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2010-04-21 06:01:35 (UTC)

Introduction To Volumes 1 to 6 of My Diary/Journal



What follows is a summary of my journals or diaries, for I use the terms interchangeably even though I am aware that fine distinctions are made by specialists in the field of diary and journal-making. The diary and journal are sub-sections of life-writing, life-narrative, autobiography and memoir writing. My journals are not those of an artist with paint, a sculptor with clay, but one of a person who sees himself as an artist in the medium of words, an artist who, after more than 60 years of writing, feels he has just begun his literary journey.

This summary is made after more than 30 years of diary/journal keeping, January 1984 to June 2014. Those who work in the mediums of painting and sculpture, pottery or one of the various forms of design, may find my post useful as a comparison and contrast point with their own efforts to keep a journal or diary. Such is my hope. This introduction still needs some editing of the following parts of this lengthy post in the weeks and months ahead, and I will return to this post occasionally in the months and years ahead to make a few changes here and there updating in the process, where appropriate, where I feel it is necessary.


As I have said before in other contexts than this, keeping a journal or diary I have found difficult. I know many others do as well, artists and people in all sorts of walks of life. The Australian artist Donald Friend's work with his art journal has been helpful to me in this vein, in the vein of keeping and maintaining a diary. So, too, have many other diarists and memoirists both some living and some who have passed on to what some call the land of light.

Of particular value to me have been the diaries of Juliet Thompson, Agnes Parsons and a range of other diaries and quasi-memoiristic resources that have appeared online in recent years. I hope to edit this post in the years ahead, as I go through my 70s and 80s(if I last that long), mainly to adjust the paragraphing in such a way that it is like the first paragraphs above. Having each sentence justified prematurely, as readers will find if they read many more paragraphs, is not desirable, but time does not permit my making more than a small adjustment here on the first day of July 2014.


As a lover--and keeper--of diaries and notebooks, Joan Didion says she often finds herself returning again and again to the question of what compels her---what propels her---to record her impressions of the present moment in all their fragile subjectivity. From Joan Didion’s 1968 anthology Slouching Towards Bethlehem, the same volume that gave us her timeless meditation on self-respect---comes a wonderful essay titled “On Keeping a Notebook,” in which Didion considers precisely that. Though the essay was originally written nearly half a century ago, the insights at its heart apply to much of our modern record-keeping, from blogging to Twitter to Instagram, to diaristic and journalistic exercises like my own.

Part 1:

After more than 30 years of haphazard diary keeping(1984-2014) and an equally haphazard twenty-eight years of dream recording(1986-2014), 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 as 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? Just how confessional do I want these pages to be?

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 where diaries will in all likelihood not play any part at all—will this diaristic memoir resemble a place where I have flung a mass of odds and ends, some with reflective ardor 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? My diary thus far is highly diffuse, apparently shapeless and, in places, unremittingly concrete.

The purpose of this overview of my diary, updated more than 30 years after beginning my episodic entries and introducing, as it does, the 5th and 6th volumes 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.

Part 1.1:

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.

Didion asks, and I ask: Why do I write things down? In order to remember, of course, but exactly what was it I wanted to remember? How much of it actually happened? Did any of it? Why do I keep a notebook, a diary, a journal at all? It is easy to deceive oneself on all those scores. The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.

One can argue, of course, that such an inclination begins or does not begin in the cradle. Although I have felt compelled to write things down since I was five years old, I doubt that most of my family members ever will except, in some cases, at their Facebook profiles. "Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether," writes didion, "lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss." That does not really descirbe me but, then, I'm not Didion. I did not get into the diary and notebook business until my 40s. I could argue that I got into it in my teens and 20s, but that was only school-work stuff.

Part 2:

On the basis of what I have written here in these 30 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.

To return to Didion again: "The point of my keeping a notebook has never been, nor is it now, to have an accurate factual record of what I have been doing or thinking. That would be a different impulse entirely, an instinct for reality which I sometimes envy but do not possess." In my case, my entry often is in fact "to provide an accurate record." To that end, Didion confesses a lifelong failure at keeping a diary: "I always had trouble distinguishing between what happened and what merely might have happened, but I remain unconvinced that the distinction, for my purposes, matters."

"What, then, does matter?" she asks. She answers the question for her and, partly, for me:

"How it felt to me: that is getting closer to the truth about a notebook. I sometimes delude myself about why I keep a notebook, imagine that some thrifty virtue derives from preserving everything observed. See enough and write it down, I tell myself, and then some morning when the world seems drained of wonder, some day when I am only going through the motions of doing what I am supposed to do, which is write — on that bankrupt morning I will simply open my notebook and there it will all be, a forgotten account with accumulated interest, paid passage back to the world out there: dialogue overheard in hotels and elevators and at the hat-check counter in Pavillon.....I imagine, in other words, that the notebook is about other people. But of course it is not. My stake is always, of course, in what it was to be me: that is always the point."

Didion continues: ".....our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable “I.” We are not talking here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consumption, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful pensees; we are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its marker." In my case, there are several categories of notebook entries: from the most private of private to the most public of public.
And here is Didion again: "I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were." My notebooks in their various forms: diary, journal, poem, essay, autobiography, memoir---certainly remind me of what I was. I am able to keep on nodding terms with myself, with how I was.

Part 3:

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 did not burn-out but my wings had been clipped and my edges were frayed. 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 more than 65 years ago. It is difficult to define just what it is that lies under this diary, what is its raison d’etre or what are its raisons d’etres.

