Posts Tagged ‘American diaries’

Answer 4 (Part VII) Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists: Barry

February 28, 2014

Introductory comments from Cynthia Manuel:  As a long-time book dealer, I have rather liked the fanciful notion  that the books on the shelves of my bookstore are actually “minds on shelves.”  “So many minds to explore, so little time,” to paraphrase a modern aphorism.  Non-fiction is my favorite, biographies especially, but nothing holds the fascination like a published diary if you truly want a glimpse into the mind of the writer as he or she  experiences “life’s ordinary hours.”    Barry writes “it opened up history and literature in ways I hadn’t experienced before.”  Exactly so.

In this installment, Barry answers the question: DO YOU ENJOY READING PUBLISHED DIARIES OF OTHERS?

I was an undergraduate reading from the Norton Book of American Literature when I first learned about published diaries. Until that time I thought a diary was a book that girls kept under lock and key to confide their crushes on neighborhood boys. I would love to read such diaries today, but when I was a young man I thought literature should be serious and boring. Filled with grand thoughts and abstruse reflections.

 

That is until I came upon the diaries of the puritan Samuel Sewell. He was a puritan merchant who kept account of his days and years during the colonial period in Massachusetts. Sewell’s diary was hardly exciting but it did capture something I hadn’t yet found in literature – the texture of daily life written by a person for himself.  It opened up history and literature in ways I hadn’t experienced before. It was refreshingly down to earth after pages of overwrought sermons and pious poetry. Here was a man who just lived his way into literature. In the same anthology I ran across the Quaker diary of John Woolman and was very touched by his gentle childhood reminiscences, especially the passages where he thoughtlessly killed a robin and the pangs of remorse he felt. Why did these excerpts speak so forcefully to me, instead of the great literature that often left me cold?

 

After I graduated college and began my own education I found the books of Edwin Teale, a Connecticut nature writer who kept tracks of the seasons in two wonderfully vivid diaries of every day observations. The writer Hal Borland did the same thing with his journal entries on nature published in the NYTimes. They were both older writers when I first discovered them but I had immediate affinity with their work. I’ve gone on to explore the nature writers who use the diary form to organize their observations. Right now I am reading Sue Hubbell,s “A Country Year” another little gem in diary form.

 

As a young teacher I was assigned to teach The Diary of Anne Frank. I had never read it before so I set out to work. It left a lasting and profound impression on me — this young girl in a garret hiding from the Nazi bullies. She was so filled with life, even in her closed space of innocence and terror. Although I have never reread it, her diary haunts my imagination and sense of life. She is the shadow of time and cruelty that motivate my own words. Her great courage is my small courage. There have been countless books written about WW2 but none have the poignance of her little book. Diaries often capture the human and the humane as well as any great literature can.

 

One of my favorite diaries is Walt Whitman’s Specimen Days, a record of his visits to Civil War hospitals, and of his later days enjoying the woods in his Camden neighborhood. Actually he wrote them as notes which he put in journal form, but there is really no difference to the reader. Whitman also coined one of my mantras when he wrote that so few of life’s ordinary hours are recorded in literature and he hoped to do just that.

 

I also discovered that many of our greatest writers kept great journals. You will never read anything richer than Nathaniel Hawthorne’s diary entries about his young marriage to Sophie Peabody and his “Mosses from an Old Manse” is really a diary disguised as an essay. Joyce Carol Oates published a diary. Not very revealing except of her extraordinary intelligence and amazing work habits. A poet named Howard Nemerov published one of the strangest diaries I ever read and called it a novel. Thornton Wilder has an intriguing and brilliant diary. When you get inside some of the great minds in our culture it is a shock and a privilege to enter the sanctuary of genius.

 

But I take as much pleasure in less high flying literary performances.

 


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Answer 4 (Part VI) Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists: Barry

February 24, 2014

A fundamental question that might be asked regarding the value of keeping a journal is whether, in some way, the time and effort put into the writing has been worth it.  Has the introspection led to inward or outward changes in how you see yourself or your friends and the world you live in.   I would prefer that the diarist answer this instead of the future reader.

Even the diary on its most basic level – a record of data, (whether it is the weather, a farm or garden record book, or your activities of the day)  has value to the person keeping it.   We should not presume to judge.

