Posts Tagged ‘journaling’

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 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 IV) Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists: Barry

February 19, 2014


DESCRIBE WHAT FORM YOUR JOURNAL IS IN

For years I have bought cheap blank books anywhere from 5 to 15 dollars. They are both lined and unlined. It doesn’t matter to me.

I have to admit that I require some sense of affinity with the book I take in hand. Either  because of its simplicity or occasionally for a nature theme on the cover or something embossed.

I have kept very long journals of three hundred or more pages but I like to fill a book with 150-200 pages and then put it on the shelf. I do this for two reasons. I like to see my writing on a shelf at home, and two, I get bored after a hundred pages and it begins to feel like homework. So when I can finish a diary and put it away I have a sense of accomplishment and time well spent. I have a number of pocket-sized notebooks like reporters used to carry. The ones with the brown covers. I mainly scribble poetry in them and field  notes or notes from the city, and then I put them away and never notice what I have written. My ideal journal is book sized rather than fat and squat. Nothing with locks or clasps please.

 

My wife has purchased a couple of expensive Italian leather diaries and I have bought myself very good journals in Nth Ireland and in Spain. But sadly an expensive journal doesn’t improve my writing a bit. I write just as well in a cheapo and feel closer to my own roots in doing so. My background is blue collar working class. I’m a common person with no elegance at all. My handwriting isn’t beautiful or artistic. I wish it were. One of the problems I have today is that many of the cheaper journals are now printed in China and the paper is too thin to handle the gel inks I usually write with. I don’t like ball points. The ink never seems to come out of them and I end up feeling as if I have chiseled my words in stone. I have to confess that most of my pages look sloppy. This isn’t on purpose but it is a result of trying to get things on page before I lose my trend of thought. I can be absent minded when I write and leave out some things I intend to say.

 

Actually pens are important to me. I have bought expensive ones that were worthless and cheap ones that were great. My wife buys me one of the beautiful Levenger pens every year and they sometimes confer dignity on my work when I don’t feel it in my life. So I write with them, but I also go to Walmart and buy a pack of gels just for a change. If you write a lot you know how easy it is to go through a pen in thirty pages of hard writing.

 

My early journals are all handwritten, but in the last ten years I have printed because my handwriting is awful and I couldn’t even read what I wrote. Print slows me down a bit but also makes me more deliberate in my writing. Do I print so that someone else may one day read me? Well, when you keep a diary that is always in the back of your mind. You want some ideal reader somewhere to pick it up and say, MY this guy was an interesting person or an honest person or intelligent or whatever. Yet I don’t put much faith in my journals outliving me. So print is a way of making clear to myself what I have to say. It irritates me when I can’t read words in a passage.

 

If possible I like to write in the morning when I wake up, but that isn’t often the case. I can write in school when my kids write or when I have a free period. This leads to many distractions both from teaching and writing, but I have to take the time where I find it. I hate writing at noon to 3. I don’t know why. I do enjoy writing after supper but that is only in the summer when I’m not teaching and my  mind is gentled and refreshed.

 

I write at a desk in my room or any flat surface I can find. I set up a table outside on the lawn and write there. I don’t write on my lap or on a train. This has proved to be a disaster. I like the room to be silent but I have written on a whim with a classroom filled with boys talking and laughing. I grew up in a big family and learned to filter out noise right in my midst.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Signs and Synchronicity

February 8, 2014

 

 

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Do you believe in signs, messages from some metaphysical realm, personally addressed to you with no return address?  The ancients gave signs much credence.  The Bible is full of signs.  Although I no longer believe in gods/goddesses/or much of anything labeled “woo-woo,” I do record in my journals all of the “signs” that have appeared in my life.  Call them what you will.  If we are responsible for creating meaning in our lives, we certainly have the right to imbue these incidents with such meaning.

 Synchronicity is a good word for these events.

From Wikipedia:

“Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events as meaningfully related, where they are unlikely to be causally related. The subject sees it as a meaningful coincidence, although the events need not be exactly simultaneous in time. The concept of synchronicity was first described by Carl Gustav Jung, a Swiss psychologist, in the 1920s.[1]

The concept does not question, or compete with, the notion of causality. Instead, it maintains that just as events may be connected by a causal line, they may also be connected by meaning. A grouping of events by meaning need not have an explanation in terms of cause and effect.”

