The Journal as Novel

January 12, 2013

Is a diarist a “writer”?  Can we say we have written many “books”?  (Don’t they look like books?) If life is story, then are you a novelist?  Possibly a novelist of tedious prose, with far too many details, a novelist in need of an editor?    When you have written about your life for nearly fifty years, as I have, it becomes a sort of opus perpetualis, a never-ending novel, although it will, of course, come to an end some day, and that’s called the denouement.

 

I enjoy reflecting on the similarities and differences between diaries and novels.  The truth in a diary might be stranger than the fiction in a novel.  The protagonist of the diary lives in the ongoing present moment yet possesses the ability to transgress time – relive the past and imagine the future.  A future reader might know the last chapter of the story, even as the diary writer can look back in time and know the outcome of all the choices of his/her past.

 

Although a diary certainly lacks the cohesiveness of a novel, I agree with Patricia and Robert Malcolmson, editors of Nella Last in the 1950s, that “The unifying force in a diary is usually the mind of the diarist …”

 

All the elements of a novel are present in a diary:

The protagonist – complete with flaws (some tragic)

The main characters – family, friends, pets, allies or enemies

Minor characters – side-kicks, cameo appearances, angels and helpers, imaginary friends, antagonists and villains

Plots and subplots – challenges, entanglements, misunderstandings, conflicts, spicy sexual liaisons or tepid dalliances, insights and changes, and possibly the evolving of the protagonist

Settings – what an amazing variety in an average life!

Action and adventure

 

Depending on the unique tapestry of your writing you will either be a fascinating read in one hundred years or mundane and boring.  Who knows?  Who cares?  I write my journal for myself and seldom think about how shallow it might be.  I suppose I should care but I wish neither to entertain or enlighten anyone but myself.

 

My continuous novel looks like this:

Protagonist:  me

Strengths: perseverance, mellow personality, even–tempered, honesty, reliability, courage, knowledge in     certain areas, relative lack of prejudices

Flaws: indecisiveness, slowness to anger or take action, inability to play social politics, tendency to be too diplomatic, lack of energy

Weapons: the pen, determination

Stumbling blocks: often misjudged, seen as a threat, wrongly accused

 

Main characters:  family, friends, pets, boyfriends, husbands, acquaintances, bookstore customers

Various settings:  five states, cities and rural towns, a ranch, a farm, a cottage, bookstores, travels

Antagonists: sometimes those I love – family, friends, boyfriends; renters, technology, machines, weather, predators, Fate, Time, lack of money, cancer

Theme – good question

 

Plot – the protagonist attempts to:

1.  make enough money to live on in a variety of jobs (day care, landscaping, pet sitting, bookdealer)

2. create a wonderful, community-oriented, thriving bookstore

3.  love and support family

4.  grow organic vegetables and beautiful gardens

5.  maintain prosperous honeybees

6.  live a totally conscious life with awareness of and respect for nature and the environment

7.  participate in activities that will encourage community

8.  create a National Diary Archive

 

That’s the outline of my never-ending novel, a best seller for sure.   Comments?  You may email me at bluemoon47@qwestoffice.net

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

Party of One by Anneli Rufus – Book Review

March 17, 2012

If you consider yourself a “loner,” and I suspect that many of us diarists fall into this category, then I am going to recommend a book that will help you hold your head up proud and banish to the dung heap all those taunts of anti-social behavior.   It’s called Party of One: The Loners’  Manifesto, by Anneli Rufus.

The cover of the book is hilarious – a sheep, standing all by itself on a hillside.  The book is described as “an essential defense of the people the world loves to revile—yet without whom it would be lost. “  “Self-reliant, each loner swims alone through a social world—a world of teams, troops and groups—that scorns and misunderstands those who stand apart.   Everywhere from newspapers to playgrounds, loners are accused of being crazy, cold, stuck-up, standoffish, selfish, sad, bad, secretive and lonely—and, of course, serial killers.  Loners, however, know better than anyone how to entertain themselves—and how to contemplate and create.  They have a knack for imagination, concentration, inner discipline, and invention—a talent for not being bored.”

