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An Overview of 24 Years Of Diary Keeping

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Old 05-23-2008, 11:07 PM
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Default An Overview of 24 Years Of Diary Keeping


Preamble:

As we slip into winter unobtrusively in Australia, and as the winter solstice approaches in the southern hemisphere even more unobtrusively, I will post this piece on journals and diaries, not that of an artist with paint, clay, but one of an artist in the medium of words. Those who work in the more familiar art mediums, at least more reported on in the popular media it seems to me, the mediums of painting and sculpture, may find my post useful as well, such is my hope. As I have said before, keeping a journal I have found difficult. I know many others do as well, artists and people in all sorts of walks of life. Australian artist Donald Friend art journal was helpful in this vein. Anyway, here is a somewhat lengthy post. If it is too long just stop reading in the first few lines:

INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME 5 OF MY DIARY

After more than twenty-four years of haphazard diary keeping(1984-2008) and an equally haphazard twenty-two years of dream recording(1986-2008), there looms ahead of me the shadow of a type of diary that my work may attain to: part of the shadow is prospective and the other retrospective. What, indeed, will I make of this loose, drifting material of my life, as Virginia Woolf calls the material in her diary and which very accurately describes mine, however incomplete, however irregular are my entries, however superficial the content often is. Do I want this diary to be so elastic as to embrace anything solemn, slight, beautiful or ugly that comes to mind, sort of a capacious hold-all? Will this diary, this journal, this particular way of conveying my memoir, when all is said and done and the roll is called up yonder(assuming there is a roll and there is an up-yonder), resemble a place where I have flung a mass of odds and ends, some with reflective ardour and great meaning, some with fatigue and sadness, some with guilt and shame, some with a sense of their utter triviality, their tedium and life's.


Part 1:

The purpose of this overview of my diary, written after twenty-four years of making episodic entries and introducing, as it does, the 5th volume of this diary, is to analyse, give definition and pattern to the autobiographical memory that I have put on paper across my lifespan in the form of diary. I use other genres of writing to record memory, but I deal here with the genre of journal or diary. Autobiographical memory, in so far as it relates to my journal, can be broadly defined as a type of episodic memory for information related to the self, both in the form of retrospective and prospective memories, as well as aims, goals and expectations. If this retrospective, episodic account relates to the retrieval in the present of memories, experiences or past events, then prospective autobiographical memory is concerned with the retrieval of expectations, anticipations or future events which likewise are connected in some way with the present.


On the basis of what I have written here in these 24 years, it would appear that a collection of flotsam and jetsam, as Woolf says, has been put on record. This material has been born from a vaster collection of life's flotsam and jetsam, some of which is meaningful to me in the moment or at least hopefully so but, ultimately and possibly, about as useful and valuable to others as the eye of a dead ant. I hope this is not the case but, as T.S. Eliot once wrote, one has to be prepared that all which one has written may become a dead letter. I get a sense of order in putting all this on paper. That is its own intrinsic reward. I am sure this is the case for many, artists and others.


Suzette Henke describes how many diarists come to their diaries out of shattered lives, out of a need to relive their lives in terms of some dream, some myth, some endless story which they compose. This is not the case with me but, as my fifties wore on and turned into my sixties, I seemed to wear on if not out. I seemed to lose some of life’s heat and there was some shattering. It was a shattering of the social nature I had manifested for several decades, indeed as far back as I could remember, perhaps as far back as my first memories 60 years ago. It is difficult to define just what it is that lies under this diary, that is its raison d’etre or raisons d’etres one of its leitmotifs which binds the diary together into a coherent whole, if indeed it has coherence and wholeness. What motivates me to want to add an extra level to an already present story, autobiography or memoir was conveyed by Shakespeare in sonnet 94: "For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds."

Part 2:

By the age of fifty I had certainly collected lots of deeds whose memories were not endearing. Perhaps by means of memoir, autobiography, poetry and diary I was trying to work some magic to reflect the self I wanted to be. Such was the case with that famous diarist Anais Nin. I don’t think it was the case with me, though there was some of Anais Nin’s aim in my own. My diary or journal tended to be the place of my most confessional writing and, for that reason alone if for no other, it deserved to exist on its own. It was and is a genre of particular use to me as a writer for its several purposes which this brief essay attempts to outline.