On the deepest level – keeping an introspective journal – one could hope that there might be a spiritual growth, an increased awareness, a personal change for the better.

Here are Barry’s musings on the subject:

HAS KEEPING A JOURNAL CHANGED YOU?

 

Diaries and journals tend to be works of privacy and to some extent introspection. I tend toward introspection in my journals, but I realize that diaries can range from a list of simple dates  — to confidential and even scandalous confessions —  to a  record of everyday wonder and obligation in life.

I’ve read diaries by published and famous writers and diaries by people who led private lives. I’m not sure there is a self-awareness component in journals. Some people seem horribly deluded about themselves in their writing, and some seem very aware of their conflicts. Some diaries are filled with vanity and the most wrong -headed thinking you can possible imagine. Some are chatty and busy. I guess mine is more philosophical and literary, but written clearly in a common language.

 

Sometimes I think that the best diarists have already hardened into selfhood and meet the world by bumping into surfaces unlike their own. By that I mean that there may not be a record of change in personal diaries, but just the opposite – personalities that have taken a stand where they are and want to report from that vantage point. I am here –the rest of the world is there. How do we intersect, or why do we fail to intersect? Diarists may have problems with self-definition or they simply feel outshouted in a culture of exhibitionists and loud mouths.

 

I have no doubt that I use my journals to drop in on myself and listen to what I have to say. In this sense I monitor my personality. This is easiest for me to do in looking back at older journals rather than seeing patterns in every day entries. I work hardest at establishing emotional intimacy in my diaries. That has been the toughest thing for me to do—to face my truest and sometimes ugliest feelings on the page. At least that is how I feel when I write. It may not be what others see in my writing. Just the act of consciousness to sit down to keep a journal requires a certain periphery of self and world. I have my say in this way.

 

When I was in my late 30s I did the ultimate amount of self-searching with three years of psycho-therapy on the old Freudian couch three times a week. In many ways it was like keeping an oral journal because you have to hear your own voice and listen to what you say and how you say it. In this sense my journal has taught me to know myself and sometimes to wince at what I know. Did I write journals because I was changing, or did I keep them because I refused to change, at least the essential understandings of who I was and what motivated me. No easy task whether you are in therapy or you are opening a blank book to try to capture something about your life. It can be a terrifying ordeal to write from the heart. As I age and write more often I feel less anxious and uptight in front of a blank page.

 

When I read my journals I am tempted to say there is no self-knowledge — no matter how honest we attempt to be. Life is filled with surprises that candor itself can’t improve upon. What does this mean? To me it means that I don’t know whether I captured a life in motion or frittered one away at my desk. Did I write because I wanted to change or because I wanted to have it all my way in the department of final judgments?

 

On the other hand I can’t deny that spending so much time in my books has made me more careful with words and more aware of how cruel we can be in everyday life, cruel, self-centered,  judgmental. To this extent I have tried to learn from my limitations, especially in regard to  my loving wife. I learned to love much later than I should have, or maybe I always knew how to love but didn’t know how to say it. The words eventually came to me but it wasn’t the words that were important, but rather the disposition, woven of language, that what we think about ourselves and others determines how we look at the world we are describing.

 

Did I find myself in a diary or did I invent myself in my diary? Or did I transcribe a soul as well as I could? Some of each I am sure.

 

DO YOU REREAD YOUR JOURNALS?

 

Always.

Looking for signs of life, sparks of creativity.

More so now than ever. Not because I admire myself but because I am  my own most important writer. I need other writers in my life, but I have learned to value myself. I’m not sure this is an ego thing. If I come across a passage I think is well written, I am actually surprised that I wrote it. Then I doubt it is any good anyway. There is pleasure for me in words. When I use them well I feel as if I made something beautiful the way my carpenter grandfather used to. I had no such talent. For years I thought I had no gifts at all.

 

In reading my own work it is a way of saying to myself, I’M HERE.

For some reason this is important to me. Yes I lived those days, yes I thought those thoughts; yes I survived this and that; yes I laughed hard and ate well and loved my life.

 

SURPRISE SURPRISE. I WAS HERE TOO WITH THE GREAT POETS AND THE GREAT WRITERS AND THE GREAT STATESMAN. THIS IS MY OWN SMALL SONG. MY CRICKET CHIRP.

