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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.”

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?

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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