Loners, you will love this book.  It is definitely witty.  And lyrical.  I see someone else called the writer “provocative and passionate.”  I enjoyed her writing immensely and not just because she was giving the old one-two to negative images of the loner.

A few quotes from the book:

“Because we do not feel as one with others or equate ourselves with others, we suspect whatever is popular.  I am not the only loner who puts off seeing top-ten movies or reading top-ten books.”

“There is simply too much to do alone, no time to spare.  Shared time, while not entirely wasted if the sharer is a true friend, must be parceled out with care, like rationed flour.”

“Spending a lot of time alone is like an accidental meditation. A casual mindfulness.  We do not have to work at this, at observation or serenity.  Any loner is halfway to Buddhism without knowing it.”

“We do not require company.  The opposite:  in varying degrees, it bores us, drains us, makes our eyes glaze over.”

Our loner view of insanity would be: “That talking to others all day is symptomatic of failure to individuate.  That it indicates an unhealthy fear of thinking.”

Rufus writes chapters on the loner and popular culture, friendship, film, advertising, religion, crime, literature, childhood, eccentricity, and more.   She is sharp and perceptive.

At my recent gathering of journal writers we discussed the accusation that one of us spent too much time writing about life and not being with other people.  From a loner’s perspective I would ask “Do we need to spend time with other people?”  (Just kidding.)  From the smidgen of non-loner in my personality I would say “What you need is balance.”  For a loner that balance might be 75%/25%…75 for you, 25 for  social contact.  We must have some connection.   We all need some.  (“All we need is love.”)   We may not need as much as the non-loner.  We tend to be more sensitive to things like the noise and confusion of a party and to be better at observing others and getting in touch with our own feelings and thoughts.  We are not necessarily bad conversationalists but we do make mighty fine writers.

I spend my days talking to people now.  Sometimes talking with them and having great conversations.  I am good at that.  But when the clock says closing time I flee to my private sanctuary on my farm.  I spend my home-alone time with my cats.  They understand.  They have spent the day being loners and when I come back they want to hang out as a tribe.  But they are quiet.  They enjoy watching me read and write, often helping by holding down the pages.

When I write in my journal in the mornings I am actually meditating.  I am meditating about all that I have seen and heard and felt during the day.  I am examining the strange things others do that puzzle and frustrate me.  I am trying to understand life because it is complex and it is not easy.  I am leaving a bread- crumb path for others to follow.

Lifeprints – Joannah Merriman

March 12, 2012

I suspect there are many other ” local” Northern Colorado people who are involved in promoting the creative discipline of journal writing.  I am certain that each has a special niche within this field.  It may be using art to illustrate your journal.  It may be a focus on writing memoir, or coaching, or leading workshops and retreats on reflective writing.

By the way, anyone across the country is welcome to contact me with information on your workshop and I will mention it in this blog.

In my own backyard (Fort Collins, Colorado) we are privileged to have Joannah Merriman, who established “Lifeprints”  in 1985 to promote reflective writing and has continued to expand and develop her foundation since then.  There are many types of workshops available.   One of the awesome opportunities offered through Lifeprints is the chance to go on a women’s journal writing retreat and guided tour of France or Italy.  This year they will be traveling to Provence and Paris, France from May 4 to 20.

For more information about Joannah and Lifeprints go to her website at http://www.lifeprintsjournal.com

 

A Gathering for Journal Writers

March 12, 2012

On January 15, at my bookstore’s new retail location, I held a gathering for journal writers.   To my dismay only two people showed up, although it was advertised through the local paper, flyers, at the store itself,  and on Craig’s list.   I am not sure what this tells me.  There are so many ways to look at this.  The bookstore is still unknown and perhaps I need to establish more social-political ties through networking.

All three of us at the gathering were long-time journal writers: two older women and a man in his thirties.  He had some concerns stemming from criticism that he writes too much.  He works as a teacher.   We talked about balance.  I often observe that non-writers— especially people who do not keep journals— feel there is something harmful about recording your thoughts, feelings and experiences in a book, something loner-ish, as though you are a social misfit.   Au contraire, I think this is a path toward mental health and a form of meditation that deepens your life…particularly when continued over a long time.