 

I also read to  see if I can learn something about my own writing. How to do something better. I’m not sure this is possible but I try.

As an introvert I guess I like my own company.

 

 

 

 

Answer #4 (Part V) Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists: Barry

February 23, 2014

We are on to part V of Barry’s answers to the questionnaire.  One more to go for now.  I particularly agree with his statement:  “What I discovered was that I was only truly myself as a writer when I wrote for myself in the journal form.”

I have repeatedly said that journal writing is the only truly free form of writing.  You can break all the rules.  You can say anything you want about anything you want.  (You can’t do that in a newspaper.)  You can change your style.    You can be trivial or profound.

I can appreciate Barry’s answer to this question:

DO YOU TELL THE TRUTH?                If I knew it I would love to tell it.

 

HAVE YOU TAKEN BREAKS IN YOUR WRITING? 

Yes, between the ages of 30 and 50 I kept journals but spent more time trying to write other things for possible publication. I did write a newspaper column in my town paper, just stories about growing up Catholic in the 1950s. This went on for 25 years. When I gave it up at 50, I was glad to be done with it. And from then on I wrote only for myself. I wanted to lift the restrictions that a small town newspaper obviously imposed on a writer. But I wasn’t a professional. I was a school teacher with a typewriter.

 

I also believe that at this time when I no longer kept faithful diaries I was in too much confusion to have the kind of perspective that good journal writers need. I wouldn’t have been able to understand or write down what was happening to me. I was overwhelmed with life itself and I felt an intense drama and lyricism that I lacked the art to put on the page. It would have been a feast for another kind of writer but not for me. I scribbled on a lot of pages that I literally can’t even read today. The confusion in my mind is evident on the scrawled page.

 

What I discovered was that I was only truly myself as a writer when I wrote for myself in the journal form. I tried my hand at a novel, at short stories, at poetry, but it always felt as if I were trying to write like someone else to some prescribed notion of acceptable literature. My stomach churned and I felt outside myself in an unpleasant way. On the contrary when I came back to the journal I found myself around yard and home and neighborhood in a way that I was relaxed and fluent. I had found my sources in this humble form but one I dearly love and respect.

 

So my 4o years of keeping journals were interrupted for long periods and I am sure I lost things I should’ve written down, lost moments I would love to have preserved. Yet there are journals for each decade and I always came to it sooner or later.

 


HAVE YOU EVER TORN OUT PAGES?

Yes.

There are some pages that remain too painful to read. Some things I wish that weren’t. Some days when I gave into despair.

I like to keep an even tone in my journals. It is part of the discipline of writing for me. Part of the nature of seeking some balance in my life. Often enough we are the only ones who can do this work. What is my life? What have I made of it?  I can get too dark and sometimes even belligerent.  I don’t like just blowing off steam. It’s not fun to read or to write. I generally don’t confide secrets and keep an enemies list in my writing, but this does leach into my words on some pages.

 

Whenever I have been harsh with a person I almost always realize it is a momentary reaction and not what I truly feel.   Sometimes my censor reaches across the page and tells me I have revealed too much, gone too far. I usually listen to my censor but in a few cases I have left material in the books that I would rather rip out or burn. Why? Maybe I don’t want to whitewash the record. Maybe I want my life to be more honest than I am comfortable with. The funny thing is the material that offends me might not even raise an eyebrow in another reader. Sometimes the wound still feels fresh and the passage just reopens it. Sometimes I am disgusted with my own weakness. There are a lot of reasons for self-hate but it isn’t best to indulge it. As for candor, I never lie in my journal but I have often suppressed parts of the truth that I am unwilling to face or unsure of how to face. How much honesty can any of us take even in regard to our own private myths and projections of self?

 

In a few cases I have written about family in a way that  is hardly diplomatic or compassionate. Most of my hardest words are aimed at myself. I never had a Dear Diary relationship with my journals. Maybe I should have, but I tended to keep them at arm’s length from my heart until I was sure what I wanted to say. I didn’t trust myself or my journal to know what I was feeling or what I understood. This was all murky to me and uncertain. For weeks I could dance around an admission or troubling entry. When I did write it out plainly it sounded petty or ridiculous. So much of my work is indirection because that is how I experience life. In other words I may be the last one to know about myself. My pages have to wait until I get there. And then I may be entirely wrong about this.

