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Posts Tagged ‘diaries’

How to Keep a Journal

July 15, 2016 | by

A history of the discipline, and of myself.

Samuel F. B. Morse,Susan Walker Morse (The Muse) (detail), 73 3/4 x 57 5/8,  1945.

Samuel F. B. Morse, Susan Walker Morse (The Muse) (detail), 73 3/4 x 57 5/8, 1945.

A few months after I turned sixteen, I began to keep a journal. I labeled it VOLUME I and titled it Journal of the 16th Summer of Alyssa Jean Pelish—anticipating posterity, if only in the form of my older self. I wrote in this journal daily, diligently, the only way I knew how. I had no models beyond the very general Protestant work ethic it is possible to glean from children’s picture books and Saturday morning cartoons and after-school reruns, which taught me that you win approval by, say, training your horse every single day, or, once you have planted a seed, by never ceasing to pull up the weeds and sprinkle water over the ground. Unstinting repetition was, therefore, my MO. Read More »

We’re Both Dippy Over Him, and Other News

June 30, 2016 | by

Gee whiz!

  • If you’ve been listening to pop music your whole life, you might think that love is a many-splendored thing, subject to the vicissitudes and vagaries of the human condition. You would be wrong. Love has exactly seven stages—no more, no less. Stendhal said so: “In 1818, Stendhal—then an unsuccessful writer in his midthirties named Henri Beyle—met one of the loves of his life, Méthilde … But Méthilde kept Stendhal at arm’s length, and even limited their interactions, only allowing him to visit her once every two weeks, which, in turn, gave Stendhal time to develop and nurture his fantasy of her, to exaggerate his love and admiration to truly grandiose proportions. ‘This is a love that lives only through the imagination,’ Stendhal recorded in his journal … Stendhal kept track of his emotions, and began to think about love with an almost scientific scrutiny. The result of this project was called De l’Amour, in which he described his famous concept of the stages of love. There are seven stages in all—which could conceivably follow like episodes on a season of The Bachelor—evolving in a form of crystallization: ‘a mental process which draws from everything that happens new proofs of the perfection of the loved one.’ ”
  • While we’re talking love—David Rees found his grandma’s diaries, and they are full of it. Mainly the object of her affection is ice cream; sometimes boys, too. “My teenage grandmother’s great genius was flirting,” he writes: “Those amazing boys! The peachy, dandy, charming boys of Gloversville, anointed with adjectives now reserved for Yelp reviews of bed-and-breakfasts. I can barely keep up with her crushes, or their fluctuations in status: ‘But what do you suppose [Peggy] told me? That Bill was mad at me because he thought I was mad at him because he talked to Velma Thorne! And there I didn’t even know he’d been talking to her! Wasn’t it funny. ... So I told [Ralph] to tell [Bill] I wasn’t mad and it didn’t bother me how much he talked to Velma!’ It turns out poor Bill, being ‘stout’ and a cigarette-bummer (‘I hate to see a fellow smoke when he’s with a girl on the street, don’t you?’) was no match for Grant. Or Jonsey. Or the mysterious ‘Sunshine,’ who, if my grandmother is to be believed, was, for one summer in 1911, the most alluring young man in the universe: ‘one grand rower, fisher and sportsman. Really I never saw anybody like him. Emma & I are both dippy over him!’ ”
  • So like imagine you’re a young Karl Ove Knausgaard and you get on the elevator in a fancy midtown building and hey now, it’s some hotshot publisher and you’ve got about thirty seconds to pitch My Struggle: “Ah, hello. Yes, going up. I haven’t chosen a floor yet. You may know me. I’m a writer. Imagine: A young man boards the bus to his grandparents’ flat in Elvegaten. He usually sits on the left side of the aisle, a few rows from the back, by the window, if the seat is available. It is: He sits there. He—there’s more to it, actually, but—yes, have a nice day.”
  • Marianne Moore revised her poems restlessly, constantly—and sometimes publicly. In her willingness to let her readers see a poem in different iterations, she anticipated the Internet, Ali Pechman writes: “Particularly with respect to the way she changed her work, Moore has always struck me as more of a digital-age artist than any of her contemporaries. Her poems were as malleable as something written online … Her process gives a hint of how a poetic mind might use the Internet. In poems such as ‘An Octopus,’ she collages together text from newspapers, guidebooks, and overheard remarks at the circus in a shimmering representation of Mount Rainier. ‘Marriage’ contains roughly thirty sources from Francis Bacon to Ezra Pound to the inscription on a statue in Central Park. Such poems are a reflection of the hours she spent scouring countless books at the library and attending lectures. Her democratic sphere of influence apes the Internet—and, to follow, her aggressive self-editing reads like a symptom of that kind of capacity. One wonders what she would have written if she had had references at her fingertips.”
  • Anne Garréta’s Sphinx, an Oulipo project, tells a love story without ever referring to gender—a feat that’s all the more impressive in French, which has gender baked into its grammatical constructs.To get around these rules, Garréta digs deep into the French language. Instead of the passé composé she uses the literary form of the past tense, the passé simple, which does not employ participles that require agreement, and relies heavily on the imparfait, which describes continuously-occurring past actions. Sometimes Garréta uses sentence fragments to avoid the verb altogether. She describes A***’s body indirectly, taking advantage of the fact that, in French, an arm (un bras) is masculine even if it belongs to a female and a leg (une jambe) is feminine even when it belongs to a male. No primary or secondary sex characteristics are ever mentioned, of course: in the sex scenes thighs and crotches end up doing the erotic and narrative heavy lifting. And in one important instance a genderless English noun stands in for its gendered French equivalent.”