As this diary has developed over more than two decades, it has served simply to help me to describe my life, not especially to deal with accounts of personal complexities like the desire to fight or flight, nor to battle on, nor adopt some defensive escape, nor as a strategy to cope with traumatic personal history, although I have often experienced all of these inner wantings to escape, to battle on or deal with trauma of different kinds. To want to cut and run and great inner fear or anxiety of some kind were common enough occurrences in the more than six decades of living thusfar. It was Baha’u’llah, not Shakespeare, I think who put his finger on the reason for the shift in my life activity as my fifties wore on and became incrementally my sixties. Excess of speech is a deadly poison and its affects last a lifetime, this founder of the Baha’i Faith wrote in the 19th century, and I had had an excess of life’s verbal art and its twistings and turnings in the 60 years of my memoried life: 1947-2007. Of course, there is much more in the motivational matrix of this diary and I deal with it as far as I am able and as much as I desire in this introduction to Volume 5 of this diary.

I did not desire to take part in that conversational/verbal part of life as my sixties grew insensibly into their middle years, 65 to 75. As the year 1984-1985 opened and I began this diary at the age of forty I found myself in possession of a talent, a gift, perhaps an unmerited grace. I had been conscious of its developing nature since, perhaps 1972 in my first year as a high school teacher. In 1984 I was writing a column in the local newspaper of 800 words every week. I won’t deal with the origins of this writing activity in the local paper nor the development by sensible and insensible degrees in the dozen years before 1984 going back to Whyalla in South Australia. I had always liked the base, the origin, of art, in unmerited grace. Some writer whose name I have now forgotten used this uplifting phrase or idea, although the question it deals with is far from simple. Writing had been a talent which had grown slowly with the years, first as a student, then as a teacher, then as a writer in publications of various kinds. It was in the sheer exercise of this gift and harnessing it to life's service and the causes that concerned me that was part of the motivating base for producing a diary, although much more could be said here and interested readers can find more of my comments on this theme in my other writings.

Part 3:

My diary became, in part, a textual testimony, a form of scriptotherapy, a testimonial, an episodic narrative, a form of defence and assertion, albeit partial and temporary. It became, along with the other genres of my writing, a form of living, a way of spending my time, my life, the way I wanted to. I could make some comparisons and contrasts of my work with the work of others. I found the diaries of others provided helpful perspectives on my own writing, but I will not deal with this subject here for the literature on diaries and journals is now burgeoning. And all of this dairy writing was not therapy.

These five volumes of my journal are found in eight two-ring binders and two arch-lever files. Three of these binders contain photographs with some commentary and one of the files contains comments on some of my dreams. I have made a periodic attempt to write a retrospective diary for the years 1844 to 1984, but thus far the attempt has had limited success. I don’t want to leave the impression that diary writing is a fertile field. Far from it—for me. Much of my efforts at a diary are now and have been for many years dry, uninspiring, far from encouraging.


Henry David Thoreau's fine Journal kept from 1839 to 1861 gave expression to Thoreau’s view, his vision of the destiny of America in terms of life in death. That became a dominant feature of my writing as far back as the 1980s, the feature of life in death. I am confident that will be a strong part of the experience of many generations of the American pioneer-the Baha’i pioneer that is. There are times in this account when I focus on the inner self, my experiences, my community; there are other times when I focus on my society, the land, a more open perspective. I seem to be a more tolerant person than Thoreau, although I confess that by the time I retired at 55 I had begun to tire of people and conversations about the ordinarily ordinary. Like Thoreau, I rarely have the public in mind when I write, although I do have a future public in mind as the Australian artist Donald Friend did in his diary. In the last century over one billion deaths have occurred from trauma of different kinds and so it is not surprising that an individual diary should be seen in terms of life in death. But readers will have to wait for my demise to read more on this theme. I only want to allude to it here.

Part 4:

Henry Miller arguably the first writer to use the "F" word long before it broke out in the media in the 1960s, was one of the few post-WW2 American writers of note who wrote praiseworthy things about many of the things I hold dear. He also wrote, somewhat prophetically:"When the destruction brought about by the Second World War is complete," wrote Miller, "another set of destruction will set in. And it will be far more drastic, far more terrible than the destruction which we are now witnessing. The whole planet will be in the throes of revolution. And the fires will rage until the very foundations of the present world crumble." Not a happy note to include in the introduction to a volume of my journal, but certainly interesting and written back in the early 1940s! Decades ago people would have trouble comprehending Miller's idea here, but not any more.


In the case of some of my retrospective diary work making entries is difficult. For, when I write about events taking place forty years ago, I cannot rely on closeness to the event. I must rely on what Peter Braustein calls possessive memory. "Possessive memory," writes Braustein in his history of the counter-culture, "leaves the person and his memories in a lover’s embrace. The person is in possession of his memories, and no one else can touch them; at the same time, his memories are in possession of him." Braustein applies this idea to those activists in the sixties who experienced "a sense of self-generation so powerful that it became a constitutive part of their later identity." Without going into the many contradictory views that have emerged in sixties studies, there is little doubt that I experienced several early stages of my own variety of activism in the sixties. I was 15 when the sixties started and 25 when they finished. My adult life began during those years and that "sense of self-generation" is still a part of my identity even now. If it wasn't I don't think I could keep writing. Like many of the sixties generation, I felt as if I was an agent of history and I still do.