 

Answer #4 (Part II) Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists: Barry

February 13, 2014

Cynthia comments:  I think many of us write about the weather because it is a grounding element.  No matter what else is happening in our lives the weather is always there, and yet it is always changing.  Odd dichotomy: steady, but mutable.  It can usually be described without much angst (notable exceptions here), and it can be peaceful, beautiful.   Nature may not always be idyllic but it can be entertaining and very interesting.

This photo is a sunset on my farm in Colorado, October 2013.

This is how Barry replies to the question “Do you record nature?”

IMG_0563Years ago I read in a literature anthology that New England writers never felt comfortable in writing about the emotional and sexual life, but nature, given by god, was an open field for their enthusiasm and desire. If that is the case then I have a major work of sublimation in my years of writing about the weather.

 

I write about nature as much as possible. It is the one subject I never tire of. I do read the nature writers with profound pleasure and appreciation. Every new day brings another page of wildflowers, clouds and trees. Writing about nature has made me mindful of what I love and brought me closer to it. From my very first diary in 1971 I began to notice trees and rocks and open fields.

 

I don’t do much more than describe nature, over and over again. I can’t explain it. I’m not a scientist nor do I have the bent of mind that wants to know everything we can know about a plant or a landscape. I do learn from such material but as a writer I just like to write about being there in the moment. Many of my pages are descriptions of walks I take along the shore or through local parks and neighborhoods. Many of the pages are even closer to my home looking out the window as I write or sitting under the maple tree and surveying my garden. I can’t even tell you why I do this and why it means so much to me. Perhaps because I am completely free to indulge this sensual pleasure without guilt, morality or judgment. So much of it is connected to childhood delight. I grew up on a quarter acre lot next to a brook in the industrial city of Bridgeport, Ct. The contrast between nature and factory streets fascinated me and dominated my imagination.

 

If you take nature out of my diaries they would probably shrink by half. This is one reason I write in diaries. I can write about nature every day and damn well do as I please without an editor’s permission. It is my love and my reason for writing. The most accessible part of my imagination and my emotional life. This isn’t to say that I don’t write about family, travel, reading etc. but everything starts with a look out my window or a foot on the pavement.

 

 

 

 

 