One of the leitmotifs which binds the diary together into a coherent whole, if indeed it has coherence and wholeness, is my life as a pioneer and travel teacher. There are many things that motivate me to want to add an extra level to an already present story, my autobiography or memoir. One was conveyed by Shakespeare in sonnet 94: “For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds.” My diary or journal is much more confessional than my autobiography or memoir.

My pioneering story needed to be written, or such was my own felt need in those same 30 years. It has now been written; it is now complete as far as the 6th edition and a truncated version of it can be found at Baha’i Library Online.

Part 3.1:

Baha’is are advised, though, not be confess their sins unless, of course, they spontaneously desire to do so and in this regard they are quite free. My journal is much more confessional. 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 a quarter of a century, 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 my seven decades of living thusfar.

For I was, in part at least, the traumatized soul that Phyllis K. Peterson describes in her book Assisting the Traumatized Soul. It was Baha’u’llah though, not Shakespeare, who I think 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, the Founder of the Baha’i Faith wrote in the 19th century. I had had an excess of life’s verbal art and its twistings and turnings in the 68 years of my memoried life: 1948-2014.

Part 4:

Of course, there is much more in the motivational matrix that led to the writing of this diary and I deal with this complex matrix as far as I am able and as much as I desire in this introduction to Volume 5 of this diary and at other places in my writings for those who are interested in following-up on this theme, the raison d’etre for this diary. I did not desire to take part in that conversational/verbal part of life as my late adulthood(60-80), grew insensibly and incrementally, annalistically as the Romans would have written it, 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, my first year as a high school teacher. In 1984 I was writing a column in the Katherine’s 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 1971 when I arrived as an international pioneer from Canada to Whyalla in South Australia.

Part 4.1:

I had always liked the base, the origin, of art, in unmerited grace, as the unofficial poet laureate of the Baha’i Faith back in the 1980s, sometimes emphasized. Annie Dollar 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. 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.

Part 5:

These five to six 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 North 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.

Part 5.1:

In the last century over one billion deaths have occurred from trauma of different kinds or so some historians claim, 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. 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, especially the Baha’i Faith. 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.

Part 6:

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 theyfinished. 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 6.1:

In writing my life story in the last years of my fifties and now my 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 to higher levels of the streams of thought that could make of this journal a document worth preserving for future generations. Perhaps I will find that flow in the second 25 years of my journal writing. The accumulating grist of my life has really yet to be ground and made into a fertile soil for literary productivity in the first 29 years of writing this journal.

They may, in fact, never get ground properly. Thusfar, poetry and narrative, essays and notes have stolen most of the material. They have taken the literary stage of my life and left this diary-prose always waiting in the wings. But, as I said above, the confessional element here may attract a future reader whose interest is, not so much prurient, as passionate and in possession of a solemn consciousness, a wellspring of celebratory joy. There is some material here to satisfy to some extent those prurient interests, but the wellspring of my celebratory joy, rooted as it has become in my solemn consciousness, offers to future readers a type of confessionalism that is moderate and intoxicated by the wine of another cup. These intoxications I leave to readers of this diary should it ever be published.

Part 7:

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 for my writing. I have mentioned before that Henry David Thoreau has been invaluable in helping my diary writing, but I still await that flow in this diary, a flow that has come to my 7000 poems upstream somewhere, but not here downstream in this diary.

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, in my own latter years, ones that I can not yet anticipate caught up as I am in getting through today.

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 my 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 before winter comes and takes it all away.

Part 7.1:

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. Although there is an intoxication of joy in these journals there is also the dry wretch, despair, disappointment and a personal sense of diary. But there are other indices of measurement that readers may use for these journals, if they ever see the light of day after my passing—and thank goodness for these more moderate measurements of journalistic value.

Thoreau said that Emerson was more familiar with his work than he was. I’m sure that, should this material ever be published, 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 follow this theme too in my journals. 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.

Part 7.2:

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.

Part 8:

I certainly think there is a variety of potential historical value 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 twenty-five years of making entries.

A description of "a life without secrets and without privacy" wrote the great Russian poet Boris Pasternak, describing as he did the life that was his and on display in society in its different forms like some "show window" 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, this inner life, comes in my journal. This inner life includes aspects of personal life that one might term revelations: 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 life. They are revealed episodically in these journals when time and the inclination have combined to allow me to record them in written form.

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. But, as I said above, there is in my journal what might be called an affective spectrum of experience with emotions and activity at the other end of the continuum: joy, ecstasy, fervid love, rapture, intense desire, inter alia.

Part 8.1:

I have tried to eliminate the trivial from what I write, but this is difficult for so much of life necessarily deals with trivial’s many particularities and their 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, indeed, most people never keep a journal. The mere contemplation of the exercise of writing down what one does 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 in this introductory statement.

Part 9:

I have no intention of writing in public places like this about all the boredom and the chowder, as Paul Simon calls 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 do write about in my Diary.

Whether I deserve to have had these experiences, whether they came to me as a result of destiny, circumstance, capricious 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 9.1:

Readers who have followed the 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 both before and after officially opening these volumes 5 and 6 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.

It is now 43 years ago that I arrived in Australia as an international pioneer(12/7/71-12/7/14) from the Canadian Baha'i community. After more than 8 years now of making entries in this volume five and six, 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 that Providence 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 of wonder and delight and closing other 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 and 6.—Ron Price, For 12/7/'14.
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