Another issue we discussed was whether a diary archive should insist that all donations of diaries, journals and letters should be immediately open to the public or whether a donor could choose to keep them closed for a certain period of time to protect the people written about.   My position is they should be allowed to be closed for whatever amount of time the donor wishes.  There was some disagreement over this issue.

I hope to try another gathering for journal writers this coming year.  The question is whether there are many journal writers anymore and if these are individuals who enjoy socializing or those who prefer keeping their thoughts private.   I personally love groups and conversation.  More on “loners” in a future blog…

Look for future gatherings and check out my bookstore: The Eclectic Reader on Facebook.  Email at nationaldiaryarchive@qwestoffice.net

 

 

Nella Last’s War – Review of Published Diary

February 24, 2012

Nella Last’s War – Book Review of Published Diary

In 1937, Britain initiated an exceptional project: The “Mass-Observation.”  It was created by Charles Madge, poet and journalist, and Tom Harrisson, anthropologist.   The purpose was to “record the voice of the people.”  Volunteers were asked to keep a Mass-Observation Diary.  Nella Last became one of the 500 people who chose to participate.  Her diary was outstanding for its quality of writing and depth.

This archive at the University of Sussex Library is proof of the value of journals written by ordinary people — exactly the archive I have envisioned for the US.  Furthermore, they are sponsoring an ambitious  project that has been going on since 1981 where hundreds of  volunteers write in diaries and produce autobiographical material that will be included in this archive for research and teaching.

Nella Last’s War gives an intimate look at what it was like for a middle-aged woman and mother of two sons in the war to live through World War II.  The writing is exceptionally good.  Like most diaries, it is an “interweaving of her day-to-day life, inner thoughts, general observation and descriptions of contemporary life…”   I admired her spunk and real inner strength in spite of her admission that she did not always feel inside what people saw on the exterior.  I saw the beginnings of feminist thinking in her reactions to men.  She was quite harsh on her husband.  It appears she was the backbone of her marriage.  I doubt he could have survived the war without her.  Rightfully so, Nella railed against put-downs of women as silly and weak.

The supporting role of the citizens of England in the war is an extraordinary sub-plot of World War II.   Nella Last’s ability to survive deprivations and tragedies, get by on less, and cling ferociously to what is good in life, was inspiring.  Her dedication to doing something for the war effort and rallying others to do the same kept her from the depression that destroyed some.

Yet do not think she was an ardent supporter of the war.    Her occasional political remarks revealed much criticism.  Her expressions of feeling about the devastation of War, human and otherwise, the unfathomable waste of it all, were poignant in the face of the endlessness of War that we can see from the perspective of the future.  How many wars have been fought since World War II.

I encourage all of you serious diarists to read published diaries from time to time.  Although you should not compare your journals to an edited one that has been published it will still give you much food for thought.  What is it about the diary you are reading that gives it meaning?  What are the details that you find fascinating and what comes across as a bore?  (Or do you suspect the editor removed all of those repetitions and silly and obsessive little details that most of us feel compelled to write…like the weather or when we got up or went to bed or what flowers are in bloom, etc. )    Does the diarist record great insights?  (Yes, usually.)  What seems to be missing?  And how does all of this compare to your own journals?  Are you motivated to change the style of your writing?

Reading someone else’s work inevitably leads me to reflect on the dual nature of our personalities – our public face and our private one.  There is so much more going on inside each of us than we are ever able to reveal and yet remain socially viable.   I think about this whenever I record an event in my journal and know that if I were to write an article about that same event for publication in a newspaper how much obfuscation of the truth would be necessary.  That’s why I love writing in my journal.  I can tell the whole truth…as I see it.

I have already ordered the second volume of Nella Last’s diary.  Copies  of Nella Last’s diaries may be ordered on Bookfinder.com

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.

Interview With Sally Macnamara, Collector of Handwritten Diaries

January 12, 2012

Not long ago I started corresponding with Sally Macnamara Ivey who has collected and sold diaries since about 1987. She accepted my invitation to be interviewed for the National Diary Archive blog.