Answer #1: Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists: Cindy

January 15, 2014
I
When did you begin your diary and why?  I had begun many times in my youth as I loved the fact that my Grandmother had kept a gazillion travel journals.  It did not cement in me until college 28 years ago, so I’ve been officially journaling for 28 years.  From 1986 to the present.
Did you know back then that you would be doing this for a long time?  I don’t know what I expected. I wanted to keep a record for my children.  As I had none they will go to my nephew and niece if they want them.
Why do you keep on writing?  Do you think you will ever stop? As it is an addiction, I’ll write forever.
Has anyone else in your family kept a diary? Mom kept pregnancy diaries; my grandparents kept travel journals.  In a way, my grandfather did concerning his brief time in the Navy during WWI. He wrote many letters home. My father, at present, types up all of his fabulous trips. My younger brother gave it a shot after his first child was born.
What do you write about and has that changed over the years? I journal about the same things, happy times, sad times, obsessions, world events, movies and books..etc. etc.
Who do you write about?  Family, best friends, loves, and people I meet.
Do you record nature? Colors, sound, tastes, tactile sensations?  Most of my journaling life, I’ve written of the above. Especially when I go hiking or I sit outside or I stare out the window.  My journal goes with me everywhere.
Do you record intimate details of relationships or sexual experiences? I do, or I elude to it. I’m thought of as pretty pristine….however, there are secrets in my journal that show  I’m not always the angel I’m thought to be.
Do you write about coincidences/synchronicities, “miracles,” mysteries, dreams? I write about everything.  There is not limit.
Do you use your diary creatively to record ideas for future writing or sketches for art projects? I used to write stories and yes, I’d  tell it all my brainstorming ideas.
Do you include more than writing, such as photos, sketches, clippings, etc.? Photos, sketches, but took out newspaper articles as I read they could cause problems to the pages in the future.
 Describe what form your journal is in: bound book (large or small), notebook, on the computer I like best hardcover spiral journals and if possible, unlined. Never small books. I write too much.
Is your journal handwritten or typed? Pencil or pen? I’ve always prefered pen, tho my grandparents wrote in pencil back in the 40’s and it still looks good.
What do you enjoy writing about the most? Experiences and emotions I’ve shared with my friends, my nephew and niece. My personal spirit; and opinions and intersets.
Have you ever neglected to write about important historical events that happened? I’m sure I have. The days may have been too busy to get the chance to pen it down.
Do you always tell the truth? I do occasional keep out particular details which sometimes makes me feel as if I’m white lying.
Are you embarrassed about anything you wrote about?  Have you torn out pages?  I at present have 124 journals written.  I began to recognize that that’s far too many for anyone to want to read, so slowly I’ve begun going thru them and slicing out the boring stuff or not so pleasant comments I made concerning people I know.  I’m not doing too well so I’ll go thru them repeatedly in the future to keep wittling the pages down.
What is the tone of your writing – social, psychological, philosophical, historical? The only limit to my writing – is the dimension of time.
Has this changed over the years? For a few years in there I couldn’t bare to go a single day without writing which is why I’ve got too many journals.  I’m no longer inclined to write everyday.
Is your style flowery, poetic, elliptical, cut and dried, verbose, descriptive? Gosh, Thoreau, Emily Dickinson and poetry were huge influences on my writing style.  I wrote beautifully for a decade or more.  No longer.  I just write plainly because I think in a plain way now.
Have you had breaks in your writing and, if so, for how long? Most of my breaks are a few days apart, however in my college years and earlier 20’s there were many months between entries.
What time/place do you like to write?  Does that change? All through out the day and anywhere that my journal tags along.
What is the most surprising thing you learned about yourself?  How marvelously creative I used to be.  And the spiritual wisdom I’ve had since my 20’s.
Has keeping a journal changed you? How? The addiction gets crazy at times, obssessive. However, believe it or not – I do see 2 down sides to my journaling.  Once a memory is written – I don’t recall it in the future.  And the other is with my complaining entries – it only makes the situation on the outside worse because I’ve reinforced it by writing it down.
Do you like to re-read your journal? Yup. 
Do you have favorite entries? I sure do.  My flowery, poetic writing years. My music groupie years. My times with those I love. Falling in love. My fantasy worlds…
Was there anything you did not record which you wished you had? Hmm.  I guess I wish in my high school and college years I’d written more.  One day for whatever reason, I felt compelled to bring my journal into work with me.  When as an escort on a bus to pick up diabled kids, a parent told us planes crashed into the twin towers – as soon as I got back to the school, with my most shaking penmanship nearly illegible, I wrote  the blow by blow of announcements even before the towers fell, until the administrator said “Turn all radios off.” I didn’t write again until the schools closed early.  I’m from New Jersey.
Who would you allow to read it? I read excerpts which are funny to friends.  I share some with people I’ve come to…fall in love with.
Who should not read it? Well, to be honest, once I’m gone from life – everything I wrote, tho skewed by my personality, IS who I was.  However I mainly prefer the future children of my family to read it rather than any immediate family members. My best friend has asked that someday I share with his son, the entries I wrote of who his father was.(my friend’s health is precarious) umm…there are a lot I just can’t share with the son as they are too critical towards father, mother and at times especially the son.
Would you make it public some day? Would you want it burned when you die, or preserved in an archive, or kept in your family? If my nephew and niece do not want them (I’ve actually put it into my Will that all of my writings – stories, poetry, journals be given to them) – then I hope they will donate the bins by the hoards to a local historical society.
Do you enjoy reading published diaries of other people? I love it!!  Tho I tend to love it more when they are compilations of entries from various people.  Or books written about journal writing and the author gives examples of their own writing.
Any further comments: I’m very very glad to have journaling as a part of my life.  When anyone thinks of me, books and journals instantly pop into their minds. I can never be separate from my journal as it is …the all of me.
Cindy

 

I Answer the Survey Questions for Long-time Diarists

January 13, 2014

I am going to answer all the questions in the survey for long-time diarists, but I will string all of the answers together instead of repeating the questions.