Because these synchronicities are so mysterious, even the most devout agnostic is forced to question how they happened to appear in his/her life at that exact moment.  For a believer, there is no question at all…they were sent directly from God.

I would like to share three synchronicities from my life and journals.

First, the cookie cutter angel:  May 2004, during a period of overwhelmingly exhausting work on the farm, with choices about my future heavy on my mind.   My Aunt Lois had just passed away and it was near the anniversary of Gram’s birthday.

I had just closed in the chickens for the night…”when I noticed a shiny object on the ground. Naturally, I attempt to pick up all junk on the ground, especially where livestock might eat it and get sick.  I stooped down and picked away the dirt to release my treasure.  By the goddess, it was an angel.  A cookie cutter angel.  I stood up, holding the angel away from me, struck dumb with the wonderment of it all.  What on earth was a cookie cutter doing in the chicken yard?  And not just any cookie cutter, but an angel cookie cutter.  I hadn’t added any new leaves to the compost bins in over a year, one source of ‘surprise’ toys and junk.  I stood there turning it over and over in my hand, tears in my eyes.”

I suppose the chickens unearthed this buried archeological treasure in their scratching.  It had been there a while and seemed old.  The angel did not help with the farm work or point the way to a particular choice, but she did come just when I needed a comforting hand on my shoulder.

The apple:  Oct. 2, 2001.  “I was picking the last apples from the MacIntosh tree.  Several times I knocked some to the ground while trying to get a good one. I poked at a pretty apple with the extension pole fruit picker.  The apple fell, but not into the basket.  It began crashing toward the ground, ricocheting off the branches, going first one way then the other.  I held out my hand in a futile gesture when I saw it coming my way.  Miracle of miracles, the apple literally flew into my hand.  A cartoon joke.  This all took seconds.  At the precise moment it landed in my hand two things happened:  I laughed.  Perhaps the most spontaneous real laugh I have ever produced.  And secondly, I believed in God, if only for that intense millisecond of time.“

My thoughts at the time this happened were a whiney “nothing ever goes right for me.”  I was tired of so many apples crashing to the ground and being ruined.  I held out my hand with a curse and that apple flew into it with a stinging vehemence that was shocking.  I laughed because I deserved that response from the universe: “take that you ingrate!”

Getting a handle on it:  Entry not found.  Once again, life was difficult for me.  One of my favorite expressions from the sixties has always been “getting a handle on it.”  I was out in the garden, doing some self-therapy through gardening, thinking about how I really needed to pull myself together.  And then, there it was.  A handle.  A handle in the garden.  Now where on earth did that come from?  I thanked the universe for trying to be of help.  It gave me a handle.

So those are just three of my pretty unusual experiences, experiences where it felt like I was given a sign.   Anyone else with mystical coincidences?

Lying

February 8, 2014

IMG_0683The man and his wife were an older couple, obviously married for a long time as the woman smiled knowingly as her husband launched into an engaging dialogue with me on the subject of lying. His sharp mind leapt to the intellectual challenge as a cat to a mouse.  Whatever led us to that topic?  Lying, now there’s a thing to be defined.

I was already fascinated by these two people even before they admitted they had a private book collection of 20,000 books (probably more than I had in my bookstore) and had no intention of quitting their passion now.  They bought scholarly history books, plant identification books, and mysteries.  I would guess by his oratorical voice that he was a former  professor, or maybe a pastor.

Remember the old song “Fifty Ways to Leave a Lover”?   How many ways of lying?  Does lying come with as many definitions as the Eskimos’ words for snow?  I told the man “I don’t lie…well, not directly…well, maybe once that I can remember…for someone else.”  But if you include lying by omission then I am a great liar.    Libel or malicious, intentional lying – no.  Fabrication – no.  Exaggeration – maybe.  Moving along the continuum into “simple” dishonesty…dishonesty  about who you are or your intentions –  I don’t think so.   Mistakes not corrected, such as the wrong change – no.  Stealing – no.  Betrayal is a form of the lie and is — in my philosophy— the worst sin.  Have I ever betrayed anyone – I don’t think so.   I do feel like I have betrayed some animals.

