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My Personal Notations from “A Mere Journalist” by Aristides [Joseph Epstein] in The American Scholar (Winter 1985/86).

“Off and on for more than twenty years, I have been keeping a journal.  One expects a famous writer to keep a journal,” wrote Aristides, the pen name for Joseph P Epstein, editor of The American Scholar, 1975-1997. 

“The first function of a young writer’s journal: a place to grouse, a place to dramatize one’s condition in prose, and a place to bemoan the fact that, once again, this time in the instance of oneself, the world in its ignorance is failing to recognize another genius.”

“In my [current] journal…I have done my best to cease complaining and have taken as my motto the lines from the beer commercial that runs ‘I guess it doesn’t get much better than this.’”

“…to feature introspection and self-analysis…even in a journal has its limits.”

“Who needs this?…I suppose I alone do.  Something in me impels me to record much I have thought, or experienced, or read, or heard.”

“I find keeping a journal quickens life; it provides the double pleasure of first living life and then savoring it through the formation of sentences about it.”

Graphomania: a writer’s disease “taking the form of simply being unable to put down the pen (the authorly equivalent to logorrhea).  ‘Advanced’ stage takes the form of needing to write down everything because anything that hasn’t been written down isn’t quite real.”

“The graphomaniac’s slogan is ‘no ink, no life.’”

“I must confess that I do not write in my journal every day.  But when I do write something in my journal, I feel rather more complete…  Not that journal writing elevates me–it doesn’t, usually…”

“I do feel upon having made an entry in my journal as if I have done my duty, completed, in effect, an act of intellectual hygiene.”

“I do not often look into my journals; yet whenever I do, I am impressed by how much experience has slipped through the net of my memory.”

“I suspect that anyone who keeps a journal has to be something of a Copernican–he [or she] really must believe that the world revolves around himself [or herself].”

“Everything I have written is these journals is true–or at least as true as I could make it at the time I wrote it.  Lying, as such, is not, I believe, a question in my journal.”

“I try, when writing in my journal, to keep in mind the twin truths that I am someone of the greatest importance to myself and that I am also ultimately insignificant.  (This is not always so easily accomplished.)”

“Sometimes I am astonished at the items that find their way into this journal of mine.”

“I [once] wrote that John Wayne had become part of the furniture of [my] one’s life.  The first half of one’s life, it strikes me, one fills up one’s rooms with such furniture; the second half, one watches this furniture, piece by piece, being removed.”

“My journal has served as a running inventory of my days, and I am pleased to have kept it.”

“Though we must live life forward, ‘Life can only be understood backward,’ wrote Kierkegaard.  Yet a journal does provide backward understanding…a great aid in replaying segments of past experience, in running over important and even trivial events, in recollecting moods and moments otherwise lost to memory.”

“A journal is a simple device for blowing off steam, privately settling scores, clarifying thoughts, giving way to vanities, rectifying hypocrisies, and generally leaving an impression and record of your days.”

“When you are through with it, [and] when the time has come to leave this…earth, you can even pass the damn thing along to your yet unborn great-grandchildren.”

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“…many things have been omitted which should have been recorded. . . .  It is not easy to write in a journal what interests us at any time, because to write it is not what interests us.” –Henry David Thoreau

Still?  Haven’t started yet?  For an introduction, or a refresher, see https://memoriesofatime.com/2015/05/18/journal-keeping/

composition book 1No expensive blank-page, hardcover or leatherette book: use notebook paper, a speckled notebook, or some similar writing book.  (Avoid notebooks wire-bound that flatten or break or can scratch or poke.)  

Keeping it regularly?  Faithfully?  A few times a week?

Stuffed with “stuff,” like receipts, greeting cards, pictures, favorite essays from magazines, emails from friends?  or also filled with dreams and bads and goods?

Are you conversant with your soul?  Do you confer with those who have crossed over to the Other Side?

Can you/do you capture life as you see it, the now, the past, the present?  (You are not stuck in the past, are you?)

Do you connect the few facts you know, the slim insights you have attained, the “chance extensions of sensibility into which you have been once or twice tempted into a larger enough context to make sense of the world…or the works of art you encounter”?–[Leslie Fiedler]

Chronological order: date, day, time.  A good record (for reference, a place in time).

Not boring details.  But details.  What is that saying about details?  “The idiom “the devil is in the detail” refers to a catch or mysterious element hidden in the details, and derives from the earlier phrase ‘God is in the detail,’ expressing the idea that whatever one does should be done thoroughly; i.e. details are important.”  — [Wikipedia–and other sources]

No day is bereft of material to write about…about which to write.  See, hear, touch, taste, and smell.  Then understand, react.  Then WRITE.

Note the particulars that make you your journal, your journal you.

Need more than this?  Need a book for starters?  “If you want to change your life and know that you have the answers within, then learning to journal as a tool for rediscovering what you already knew, is the best way I know how. This book stands alone; and if you want to have a master teacher guide you into the depths of your soul, get this book and the companion workbook.”  [Marcia C. Bliss comment in 2013]:  Journaling for Joy: Writing Your Way to Personal Growth and Freedom by Joyce Chapman, 1991, 2013.

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BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“Men are what their mothers made them.”  — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I thought and believed at one time that my mother was God, or at the very least a god-like figure:  https://memoriesofatime.com/2014/05/09/your-mother-is-not-god-shes-not/    

For the past few weeks, I have been going through old journals, scissoring out unwanted and unneeded material.  Old essays, old emails, and old class notes–among other things.  Glued-in essays no longer relevant.  Gone.  Deleted.

So volume by volume, I page through.

On May 5, 2016, I was working on Volume 91: 12-11-2008–10-12-2009.

My reading became deliberate.  My entries slowed me down.  Few clips of the scissors.  More attention to the words.  A Mother’s Day.  A mother’s illness, and hospitalization.  A mother’s death [10-7-2009].  A chronology of events, details. 

Ironic timing: Another Mother’s Day is here. 

And some vivid memoriesofatime:

Mom in Ohio 2008Mom Relaxing on Swing, Ohio Cottage 2008

 

©  James F. O’Neil   2016

 


 

 

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