I found some of her answers to be very moving.  She expresses beautifully exactly what I feel about the importance of preserving old diaries.  I especially agree with her comments that real life is more exciting and rewarding than fiction and that everyone has a story to tell and something to offer.

Her website is:  http://www.sallysdiaries.wordpress.com  and email: macnamara@wbcable.net.  Her eBay seller name is “diaries.”

Here is the interview:

First of all, are you a diarist and, if so, for how long?  What form of diary/journal do you keep?  (Notebook, bound book, large or small pages.)

I started my first diary at the age of 10. Most of those entries were one liner’s like “went to school” or “went to choir” etc. Later on through my high school years my diary entries became much longer and I wrote on every available space the page would allow. I am now 55 years old and have kept a diary for many of the years of my life. I would say I have over 50 diaries but have never counted them as they are all over my house in trunks, on shelves, in drawers, etc. As far as what form of diary I keep it’s really a variety of different types of journals; notebooks, 5 year diaries and sometimes just loose pieces of paper. I must say a beautiful cover really draws me in and I have several blank journals that I purchased because I couldn’t pass them up (because of their beauty) and they are just waiting to be filled.

If you keep a diary, what are your plans for it after you die?

I have four children (the two younger ones are step children although I consider them my own). Bret is 30, Cass is 28, Reese is 27 and Kera is 25. Although all of the children are so precious to me, my diaries will go to my two biological children because most of my personal diaries have to do with my life before I married my second husband Kevin. I believe Cass is the one who knows her moms deepest thoughts and because she is also keeping a diary, I feel she would cherish and understand them the most.

 

What would you say is the purpose of your writing?

I’ve always had this deep desire and need to write down my thoughts and a few years back I had an epiphany about my journaling. I seem to write more often during my times of difficulty and sorrow. Sadly my life has been very difficult since I was a little girl and without getting too deep (and too long winded) my childhood was that of neglect (putting it lightly). Then my 1st marriage, which was to a rock musician, was that of unfaithfulness on his part, then my divorce from that 14 year marriage, the recovery and finally my 2nd marriage to Kevin, who in my eyes was the most amazing man in the world. Then his tragic sudden death 3 years ago. I have diaries for most of the years in my life except the 14 years I was married to Kevin; my happy and content years. These last 3 years, because of his death, I’ve done more writing in a diary then ever before in my life.

 

What subjects do you write about?

My subjects are about anything and everything but mostly my deepest feelings. I also love writing about my travels, my precious children, daily events, etc. But mostly my thoughts and feelings.

Do you include anything other than writing in your journals?

Very little although that’s one of my favorite things to find when collecting other peoples diaries. When I find bits of ephemera (such as photos, tickets stubs, drawings, letters, notes, etc.) between the pages, it is such an added bonus when reading the authors story. I’ve never done that and I don’t know why but I think it’s because I’m so busing writing that I forget. However that leads me to your next question…

Has anyone else in your family kept a diary?

My daughter Cass keeps a diary and the pages of her diaries are stuffed with all kinds of ephemera and drawings. She’s also a big traveler and she’ll put mementoes of her trips inside her diaries representing all the places she’s been. In fact when my husband died she gathered leaves from the trees and also from many of the flower bouquets we got and pressed them for me. I have pressed flowers all over the house now. I do however have several drawers full of ephemera that I am keeping that I one day hope to put in my diaries; don’t know why I haven’t done it yet. An interesting thing for me to ponder.

What made you want to start collecting other people’s diaries? Did you begin with the idea that you wanted to sell them or did that happen later as you acquired a large collection?

When I was little my mother use to take me “dump diving” or so I called it. I found an old paper check stub and was amazed that it lasted as long as it did. We would also sneak into old abandon houses, or rather she would mostly, and she would tell me the stories of what she found. I was so amazed. Her stories staid with me and coupled with the fact that I wrote in my own diary, I guess one day I thought why wouldn’t old antique diaries survive. That began my interest in searching for and eventually finding “other people’s diaries.” EBay really got me going too because it opened up a whole world, literally, of diaries and they were right at my finger tips.