Part 5:

In writing my life story in the last years of my fifties and now early sixties, I came to realize more than I ever had before, perhaps for the first time in any full sense, that the success I had achieved in life grew not only from my own hard work and certain favourable circumstances of my environment, but from the foundation provided by my parents and my grandparents on my mother’s side. The journey of understanding, like the journey of life itself, is an emotional one that I have tried to write about with honesty and with a fresh eye for those primary relationships in my life: father-son, mother-son and grandfather-grandson, wife-husband, among several others I could possibly include. Of course, not all is emotion, again thank goodness. There is intellect, reason, the cultural attainments of the mind and a host of other qualities that psychologists enumerate in their studies of personality and that historians describe in their study of the past.


I still do not feel I have found the flow, the filling up of the springs, the raising of the streams of this journal, as Thoreau put it. The accumulating grists are really yet to be ground in the first 24 years of writing this journal. They may, in fact, never get ground, if poetry and narrative, essays and notes steal the material, take the stage and leave this diary-prose always waiting in the wings.


This Journal does have less concern for form than my poetry and for that reason there is potentially an easier flow, once the flow begins, at least a flow in a different direction to other genres I use. I have mentioned before that Thoreau has been invaluable in helping my diary writing, but I still await the flow in this diary, a flow that has come to my 6000 poems upstream somewhere. This diary seems to meander downstream in one of those u-shaped bows one reads about in geography books. The flow so often stops as if one of the Australian droughts finally took away all its water, all the water of life. In Thoreau's last years, from the late 1850s to his death in 1862, he wrote with energy and control, but with little interest in getting into print. I hope this becomes true for my Journal, a repository of lots of energy and creativity with no eye on posterity.


There is a type of unity in death, thought Thoreau. We need to learn how to die in order to learn how to live was his view. Part of this process, as far as the Journal is concerned, is the pleasure of serendipity. The only thing we leave behind, Thoreau thought, was ourselves. This Journal is just that: myself. It is as if one wants one’s leaves to survive, one’s autumnal hints and the reds, browns and golds of autumn. In my case I often feel as if winter has come to my Journal and no leaves can be found on its branches. Life is sometimes cold and dry. This is certainly the case if I measure my life by my Journal. But there are other indices of measurement, thank goodness.

Part 6:

Thoreau said that Emerson was more familiar with his work than he was. I’m sure, should this material ever be published, that there will be those who become more familiar with it--and perhaps with me--than I. I lose touch with this Journal as one often does with aspects of one’s life: with those one loves, with one's feelings which also seem to dry up especially in areas which were once rich, wet and alive. Perhaps this is a way to develop friends in the next life and be ready to meet them when they, or rather I, arrive. I’ll follow this theme later. Thoreau said that the best growth in trees is in their old age, with harmony and regularity. He also said good deeds act as an encouragement to yourself, to your artistic pursuits, your writing. May I build up a niche of good deeds and may my tree grow best in the years ahead.


Diaries can track the contemporaneous flow of public and private events. They are not given all of a piece, all at once as in a book, such as a life history might be. But rather, they are written discontinuously, either daily or over longer intervals of time and as such provide a record of an ever-changing present. Other types of autobiographical texts or life documents such as letters, rather than documenting the present, tend towards making retrospective sense of a whole life or towards retelling significant moments, epiphanies or crystallizations of experience. This proximity to the present, the closeness between the experience and the record of experience means that there is the perception at least that diaries are less subject to the vagaries of memory, to retrospective censorship or reframing than other autobiographical accounts. Still, there are in my letters much that others might place in a diary and so it is that my letters and diary might be seen as all of one piece.


I certainly think there is potential in these folders that contain my Journals or Diaries and the unfolding aspects of my life. It is a potential I have hardly begun to realize as yet in these first five diary-volumes. There is, I like to think, something unique, some unique contribution to my overall autobiographical opus: Pioneering Over Four Epochs, that has begun to reveal itself after more than two decades of making entries.


Part 7:

A description of "a life without secrets and without privacy" wrote Boris Pasternak, describing as he did the life that was his and on display in society in its different forms, is like some "show window." It is simply "inconceivable," he concluded. For me, this privacy is essentially the life of the mind and many things I have not revealed in the other forms of autobiography. But the revelation comes in my journal. They include aspects of personal life that one might term revelations could include those elements of human experience that seem most private, most hidden, most personal, most shameful, most embarrassing, a source of most guilt and those things that do not tend to be divulged in the normal course of interpersonal life. They are revealed episodically in these journals when time and the inclination have combined to allow me to insert them into the narrative. They are often that sort of entry that has concerned many a writer and artist and which these artists and writers have wanted to burn either before or after their demise from this mortal coil.


