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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

A Speaking Engagement for the National Diary Archive

February 18, 2012

A Speaking Engagement for the National Diary Archive

On October 10, 2011 I gave a presentation before the “Auntie Stone Questers” of Fort Collins  about the National Diary Archive project.  There were about a dozen women present.  The focus of their group is on the history, collection and preservation of antiques.   They are also involved in the preservation of historic structures.  Each month a  guest speaker is invited to lecture on a particular specialty within this almost unlimited field.

I began my talk with my own 47 year background in journal writing, then a little about my mother’s, great-grandmother’s, and great-great-grandmother’s diaries, ending with my current interest in establishing an archive.  I illustrated what can be learned from studying old diaries by reading from a few I brought with me.   I talked about some famous diarists and published diaries.   My lecture emphasized why I believe old diaries should be preserved in an archive.

I gave this presentation in a local antiques flea market. Afterward I asked the owners if they had any diaries for sale.  Interestingly, they said that in all the years they had been buying antiques they had never run across ANY journals.  All they had was some sort of accounting book from a store.

Several of the women in the group brought family heirloom diaries and ephemera.  We discussed where you might find old diaries…eBay, if nothing else.

I also mentioned the value of saving old letters, a subject I have not yet covered on this blog.  Letters, I think, are more common in a family’s hand-me-down treasures.   Keeping a journal requires ongoing dedication to a sometimes difficult task, a commitment many cannot make.  Now that we are in an age where letter writing is nearly extinct, it is all the more important to save those old letters we find.

A Somewhat Personal Update

August 14, 2011

Earlier this week I wrote: I am sitting on a bench in my private space under the arching branches of the New Mexican elder.    On either side of me – a cat.  One, my own Maine Coon giant, and the other, my neighbor’s cat who has decided he wants to live here in this cat and wildlife sanctuary.  I am almost hidden by the blue salvia, which is joyously alive with honeybees and butterflies.  To the north I see the fading yellow blooms of the goldenraintree which stands as a sentinel before the jungle of the creek area.  The east is dominated by my neighbor’s towering cottonwood rustling in the slight breeze.  To the south I can hear the invasive cacophony of traffic.  Behind me to the west, the chickens are purring.  It is in the 90s.  I am in the shade.  All around me I hear bird song and thunder.  The storm is going to miss us.  Today I have been pondering the mysteries of life and death, as diarists enjoy doing.  I have been pondering my own uncertain future.  How much time do I have? What can be done?  Am I totally nuts to open a bookstore again in this age where “the book” is dying?  And more to the purpose of this blog: how can I use the bookstore to advance the National Diary Archive?

In March I began 33 days of radiation therapy for a liposarcoma.  By May I was jumping right into work on the farm: collecting bee swarms, growing a huge garden, mowing lawns, watering, weeding, overseeing the help that I had to have this past year.  The entire farm is being painted this summer…a red barn at last!  Not to mention all the preliminary negotiations on opening a bookstore.  Have I given up on the archive? No.  Just put it aside for a while.

Here is the current plan:  I am soon to be moving my in-home bookstore of 12,000 books to an actual retail location.  As soon as it is open I will begin regular journal workshops.  I am considering paying a lawyer $750 to create a non-profit organization.  I will search for a volunteer staff and archivists.  I will then solicit donations and attempt to build this organization.  “If you build it they will come.”

 

 

 

First Diaries Donated to the Diary Archive

December 14, 2010

It is with great joy and sadness that I announce the very first diary that I will put in the diary archive.    The diary measures 3 by 5 inches and the date is 1873.  This diary was written by Mrs. Glode Duggar Chubb (Pamelia Pattison Chubb) of Wayne Michigan, who was my great-great grandmother.    She was 65 when she wrote this.

It would seem there is not much in this diary as each entry is 10 to 25 words long.  Yet it is astonishing how one can get a glimpse of daily life from just that.    Typical of diaries of this age, there is little emotion revealed.  It records the weather, everyday tasks, visits to and from neighbors which were daily occurrences, sickness and death, remedies (“beladonny for scarlette fever”) and the occasional excitement like “depredations” against temperance workers’ homes and a bit about grave robbers.

This treasure has come into my possession because of my mother’s recent death at 95-1/2.  Due to the frustrating lack of communication with her medical providers the family hastily flew to Florida as we could tell she was failing even as they were telling us they expected a return to her former independent living.  My respect for the medical community has reached zero this year. They have a severe lack of  social skills and empathy, not to mention diagnostic skills – even with all their fancy testing.

She died the day after my arrival as I was sitting with her.  That is a profound experience and I am still processing all of the emotions.  All of my thoughts and feelings about death and personal experiences with it are swirling about in my mind.   I wear my emotions on my sleeve.  When your parents die you become an orphan and that takes an adjustment in perspective.

My mother left behind a dozen journals and travel diaries as well as expense accounts,  which will also go into the archive.   I never realized she wrote everything down.   My mother may have been a genius.  Many very bright people, such as Thomas Jefferson,  tend to keep fastidious records.  Apparently she also kept every card anyone ever sent her.  (Note to self: throw out those cards now.)

I have begun reading my mother’s journals.  I am reading in 1939.  She is 24 years old and a young substitute teacher in the Detroit schools.   She taught English, Latin, geometry and algebra at that time.  She writes more than my great-great grandmother, but still few feelings are revealed.  She records when she gets up and goes to bed, meals, what she does all day (teaching, housework, dishes, visiting, shopping, events she attends, playing ping pong and beating all the men, etc.)  She drives, which surprises me.  She mentions seeing certain men that she is interested in.

May 5, 1939: “Parked near his house and talked till 1:10. Fortune teller’s prophecy mostly hospital-marriage.  I think I can love Sid.”   What a thrill.  I know the end of this story.  She married Sid Manuel and they celebrated 60 years of marriage.  They had three children and I am one of them.

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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