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A Hound Dog on the Wrong Trail?

May 14, 2010

                                A Hound Dog on the Wrong Trail?

Of all people, you’d think I would have a treasure trove of old diaries.  After all, I’ve been a book dealer for 27 years.  The number of boxes of books I have pawed through numbers in the thousands.  How many diaries and journals have I found?   None!  Nada.  Zero.  (Not counting the inchoate diary I pulled out of the trash once.)

I am usually at a book sale when “the starting gun” goes off.  As a book hound I’ve been on my hands and knees crawling under tables.   I’ve sniffed through book collections dragged out of basements and attics.  I’ve even tried willing diaries to come to me. 

Like a near-sighted person trying to find a contact lens on the floor, am I looking in the wrong places?  Perhaps I should attend more auctions and estate sales.   Where exactly do you find these elusive things?   Anyone want to share their secrets?

It has seemed to me that there has been a steady interest in journal writing since the seventies.  Art stores and bookstores often have dazzling displays of blank books …even today when I would expect the popularity of handwritten journals to decline as the computer takes over and a new generation of writers is pained by the turtle speed and physical effort of producing readable handwriting.  (Do they even teach handwriting anymore?)   

With all these journals being written – where are they?  Maybe the problem is that we are not dead yet.   We baby boomer diarists are still plodding along happily filling up our blank books.    If we have neglected writing a will with instructions for the cremation or burial of our diaries is it because we are in denial of the inevitability of our death? 

Years ago there was a book dealer who specialized in handwritten diaries and journals.  Today you can buy diaries on eBay.  Obviously, creating a national diary archive will require either a generous budget or some ingenuity in finding the lost diaries of America.  Anyone willing to tell the tale of how they found a diary?

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How Did I Get Into This?

April 30, 2010

                                         HOW DID I GET INTO THIS?

I think it all started when I began to consider the inevitability of my mortality…as in Death, it’s coming.  I marched out and made a proper “living will” for medical directives.   However, my primary will still consists of a few sentences of my final wishes scribbled out preceding each annual trek to Florida via air travel.  Not good enough.  The focus of my concern has always been “What will happen to all my journals…who will get them…will they fall into the wrong hands?”   And whose hands ARE the wrong hands? 

Anais Nin had the volumes of her diary stored during her lifetime in a safe deposit box.  If you hide them then who will get the key, and when?  Do you want your family to read your diary?  Your sibling rivals?  Your best friend?  Your grandchildren?  Strangers?  Who?

So, clearly, this is a question that needs to be addressed by everyone who keeps a diary. 

I had been ruminating on the idea for some time when I read A Diary of the Century, a published selection from the 70 year diary of Edward Robb Ellis.  This is one of the best I have read.  I was mesmerized.    After years of the discipline and meditation of keeping a diary the writer is led to profound insights.   He is highly quotable.  If you haven’t read this book, do so.  Ellis was a newspaper reporter and author of several books.  He lived most of his life in New York City.

In his final chapter Ellis advocates establishing an American Diary Repository for the preservation and use of the diaries written by the common citizen.  Ellis calls it “an untapped body of Americana—the life stories of all sorts of men and women as told in their journals.”  The idea set forth – which I shared – absolutely set me on fire.  I wanted to meet this Edward Robb Ellis immediately, but discovered I was a few years too late.

Nine years followed where I struggled to hold journal workshops.  In spite of decent advertising there has been limited interest. (I may be an unknown, but after 46 years of writing I do know something about diaries.)   This lack of response led me to shelve the idea of the diary archive. 

Then I came across a reference to  “The Power of Writing Journal Conference” held in 2008 in Denver.   Featured speakers were Tristine Rainer and Christina Baldwin, my favorite authors on journal writing.  Impossible to believe, I missed this conference.  Ms. Rainer  also hopes to see a world-wide library of diaries.  Through her Center for Autobiographic Studies she has encouraged me to take up the challenge.


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