“My savings banks.” That’s what Ralph Waldo Emerson called his journals. On a recent visit to his house in Concord, Massachusetts, I saw the circular table he used as a desk, with drawers built in all around it. That’s where he kept many of those ”savings banks,” daily records of everything that came to his encompassing attention. Emerson began keeping a journal when he went off to college (Harvard) at the precocious age of 14, and he kept them going for the rest of his lengthy life.
Inspiring, but not unique. In interviewing men and women around the country for a book I was writing about bereavement, I was surprised to find increasing numbers of people who regularly keep a diary. It’s especially utilized by those who are working their way through loss of one kind or another. As a Boston woman confided. “ I write down all the feelings that would shock my mother and the priest. Then I’m okay for the rest of the day.”
She was wary enough to hide her journals. So did a famous author – Edith Wharton. Circumspect in what she revealed to the world, she kept any passionate moments out of her autobiography. Yet after her death it was discovered that this very proper woman had a secret “Love Journal,” in which she recorded (among other things) an affair she had during her troubled marriage. ”I have drunk the wine of life at last,” she wrote. Apparently she had a need to preserve that “wine” on paper.
In teaching journaling and memoir writing I help my students use diaries to connect with themselves and to navigate through challenges. It’s thrilling to see them feel ncreasingly free to write about — and to share with the class – such personal emotions as love/hate (usually for a spouse or partner — or child!), and the balancing act of reverence/rage for a parent.
The journals also freeze in time experiences that might have been lost. A seventy-year–old woman told me of her regret that she had never kept a journal. “My younger self is lost to me now,” she said.
I had lost the habit of journaling for many years, but went back to it when my husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness. The diary enabled me – like the Boston woman – to express feelings I couldn’t share with anyone. My diary became a friend I could turn to at any midnight hour – and who wouldn’t betray my confidences! It also stored memories to draw upon when I began writing my memoir, “Widow’s Walk.”
[Next week, meet a Florida man who created an unusual memoir.}
BOOKS: “Widow’s Walk” – available through iUniverse.com; “Turning Toward Tomorrow” – Xlibris.com; “Ten Women of Valor” – Amazon.com and Create Space.com. Also Amazon Kindle.