless it’s free. Donations will be temporarily archived either in my garage (where the bookstore used to be) or within the current bookstore.

To start the year off with a bounce, I will be teaching a journal writing workshop on January 20th, from 1-3 p.m. here at The Eclectic Reader followed by a free social gathering for journal writers and a discussion on the creation of the National Diary Archive.

Contact Cynthia Manuel at The Eclectic Reader at 970-493-7933 or bluemoon47@qwestoffice.net

Britain’s Great Diary Project

March 24, 2012

Hang your heads in shame, oh ye Americans! For, this time, Britain has won the race.   They have now established an archive to preserve the diaries and journals of the common person.   I know that this archive has been years in the making.  Congratulations and sincere best wishes for our partner across the sea!

Their website is http://www.thegreatdiaryproject.com

It is my goal to maintain ties with their organization and share information.    Since my ancestors were Brits prior to 1645 (messy little Revolutionary War aside) I am hoping to be allowed honorary membership in their  group.

As described below, the creation of an archive  requires these elements:  “enthusiasm” and involvement  from volunteers interested in the project, a physical location to house the archive, acquisition of diaries, non-profit status and financial support.    It is my dream that someday we will have an archive in the US.

I will allow Catherine Robins to describe the formation of their archive in her own words:

The Great Diary Project Blog

Diaries are a valuable social and historical resource; they offer a window to past lives of a huge spectrum of people, building an image of their lives and the developments which fed today’s society. At the moment these too often meet a wasteful end.

The Great Diary Project aims to stop this by establishing a Diary Repository which will house and make available these valuable commodities.

To do this requires a mix of 1. Enthusiasm for the cause from those involved 2. Finding a home for collected diaries 3. Diary collection and  4. Raising public awareness.

My role is to use social media in order to achieve 4. and so encourage 1. 2 and 3. This blog therefore aims to captivate your enthusiasm through a personal account of the project and so urge you to take a look at our website (link),  like us on face book (link) and follow us on twitter (link) and generally spread the word.

First, a disclaimer: This blog tells the story of the project from an entirely personal perspective; were you to speak to others from the project, you would likely find a whole multitude more of opinions and experiences. This is partly because I could not find the words or space to properly articulate each persons story. But also because I believe in the cliché ‘passion inspires passion’; a personal story allows for proper communication of my belief in and experiences of the project.

Herein follows my story of the Great Diary Project.

October 2009; I am inevitably running late for a final year University class. This doesn’t stop me pausing to listen to a radio interview, then manically googling to find who the speaker was (otherwise known as internet stalking a radio interviewee). The reason being that the topic was diaries, and one of the one of the interviewees (Irving Finkel) was exhorting the need for a national Diary Repository to save this fantastic piece of history.

This ideal resonated absolutely with both my scholarly and personal experiences*;

At the time I was working on my dissertation and essentially it would have been a whole lot easier had I been able to read a few contemporary accounts which told me exactly what people at the time thought. I have also kept diaries since childhood and have wondered of the conclusions which might be drawn about myself and my contemporaries were these found in years to come.

I was hooked. I emailed Irving immediately – probably some nonsense along the lines of  ‘wow this is so awesome I totally agree thanks for being on the radio, great, thanks.’- and fortunately for me he replied. Thus I was involved.

Soon after Irving came and delivered a seminar and a lecture on the topic of diaries at the University of Leeds. With him Irving  brought a selection of his favourite pieces; a diary, for instance, from a train spotter who every day logged the trains he saw, until one day entries abruptly stopped. One can only imagine. A mixed crowd of students, lecturers and friends were enthralled; no one left, even when the refreshments ran out and afterwards people crowded round to ask questions and congratulate the cause.

At a later date I met with Irving in the primary diary store – his office. It was wall to wall, ceiling to floor and every other cliché in between which indicates the room was bursting at the seams with books. It was an amazing sight, but clearly not a viable long term solution.

Between this point and now others have done fantastic and dedicated work. Diaries continued to be collected, a cataloguing system was begun, diaries inputted to this during lunch hours and at home, and a home for the collection continued to be sought for.

Now we are pulling together even more to really push the Great Diary Project into the public consciousness. And for this to work we need you. So I reiterate; we need you to tell other people, like us on face book, re post our posts, follow us on twitter and re tweet our tweets.

And please do visit out website for more information www.thegreatdiaryproject.com

All that remains for me to say is thanks for reading and thank you to Cynthia for very kindly affording us a space on her blog.

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* Referring to the work contributing to a History BA as scholarly may be a tad much but it does make for a nice turn of phrase


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