The afore-mentioned great conversation I had with the charismatic debater has now faded into memory.   Yet I return to the subject of lying because I participate in the one form of writing which should have the highest standard of truth-telling: the private diary.  Here, at last, one is unleashed from all restraint.  The bold, naked truth can be told.  No one to impress, no politics to play, no fear of social rejection, no hurt feelings of friends or family.  (That is, if it can be kept private.)  Why would you EVER lie in your journal?

Most famously, it is said that my favorite diarist, Anais Nin, fabricated stories in her diary. Do I believe this?  This was a woman married to two men at the same time, flying back and forth to see them, keeping a notebook of her lies so she would not forget what she told each man.  That’s quite a lie.  I pass no judgment there.  If she really did make up parts of the diary though, I feel betrayed.  I will read it as fiction.  It is good fiction, no, it is astonishingly beautiful and insightful fiction.  Her writing is all poetry.

But why did she do this – lie?  The only lying in my journals is where I am fooling myself into believing what is not true.  I try not to omit details that would reveal truth.  I try to quote accurately.  I never intentionally lie in my journals.  I want the truth to be told…at last…to someone (the unknown reader of the future)…and this outweighs my fear of being judged.  We are all judged.  We all judge others.

Are you familiar with the story of King Midas?  Let the truth be told in your journals.  “King Midas has asses ears.”

Who lies in their diary?

Email: eclecticreaderbooks@gmail.com or post comment here

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.

Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists

January 12, 2014

                                     Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists

Quite some time ago I promised to write up a questionnaire/interview form for those diarists who have kept a journal for a long time.  So here are thirty-six questions I would like to ask.

First, I guess we need to define what “a long time” means.  Five years?  Ten?  25 or 50?  Although I am not opposed to ANYONE answering these questions, I would personally suggest ten years.  I am just beginning my 50th year.

When did you begin your diary and why?

Did you know back then that you would be doing this for a long time?

Why do you keep on writing?  Do you think you will ever stop?

Has anyone else in your family kept a diary?

What is your current occupation? Past occupations?

What do you write about and has that changed over the years?

Who do you write about?

Do you record nature? Colors, sound, tastes, tactile sensations?

Do you record intimate details of relationships or sexual experiences?

Do you write about coincidences/synchronicities, “miracles,” mysteries, dreams?

Does your diary have a theme, i.e. your religious or spiritual growth, your development as a dancer or musician?

Was it to record a military experience, parenting, or some other important time in your life?

Do you use your diary creatively to record ideas for future writing or sketches for art projects?

Do you include more than writing, such as photos, sketches, clippings, etc.?

Describe what form your journal is in: bound book (large or small), notebook, on the computer

Is your journal handwritten or typed? Pencil or pen?

What do you enjoy writing about the most?

Have you ever neglected to write about important historical events that happened?

Do you always tell the truth?

Are you embarrassed about anything you wrote about?  Have you torn out pages?

What is the tone of your writing – social, psychological, philosophical, historical?

Has this changed over the years?

Is your style flowery, poetic, elliptical, cut and dried, verbose, descriptive?

Are you obsessive about writing every day or about recording certain details?

Have you had breaks in your writing and, if so, for how long?

What time/place do you like to write?  Does that change?

What is the most surprising thing you learned about yourself?

Has keeping a journal changed you? How?

Do you like to re-read your journal?

Do you have favorite entries?

Was there anything you did not record which you wished you had?

Who would you allow to read it?

Who should not read it?

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?

Do you enjoy reading published diaries of other people?

Do you collect diaries?

Any further comments:

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This questionnaire is open to everyone.  I will publish my own answers soon.  You may respond via “comments,” but I think it will work best if you email your answers to me and then tell me if you wish your answers to be private, or if it is all right to publish them with just your first name or with your email address.  If you have questions, email me at: cynthiamanuel22@gmail.com.

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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