Are the diaries you have collected historic? Which ones are most interesting and why? And do these diaries go into depth of either emotion or experience? Describe a favorite selection from one of the diaries.

Here’s the part I could go on and on about. Many of the diaries (and letters as I collect handwritten manuscripts too) in my collection are historic but I never purchased them for that reason. When I buy a diary I can usually tell with the first few minutes if it’s going to stay in my collection or if I’m going to sell it. The actual feel of the journal itself, the emotion and depth of the writing, sometimes the amount of writing but not always and sometimes the subject are key factors in my collecting. Date doesn’t really matter as I have diaries from the early 1800’s and as late as the 1970’s. I also have a particular passion for shipping, (as in the sea) diaries.  The 1st one in my collection that comes to mind as far as historic or interesting was written by a young immigrant girl named Olga whose parents didn’t have enough money to raise her and so when she was in her late teens she was placed in a home for “wayward girls” run by a very strict religious group. The diary starts out in the early 1900’s and opens up with Olga’s best friend laying in her lap dying. The friend has taken poison in an attempt to kill herself and sadly she does die. Olga’s entries are so deep and she holds nothing back. It really reads like a movie script. I also have an amazing diary from a young lady who attends the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair Exposition and it’s full of drawings, ephemera and detailed accounts of her trip. And possibly my most historical diary was written by George Eaton who in 1912 was with Hiram Bingham discovering and uncoveringMachu Picchu inPeru. The diary is from that discovery. Then there’s the 2,000+ handwritten letters (and photos) I have from one family that read like a diary. They represent the years spanning 1870-1940 and they are from anOregon family who owned a stage coach line and also telegraph company. I could go on and on and as you can see I’m obsessed with my collection and other people’s diaries. I would say I have over 250 diaries (maybe more) not counting letter collections.

How do you feel when you read someone else’s innermost thoughts? Was that part of the attraction of reading diaries? How have you benefited from knowing the truth of someone else’s life? What have you learned?

First of all I have the highest respect for any and all of the authors I have ever read or will read when it comes to their entries. And what have I learned? Oh my goodness. The most important thing I would say is that real life is so much more exciting and rewarding to read about then any story anyone could make up. And that, no matter who you are, every life, every true story, has fascinating aspects to it and that we all have a story to tell. So many people think they have nothing to share, nothing to teach, nothing that’s worthwhile in their life but that is so untrue. After reading thousands of other people’s diaries, honestly all of them are amazing in their own right.

How do you feel about dividing up all the diaries written by someone over many years? What is your position on that and why?

I hate it. I know that’s a strong word but it just breaks my heart to see a persons life, a person who spent years and years writing down their most cherished thoughts, and then having those manuscripts being split up for monetary reasons. And I say monetary because I can think of no other reason for this to even happen. I go broke trying to keep lots together too. My main goal for selling diaries is not for the money (although it does help of course so I can buy more for my collection) but the reason I sell and share them is so people can feel the way I do when they read them. I could share so many instances where the diaries I sell have gone to wonderful homes and many times even back to the original families. In fact I want to share an email here from a college I’ve sold to for several years now, and I quote….. “We’ve had an incredibly busy fall with classes coming to use our collections, often for assignments. When I first came to the college, we had six class sessions in the fall semester. This fall, we’ve had sixty-seven and a few more still to come, with more than 1,500 students. We’re getting so well-known on campus that faculty come to us now rather than us having to go beg them to come. So the stuff you’ve sold us is getting lots of use!”

I just love knowing that the students and faculty in this college are able to use the diaries I’ve sold as a form of study and I can’t imagine giving them just “part” of the story to study with. When you split up diary lots its like taking a limb from your body, taking a memory out of your mind, the story is broken and historically and ethically it is so wrong to me.

How do you find diaries?

EBay is my main source of diaries now although there seem to be less and less of them out there. I also find them at antique shows and fairs, paper shows, estate sales (rarely) and also have people who know I collect them and occasionally they come to me with one.

Why do you think we should attempt to save the diaries/journals written by the common person?

