What Were You Doing On December 28, 1986?

September 28, 2013
There’s been a long hiatus from my writing for the National Diary Archive.  I’ve been struggling to make my used and rare book store a success, and now it seems we’ve been pushed out of our beautiful store by a national pizza franchise.  I am in the process of moving 15,000 plus books into storage…until I sell the books or find a new location.
Here is something that came to my attention recently.  Please consider participating in this project:
“What were you doing on December 28, 1986? Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten wants to hear from you. His next book, “One Day,” will explore an ordinary day in the history of the United States, chosen at random by drawing numbers from a hat. That’s the date he got; it was the Sunday between Christmas and New Years.

Weingarten has collected plenty of items large and small that made national or local news that day, but he would also love to hear what was important in your life at that time. What did you write in your diary? Your scrapbook? What photos have you held onto? He is looking for things that are poignant or revealing or even things seemingly banal or mundane that might later have proved significant to your life, or predictive of things that might follow. If any memories surface that you’d like to share, please pass them along to gene.weingarten@washpost.com. Make the subject line “Dec. 28.” All emails will be treated confidentially, and he will respond to each. By writing to him, you are not offering your experience for publication; anything he uses will be with your permission only.”

This is similar to an idea I had for a journal writing project in Fort Collins, Colorado.  Some cities do a photographic study of “a day in the life of (name of city).”   Imagine if you could get hundreds of people in your city to journal about a particular day…and maybe combine that with a photo-journal of the same day. This idea is free for the taking.  Some day I might suggest it in my city.

Mini Books for Micro Journaling

January 19, 2013

Generally when I write I prefer the broad canvas of an 8 ½ by 11 inch unlined page. You can write, draw, or paste in photos or clippings. But I find the tiny, “mini journals” irresistibly attractive. While my regular journals are inclusive of all aspects of my life, these mini journals each represent a single microcosm.

The notebook with the marbled cover is a gratitude book. As a discipline, I tried to write one thing each day that I was grateful for or admired, one thing that brought joy into my life or that I thought was beautiful.

The red book with the ladybug on the cover has been the start of expressing one “haiku” thought on each page, an attempt to learn to say more with fewer words.

The gorgeous bejeweled book in the center is the book I chose to record the charming things said by my three year old granddaughter. I will do another book for the other granddaughter as she begins to talk.

These mini books are the purest joy to re-read because they filter out the negative. They sit on the table beside my bed. After a difficult day it is uplifting to remind myself of all that is good in my life.

I have started giving mini blank books as presents in the hope that others will be encouraged to use them for similar purposes. I do have other tiny notebooks I use to record things like houseplant and garden notes and the work I do in the bee yard. That notebook is covered in propolis (bee glue) and I must write with a pencil.

When purchasing these mini books, never buy one that has pages that are bound in with glue.   Look for books that are sewn in or all of your pages will fall out over time. That goes for regular journal books, too.

It is interesting that many of the antique diaries I have seen, including my great-grandmother’s and great-great-grandmother’s, were so small that the space for each entry could hardly contain one sentence. Just one sentence can still convey a lot. If you don’t believe me, read haiku poetry.
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Journal as Novel, Part II- Recording and Reflecting on Your Life Story

January 15, 2013

Just read an interesting post from Bob Leckridge on his Word Press blog, “Heroes Not Zombies,”  titled “Plots and Fate” :

Plots and Fate

January 13, 2013 by bobleckridge

“Each of us lives out a story, a dynamic narrative whose only consistency is that we somehow show up in each of the scenes. While the plots line may be unknown to us, there is one.” Creating a Life. James Hollis

“We know ourselves and others through the stories we tell. We create meaning and gain an understanding of the events and experiences of our lives by creating a narrative. And isn’t that quote so true? Doesn’t it sometimes seem as if the only constant in our life story is that we show up in each of the scenes. All of life, the world we live in and experience, is woven into these stories, which always, in some way, contain ourselves.”

I suggest you read the entire blog and see the connections with journaling.  I looked up Creating a Life by James Hollis and that also seems an appropriate reference for those who are recording their life story in diaries.    It appears to have received five star reviews on Goodreads.

 

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


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