I have tried, too, to eliminate the trivial from what I write, but this is difficult for so much of life seems to amount to trivial’s many particularities and its ephemerality. When one tries to put one's experience on paper the trivial seems to abound in detail and this is the reason why many never keep a journal. The mere contemplation of the exercise of writing down what one dies is more than the average person can bear; indeed, the activity amounts to an inner revulsion, for many reasons. It is just too tedious for words, both the process and the content. And this is not just due to the average person’s distaste for writing. But enough on this sad but complex theme.


I have no intention of writing in public places like this about all the boredom and the chowder, as Paul Simon call some of the aspects of life; nor do I intend to write about all of my sins of omission and commission, all the points of shame and guilt that rise up from my life like a forest of trees. But many of them I write about in my Diary. Whether I deserve to have had these experiences, whether they came to me as a result of destiny, circumstance, capricous passion, whether I can even grasp the causative factors that gave rise to them at all or whether I can’t, I am not a believer in the virtues of public confession, beyond a certain point. There are times for public confession, public to some degree, for the spontaneous acknowledgment of wrongs I have committed or faults in my character. There are times when I would like someone, usually a close companion of some sort, to forgive me or accept me even with my faults. That point or points tends to be, for me at least, when I admit to personal struggle and battle in the hope that my admission may help others with their battle and struggle. Those who are keen to read the more confessional intimacies of my life and in more detail than they will find in my published accounts, in these introductions and in other places, can read about them in the posthumous collection of my Journals, should my executors decide they are relevant and helpful to a public audience.

Part 8:

Readers who have followed this series of introductions to my several volumes of journals will by now realise that much of what is written here in this introduction is virtually the same as the introduction to volume 4 of my journal. I have also written many of these words some six months before officially opening this volume 5 of my journal on January 20th 2006. It seemed useful to begin the contemplation of the 5th volume of this diary before that opening date of January 20th 2006. Volume 4 was becoming too full to continue using that 2-ring binder. The size of my volumes, the extent of the entries, is based on the room in each arch-lever file or two-ring binder for the entries I place. In addition, it was 37 years ago that I arrived in Australia as an international traveller/pioneer(12/7/71) and so, perhaps, writing many of these introductory words to this 5th volume of my journal today(24/5/08) is timely and appropriate.

After 29 months(20/1/06 to 24/5/08) now of making entries in this volume five, I conclude this introduction and leave the processes of making entries and writing introductions to those mysterious dispensations of a Watchful Providence. If Providence is not that watchful in my personal direction and if He/She/It has other things to do than to be concerned with the intimacies of my life on a daily basis, I can at least recount the tokens that tell of the glorious handiwork of the universe in which I am an infinitesimal part and some of the fiery, painful aspects of its immensity. Finally, I leave to reason and virtue their steady and not so uniform course while the extravagant wanderings of my vice and folly continue their path down destiny’s corridors with my free will giving me opportunities and closing doors as I travel. As this awful, awkward and tangled scene in what is perhaps history's greatest climacteric plays itself out before my eyes, I conclude this introduction to my Diary Volume 5.


20 March 2007
Updated For WritersBeat.com
24/5/08
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married for 48 years, a teacher for 32, a student for 18, a writer & editor for 16, and a Baha'i for 56(in 2015).

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Old 05-24-2008, 03:53 AM
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Welcome RonPrice from across the ditch in New Zealand. I have never kept a diary and always admired some one who meticulously write their entries in their journals.

It must be quite a feat for you to write for such a long period. Ah! 1984, it is a special year for me, My eldest daughter was born in that year.

I like the way you refer to the U shaped or ox bow lakes in the Aussie drought.Shall love to read your diaries when you post them. Would they be of more a personal nature?

Puresnow
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Old 05-24-2008, 04:32 AM
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I intend to keep my diary unpublished since it contains what might be called the most confessional aspects of my life. I have left the question of their publication until after my demise in the hands of my executors. But my memoirs, essays and much poetry can be found: (a) at my website: http://www.ronpriceepoch.com/auto.html and (b) on the internet by typing RonPrice into your search engine you can also access much of my writing especially if you also add to my name any single word from the following list: poetry, history, religion, philosophy, culture, sociology, media, literature, etc. etc.-Ron
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Old 10-20-2008, 07:10 PM
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I have changed the name of my diary to journal since the contents are more like a journal than a diary. My prose-poetry has both diary and journal aspects to it.-Ron in Australia
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