Posts Tagged ‘does diary writing change your life’

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.

 

 

 

 

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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 #4 to Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists: Barry

February 12, 2014

Yesterday I received quite a gift from a long-time diarist I corresponded with two years ago.  I asked him if he would be interested in answering the questionnaire I had posted. He began with a few questions at a time and answered with a depth that I felt was extraordinary.  His replies are thoughtful as well as thought-provoking.  I will present them to you one page at a time over several days.

 

What is your current occupation?

High school English teacher about to retire at age 64

 

Has anyone else in your family kept a diary?

My great grandmother on my father’s side who lived 88 years and died in 1962

My grandmother, her daughter, who kept diaries but destroyed them in old age.

My father kept a diary of his days in the Pacific during world war II 1943-44-45.

I started my diary in 1971, the year I began my married life. I kept it sporadically through the years but became a devoted diarist only when I turned 50. My last 14 years have been very busy with journal writing, memories, ideas.

 

Intimate details of sexual experiences?

 

No.

 

At one point I wanted to write honestly about sexuality, but there is always the privacy factor for many good and bad reasons.

Part of my reluctance was my Irish Catholic upbringing. Part of it also is how little I understood about my sexuality or anyone else’s. it would have been easy for me to write in a descriptive way or keep a “tell all” of real and imagined experience, but that would have been no victory for me because I needed to enter and explore my emotional life as both the cause and effect of sexuality. I came to distrust anything that I could break into pieces as a separate part of myself.

 

So I began to work on my emotional life, and as you know for an American male this is an almost impossible undertaking. Only then could I ask myself, Do I really know anything about sex? Is there anything we can know about from the mystery of our emotional needs? What is sex? What is the soul? Have I ever really been deeply anchored in a rich emotional life that I can enter into the instinctive and find in my body the truth of my soul? Yes, I had a few sins and a few secrets, but it was thinking that made them so.

 

Is this an evasion? Perhaps it is, but I have never trusted the whole sexual dialogue in this country. Even when I read women’s magazines (my wife and daughter’s) they sound so full of soulless gimmicks and adolescent games. My question: do we really lead adult lives in America? Do we feel that sex makes us adults and that sexual technique is a form of wisdom? Would I be a better writer if I kept blow by  blow descriptions of the act itself? Should there be any secrets in the age of confessions?

 

So, the answer is that one might surmise who I am from my diaries, but they would have to imagine and fill in the blanks in the way that we look at current sexuality. I don’t think I would come across as a sexless man or a prude, but a reader would notice my decision not to include the details. Perhaps I thought that we made too much of sex in our time but somehow lost sight of the person and the soul of people. I was much more alive in my wholeness.  Another caution for me is that sex can take over a writer. It becomes its own reason. I’m sure my hesitance has been partly generational. It would be accurate to say there was a lot of darkness around my sexual awareness because of my religion and my family attitudes. It wasn’t discussed in any way, nor would it be something you would share with another, not even yourself.

 

Hardly enlightened, but not the worst upbringing either when I look around and see what has happened to modesty, restraint and common sense in our current national sexual attitudes. Needless to say I have never reconciled my own ideas and conflicts in this area, but found it much safer to write about sex as an idea rather than a personal record. By the way, I have read some sexual diaries. While I admire the frankness, they never seem to get out of the bedroom. I feel like I need a pair of goggles and rubber gloves. I do enjoy diaries that seem to reveal and conceal at the same time. Beyond this I truly believe that women are much better at writing about the sexual life and anything they write in this regard fascinates me. Men almost  write about sex as if they were playing with toy soldiers. Or changing the oil in their cars and checking the dip stick. I didn’t think I could add anything or make much sense of myself. And yes, it is a tendency in my diary to explain myself rather than to expose myself. All very rich themes from your questions

 

 

 


 


 

Answer #3 Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists: Michie

January 23, 2014
When did you begin your diary and why? 
I was 12 and my father suggested it.
 
Did you know back then that you would be doing this for a long time?
No
 
Why do you keep on writing?  Do you think you will ever stop?
I don’t write anymore because the way my life has gone there has been a lot of trauma, so many of my thoughts and observations are cyclical. I don’t have anything new to say. I wrote for about three decades.
 
Has anyone else in your family kept a diary?
No, except my mother for a brief time when she was going through her divorce from my father.
 
What is your current occupation? Past occupations?
Editor and production manager of nonfiction books. I have also worked at florists, as an archivist, and as a portrait artist.
 
What do you write about and has that changed over the years?
I wrote about my observations of people and situations. I drew a lot in my journals too. Toward the end of my journal writing career I started jotting down only dates and events. That is when I knew I didn’t have time or interest anymore.
 
Who do you write about?
People I know.
 
Do you record nature? Colors, sound, tastes, tactile sensations? I put leaves, dried flowers, and such in my journals and also drew nature pictures but did not record sounds, tastes, tactile sensations.
 
Do you record intimate details of relationships or sexual experiences? Relationships
 
Do you write about coincidences/synchronicities, “miracles,” mysteries, dreams? No
 
Does your diary have a theme, i.e. your religious or spiritual growth, your development as a dancer or musician? No theme
 
Was it to record a military experience, parenting, or some other important time in your life? Just to record my thoughts on various philosophical and relationship issues.
 
Do you use your diary creatively to record ideas for future writing or sketches for art projects? I did.
 
Do you include more than writing, such as photos, sketches, clippings, etc.? Yes
 
Describe what form your journal is in: bound book (large or small), notebook, on the computer. Spiral notebooks.
 
Is your journal handwritten or typed? Pencil or pen?  Handwritten, with some copied off emails and otherwise done in both pencil and pen.
 
What do you enjoy writing about the most? Analyzing my world as well as coming up with new ideas about things.
 
Have you ever neglected to write about important historical events that happened? Yes, all the time.
 
Do you always tell the truth? Yes.
 
Are you embarrassed about anything you wrote about?  Have you torn out pages? No and no.
What is the tone of your writing – social, psychological, philosophical, historical? Psychological and philosophical.
 
Has this changed over the years? No.
 
Is your style flowery, poetic, elliptical, cut and dried, verbose, descriptive? Cut and dried.
 
Are you obsessive about writing every day or about recording certain details? No
 
Have you had breaks in your writing and, if so, for how long?
Yes, I have stopped now and only write occasionally in a composition book.
 
What time/place do you like to write?  Does that change?
Not applicable
 
What is the most surprising thing you learned about yourself?
That I am smarter than I think I am
Has keeping a journal changed you? How?
Made me wary of other people’s seeing what I am thinking. I have had my journals discovered and read by two other people without my permission. That made me conscious of some things I didn’t want to write.
 
Do you like to re-read your journal?
Sometimes
 
Do you have favorite entries?
The artistic ones and the deeply philosophical ones
 
Was there anything you did not record but wish you had?
Perhaps more current events to put some cultural perspective on the time I was living in
 
Who would you allow to read it?
My best friend
 
Who should not read it?
My children
 
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?
Either burned when I die or given to a neutral, unknown third party who doesn’t know me, like an archive.
 
Do you enjoy reading published diaries of other people?
Not really
 
Do you collect diaries?
No
 
Any further comments:
 No.

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