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June 15, 2020


Beth, this post resonates deeply with me. As I think you know, I've been writing journals/diaries/notebooks all my life since the age of about nine, I have boxes and boxes of them, every shape and size. But I never thought of this activity as 'proper' writing, in the sense that other people might read them. It was just a need to put down what I was feeling and some of the circumstances that affected this. It's only when I look at them now that I think about editing, polishing - in other words, a potential audience looking over my shoulder.

Your journal extracts are definitely writerly and ready for communicating to 'the public'. My problem is that I don't know where the line is, or should be, between private and public. If writing a journal has always been a means of confessing to one's self, spilling all the beans, then where does an audience come in, and should it come in?

This resonates with me, for in nature I feel (as a writer known for humour once wrote) "at two with myself". The city can distract with its relentless stimulation, but when I let it, it offers a kernel of solitude all the more profound for its non-ubiquity. I am so glad you are here.

"Private" in terms of a journal—or other writing— is a subjective label that can change over time; the question is whether you are willing to share particular thoughts or experiences.

Natalie, thanks. That's the million-dollar question, isn't it? What to share of those private confessions, and whether it's even right to do so. Of course that's what makes Knausgaard's writings so controversial and destructive, and so compelling at the same time. I've always held myself back when it comes to private stories or thoughts about those close to me, at lest people who are still alive. Being kind and loyal has been the most important consideration, which probably decreases the "interest" of the audience, but so be it.

Duchesse, I'm glad to read your thoughts on solitude and the city, and we'll have to talk more about it. I was sort of surprised to find what I had written about it back then. Now, I chafe sometimes at the busyness of the city and the too-many-ness of the people, and crave being really and truly alone with nature, so I guess the pendulum has swung the other way somewhat. But I also appreciate the way you can slip into a crowd and be anonymous, or walk on the streets without anyone noticing or running into anyone you know -- the solitude in this is just the same as I anticipated long ago.

Thank you for sharing your journal entries and thoughts about journaling and solitude and contemplation and reminding me how much I benefitted from reading everything that Thomas Merton wrote. I kept regular journals from the age of 18 as a college freshman until the age of 45, only becoming aware of Thomas Merton's writings in my 30s. After my mother (a writer turned artist) died suddenly of a heart attack in 1994, I boxed my journals up and put them in the trash because although they documented my dreams and my joys, they also documented so many years of emotional pain and anger that I didn't want anyone in my family to read if I were to die while they were still alive. Almost immediately, I began buying those illustrated engagement calendars with a space to write in -- at most 1-1/2 x 7 inches. I write just enough to document the events in my day, avoiding writing down anything I wouldn't want anyone else to read. I still buy an engagement calendar for that purpose each year. I keep dream journals. When I began blogging in December 2006, that became another kind of journal. Recently I've felt free to write in one of my laptops those thoughts I don't feel free to write down anywhere else. There are things I need to write for myself, with only God, as it is said, as my witness. My mandalas are another form of journaling. I didn't expect to write so much here today. Thank you for the inspiration.

Beth, this is wonderful. All of it.

I loved reading your thoughts on the subject of diaries. It was also really interesting to read about your state of mind just before moving to Montreal. I also used to think cities offered the most privacy but strangely, I find a fair bit of it in the suburbs as well now (the closest I've ever been to living "in the country"). I think for me it's more a matter of living away from where I grew up.

On the subject of diaries, I was captivated by this piece written in The Guardian by Helen Garner, an author I haven't read yet but that I am now looking forward to discovering. I love the way she's completely unsentimental about her old diary writing. I too had that shameful feeling she described of going back to an old diary to find out what I had to say about an important social or political event, only to find out that I never even mentioned it...


"And of course I soon found myself, day after day, strapped into the straitjacket that is the very nature of a diary: it’s got a voice, it’s entirely composed of voice, but it has no voiceover. It exists in an eternal present."

And I have made Ed promise that if I die suddenly, no one is to read any of my writing and he should destroy everything he finds.

am, thank you for writing. I'm glad to know that Merton made a difference to you too, and I certainly understand the impulse to throw out the most personal writing that could cause hurt to others -- I've done that too. My grandfather kept a jounrnal like the one you describe - just a line or two every day - but it's surprising how interesting it is to read now.

Deborah, thank you reading all of it, and for saying that.

Martine, well, I hope that one of these days some of your personal writing will find its way into a book! You and Ed are mentioned in the entries about Montreal that follow the one I quoted here, because I think we met at a YulBlog meeting during that month. Thanks for the link to the Helen Garner piece - I haven't read it yet but will be sure to talk to you after I have!

Thanks for taking the time to share these excellent thoughts, Beth. Reading about Merton, I couldn't help but remember this quotation from screenwriter Bruce Wagner:
'An old Buddhist text said that the desire for acclaim is so strong that in many ways it’s a more difficult hardship to overcome than poverty or disease. This particular Buddhist text I was reading said that even the most reclusive of cave monks will have the desire to be known the world over as the most reclusive of cave monks.' (https://www.openlettersmonthlyarchive.com/hammer-and-thump/interview-maps-to-the-stars-screenwriter-bruce-wagner)

I came across the quotation in Elisa Gabbert's Paris Review article 'On Writerly Jealousy' — a good read in its own right (https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2018/12/05/on-writerly-jealousy/)

Much more I could say, but I have daily journal writing to complete ;-)

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.