My first diary was in 1959.  I was twelve.  I have no idea what inspired me.  I think there may have been an influx of those tiny lock and key diaries on the market at that time.  I destroyed that diary.  I began once more in 1964 when I was sixteen.  I made no vows to keep one forever, though I am on that track now.   I keep on writing because it provides me with many benefits.  It gives me a chance to meditate and reflect on my life and the people and animals in it, to extract meaning out of life’s circus, and to use my hands in a pleasurable way by handwriting most of the entries.  Many people comment on the beauty of my script.  Bookstore customers shyly admitted they kept copies of the receipts just to admire the handwriting.   To me it is a disappearing art form.

I was an adult before I knew my mother had kept a journal.   I am reading hers from 1942 now. I have a diary from my great-grandmother and my great-great-grandmother.  (See earlier blogs on first donations to the archive.)

My last occupation was/is bookdealer.  I have done so many other things: teaching, owning and managing a group day care home, landscaping, greenhouse work, retail clerk, dairymaid, worked on a ranch, set up a homestead, set up libraries, worked in bookstores, secretary, beekeeper, assistant to the editor of a bee magazine, created advertising, and more.

I write about absolutely everything and anything that strikes my fancy.  Generally the focus is on whatever “job” I have at the time.  In 1964 I was a high school student.  I wrote about school, friends, and horses.  I wrote about Synanon when I lived there.  When I worked on the ranch I described that.  I wrote about my enchantment with bees.  I wrote about working with children. I have written about all the animals I have owned – house pets and farm animals.  I have written a lot about my own daughter, my family,  and my relationships with others.  I frequently include cultural events, movies I’ve seen, books I’ve read. These days my pages are filled with people/people/people and the book business.  I do write about nature, as experienced on a small acreage with constant interaction with wildlife.

I include color and sound, sometimes fragrances.  Rarely ever tastes or tactile sensations.

Yes, I’ve always revealed the intimate details of my relationships, and sex…but hardly every encounter.

Coincidences/synchronicities, “miracles,” mysteries and dreams are the stuff that make journals beguiling.

My diary has no theme unless you might say my constant bewilderment with the behavior of people, and how they knowingly or unwittingly hurt others, my struggle to survive and lack of “success,” and my pervasive lack of faith that the world will ever amount to much.   Ah yes, that dark vision.  One other theme I touch on is the undeniable consciousness of animals.

I don’t use my journal for creative ideas.  Occasionally I will steal something out of it for other purposes.

I use both blank bound books and three-ring binders.  I paste in photos, clippings, copies of articles I like.(Easier to do with a binder.)  Sometimes I sketch.  I usually hand-write my journals. Pencil fades so I use a ballpoint pen. Sometimes I type on the computer and print it for the journal.

I enjoy writing about the astonishing things of life the most.  Those odd little experiences I mentioned earlier.  Next are the “Kodak” moments and interactions with animals.   For me, even the tragedies need to be written.

Many times I wrote nothing on important historical events.  Somebody else is capturing those.

I always tell the truth. I make nothing up.  Maybe someone else saw it a bit differently.

I have torn out one embarrassing page.  I may tear out more.

I’d say the tone of my diaries have changed from mere reporting the day to analyzing the day.  As I mature, it gets deeper, more philosophical and psychological.  My diaries increasingly contain more social and cultural history, more politics and more opinion on that.  I’ve even mentioned the Pope.

My style?  Probably verbose, sometimes flowery, poetic.  Descriptive, for sure.  It changes with the subject matter.

I am not obsessive about writing every day, though I attempt it for the benefits of “centering” and reflection.  I write too much about my cats and the weather and how tired I am.  But I use those as a “warm up the car”  writing stimulus.  I write best in the morning.  The station rarely changes anymore.  At this time it is from an old chair in my living room with a cat on my lap.

There have been years where I barely wrote at all, usually when I was too busy with school, work, or motherhood.

The most shocking thing I learned about myself was how little I’ve changed.  Those disreputable personality traits are still there.  Why is that?  Why do I respond so slowly?  Why can I never see the glass as half full? Is that hard-wired into my genetics or neural pathways? Writing about something does not inevitably bring peace.  Ultimately the resolution needs to be with the individual or situation that caused the problem.