The internet has taken over the way we live. Not as many people write in journals anymore and “deleting” our thoughts is so easy and they are forever lost. To hold a handwritten diary in your hand, to be able to preserve it for future generations, to experience someone else’s life through their own writing, is so very important in this day where books, paper and the pen are becoming extinct. Reading other peoples diaries, to me, is the closest thing you can get to time travel. Sounds a little goofy I know but believe me, after reading all the diaries I have read in the last 25 years, all of them have taken me back to a place where I long to be. People I would have loved to have met and visited with, traveled with, cried with, laughed with. Diaries allow me to do that. Diaries are who we were, who we are and who we will become hopefully never to be “deleted.”

Anais Nin: A Legend of Journal Writing

September 6, 2011

Passionate, intense, emotional, deep, lyrical, magical,  intuitive, highly perceptive of the subtleties of human behavior, deceptive, sensuous, exotic, erotic…these are all adjectives I would use to describe the writings of Anais Nin, queen of the diary.  There are so many complexities to her life that Anais Nin will remain forever a tantalizing mystery to her biographers, as I suspect she was during her life to her friends and lovers.  One of her favorite words was “labyrinth.”  Nin was a labyrinth! I have read that no one is lukewarm about Nin or her writings.  You either love her or hate her.  Put me on the side of love.

In 1971, in a dusty used bookstore in Point Reyes Station, California, I reached for a slim volume of prose: Under a Glass Bell.  In that moment I connected with the woman who was to become a major influence in the way I thought about women writers and the diary.   At the time, I scarcely knew there were women writers, and I had been keeping my own diary only eight years.

Under A Glass Bell (published in 1944) was an astonishing discovery for me.  Even in 1971, women writers were rarely acknowledged and their work and their way of seeing the world was dismissed as frivolous, rarely admitted as serious literature.  I know because I was an English lit major and we read only male writers.  In a college course in 1968, my textbook of 100 poets had only one woman poet, and that was, of course, Emily Dickinson.

As for keeping a diary, such writing was considered of little merit, particularly if you were a woman, were not a famous artist or writer, and were not involved in a historic event.  Until the early seventies, and the dawn of the Women’s Movement and the promotion of women’s writing, I don’t believe diaries were  even considered a “genre” of writing.

It is still a struggle to find acceptance for this style of writing.  Keeping a diary is frequently believed to be more of a self-indulgence than a serious attempt to deepen life and expand the boundaries of experience.    Just try saying, if you are among a group of writers and are asked what you write,   “I am a diarist,” without being met with a dismissive indifference or superiority.

Anais Nin liberated my thinking.  I soon found her diaries and began devouring them.  I was in my early twenties and I wanted to be Nin. (My own diaries began changing – deeper, more explicit. )  I was most impressed with her analysis of people and relationships and the way she described the nuances of interaction and the layers of meaning in experiences.    Next I read her continuous novel: Cities of the Interior.  In my 40s I returned to Nin and read her pornography, and then Henry and June, the unexpurgated version, (made into a very erotic movie  with look-alike Maria de Medeiros.) Last of all, I read her thought-provoking essays and lectures (she was a popular speaker on college campuses).

I deeply regret that I was never able to meet her.  (I do have an inscribed copy of Cities of the Interior.)  Recently I listened to a tape of an interview she did in 1971 with Studs Terkel.  What a beautiful voice.  There are many interviews available on the internet.

For those already familiar with Nin, I have found A Cafe in Space: The Anais Nin Literary Journal, online.  I think most of her books are available as ebooks as well as real books.

There are websites devoted to Anais Nin quotes.  As a collector of quotes over many years, here are some favorites:

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”

“There is not one big cosmic meaning for all, there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.”

“…Beware…love never dies of a natural death.  It dies because we do not know how to replenish its source, it dies of blindness and errors and betrayals.  It dies of illness and wounds, it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings, but never a natural death.  Every lover could be brought to trial as the murderer of his own love.”

“War is the great pleasure of people whose love is atrophied, who need war to feel alive, who find in violence and clash a semblance of relationship.  Relationship by hatred.”

So, here is my second favorite published diarist, and if you have never experienced her writings before then you are missing a truly unique writer who can transport you to the “cities of the interior.”


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