I love re-reading my journals.  It’s like looking through old photo albums.  I have favorite entries that I like because they are well-written or evoke some wonderful  experience of the past.

Absolutely, I wish I had written more.  More about so many things.  Particularly I wish I had been recording my experience in Synanon with the eye of a reporter.  The same, of my four years working in a local greenhouse and starting from the bottom.  The people-politics was intricate.  It would have made a great sociological study.  I advise: write more, give more detail and depth.

At this time there is no one whom I will allow to read my diary.  I may publish some old entries online.  If it can be preserved I will offer it to the public in 40-50 years.

I love reading other people’s diaries, published or not.  I am trying to collect diaries but I have only a few that did not belong to family members.

What the diary has done for me: it allowed me to vent, and reintegrate when shattered; it saved me from loneliness (you always have yourself); it tells me who I was, where I came from, who I am now; it adds meaning to experience and allows me to savor the past and catch a glimpseImage of the sacred in life.

Creative Ideas for Journal Writing

May 4, 2010

Some years ago I read a chapter in a book on – shall we call them “unique” individuals – about a man who recorded what he did every minute of his life.   By most standards, that is a bit obsessive, a word he used to describe himself.  I believe this man may have been Robert Shields, who suffered from “hypergraphia,” an overwhelming urge to write.  He kept this diary from 1972 until he had a stroke in 1997.  He died in 2007.  His is said to be the world’s longest diary.  He left nothing out.  His diary is now in the archives of Washington State University.

What about a diary that records what you are doing at the same time every day?  I recall the 1995, independent American film:  “Smoke,”  which the late film critic Roger Ebert called “a beguiling film about words, secrets, and tobacco.”   The main character took a photo on the same street corner of New York at the same time every day of the year and put them all in a scrapbook.    Although not usually so meticulous in time or place, that is what we do when we keep a journal.

In another blog, I  mentioned a diarist who kept a journal of “to do” lists.  Can’t see doing this for a very long time, but it is definitely a creative solution to writer’s block.  I have actually uncovered a few “to do” lists from my past during ephemera archaeology.    Mildly fascinating, indeed.  This is a reminder that mundane minutiae  can become marvelously captivating as time passes.

Making lists is a fun exercise, especially if you are bored with your writing.  Once I wrote “these are a few of my favorite things,” in the back of one of my journals.   I keep adding to that list.  It works well as a self portrait.   Someday I will write a list of my dislikes (i.e. skunk perfume absolutely slays me).  The possibilities for lists are endless:  things you love or hate, hopes, fears, friends, foes, food you like or hate, things you think are erotic, things that repulse you, pets you have had, the many things you have experienced or witnessed in your life (birth, death, nature, accidents, pain, thrills, etc.)

You can write a lot on your memories.  The journal is a time-machine that has already been invented.   Go anywhere in your past that you’d like to go and stay as long as you like.  No need to worry about bringing back a butterfly in the cuff of your pants…or is there?

I am not sure how many creative journaling ideas are completely original because I see the same suggestions over and over again.  There are unsent letters, sketches, doodles, charts and graphs and maps, blessings, affirmations, and character descriptions.  Write a complete portrait of one of your friends or a family member.  I don’t do that very often because the people in my life are mentioned so frequently that their actions become  “character development,”  as in a novel.  I suppose I should attempt a physical description, though for some reason that is harder.

I don’t know that I’ve ever been at a loss for something to say, but an enjoyable exercise for me, and one that I suspect might be interesting for a future reader, is to write a “be here now.”  In that, I attempt to completely describe exactly where I am and what I see, hear, and smell.  I want the future reader to be in the room with me.   I don’t think I’ve ever run across this in anyone else’s diary.

A useful idea I have borrowed from someone else is to think of each day as a basket.  At the end of the day…what is the gift in your basket?  There is so much in a day, even an hour.  The true dilemma is to select.   I love the way we can choose telescope or microscope, cosmic themes or minutiae.

The primary focus of a diary is, of course, You.  And then all things as they relate to you.  The value of a diary archive is in being able to step into someone’s shoes and see life as they see it, to walk a mile in their moccasins.

For more ideas on what to write about see my blog “What I Write: Sturm und Drang” from May 14, 2010.

 

 


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