Portraits by Kitty, and Other News

June 21, 2016 | by

A 1978 photo from Kitty’s, a South African portrait studio. Courtesy the Walther Collection. Image via The New Yorker.

  • I don’t keep a diary. I prefer the raw material of anxiety, guilt, and neurosis—my “special sauce”—to remain entirely unprocessed in my brain. But for those who diarize with reckless abandon, there emerges a question of audience, as Elisa Segrave writes: “Compulsive diarists are ambivalent: we want to be private but we want our thoughts to be appreciated. When Jean Lucey Pratt, some of whose diaries have been published as A Notable Woman, began her first in 1926, aged sixteen, she wrote: ‘This document is private.’ But as her life unfolded and she realized that her career as an author was not going to take off, she started to treat her diaries more seriously. On Christmas Day 1934, she wrote: ‘7 p.m. A diarist must do what other writers may not … His purpose is special and peculiar. He has to capture and crystallize moments on the wing so that future generations will say as they turn the glittering pages, ‘This was the present then. This was true.’ ”
  • Charlotte Brontë and Thackeray met once for a tremendously awkward dinner, and in the 165 years since, people have clucked at the severe dress she wore to the encounter: plain blue and white, buttoned up to the neck. (Her contemporaries would’ve gone in for something more low-cut—in silk, maybe, or velvet or lace.) New analysis suggests that Brontë had better fashion sense than history has credited her for—but the dinner itself was still nothing to write home about. “The dinner, with other literary and artistic guests invited to meet the best-selling author, was an abject failure. Conversation faltered, and [Thackeray] later recalled her shocked look as he reached for another potato. One guest recalled it as ‘one of the dullest evenings she ever spent in her life’ … One guest, desperate to break the silence, asked Brontë if she was enjoying London. After a long silence, she finally replied: ‘Yes; and no.’ ”
  • Luke Mogelson teases out that nauseous link between journalism and Schadenfreude: “I do my best to observe things firsthand … This approach, despite its obvious journalistic advantages (you’re less likely to get stuff wrong), can frequently put you in awkward positions. You can find yourself, for instance, visiting a river every morning hoping to find a murder victim. Most foreign correspondents I know would probably object to my use of that word, hoping. They would probably say that we don’t want bad things to happen; we just want to witness them if they do. It’s a legitimate distinction, but one that, in the field, can feel semantic. In the field, we are actively, aggressively seeking to see with our own eyes the reality of war, famine, disaster—and who isn’t at least somewhat gratified when he discovers what he’s sought, at least somewhat disappointed when he doesn’t?”
  • I see you’re smiling, Internet user—you’re probably pretty jazzed about that new form of creative expression you’ve found! But I’m here to tell you that it’s doomed to commodification. Witness the death of the emoji and the GIF: “When emojis and GIFs are filtered through the interests of tech companies, they often become slickly automated … Buying into these features means giving tech companies the power to shape our creative expressions in ways that further enrich the companies themselves. A limited emotional range helps collect data on users’ states of mind. Twitter advertisers can now target users based on the emoji they tweet … The commodification of digital culture has engendered more explicit corporate branding, too. On Snapchat, where users embellish their selfies with emoji, crayon scribbles, and elaborate ‘lenses’ that cover their faces with virtual masks, marketers like McDonalds are seizing the opportunity to write their messages across people’s faces.”

Sweet Sorrow, Et Cetera

May 27, 2016 | by

Mikhail Clodt, Der Abschied, before 1902.

It is a strange thing to monetize your emotions. Anyone who writes or creates knows this. And the work one does on the Internet feels insubstantial, even by the flimsy standards of intellectual property. Any body of digital work is a funny mixture of ephemeral and immortal, and it’s hard to know how to feel about such an archive. 

Today marks my final column as the Daily’s correspondent. When I started writing these casuals, in January 2014, I thought of them as a challenge: to try to do something small, well, and consistently. There are certain kinds of writing—good writing—that are actually better suited to this medium than to print, and translating the personal and fleeting into something public seems to me one of the Internet’s primary gifts. The challenge comes not in finding inspiration, but in trying to strike the balance of confidence—that one’s observations have merit—and humility: recognizing that they’re not inherently interesting. Read More »

Protection

March 16, 2016 | by

Louis-Robert Carrier-Belleuse, Porteurs de farine. Scène parisienne, 1885.

Before I traveled to France this week, I made myself go back and read my diaries from the time I’d lived there, years ago. I had avoided rereading them ever since, and I was relieved to find, in my actual words, very little of the sadness I knew lurked between the lines. I’d said plenty about all the different jobs I did, about the people I taught and the children I nannied and the soup kitchen at the local church. There were details about deals I’d gotten late in the day from the vegetable vendors and stuff I’d found discarded by the side of the street. Well, I was never very good at being young. Read More »

That Old-time Coney Island Dreamland, and Other News

March 7, 2016 | by

Joseph Stella, Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras, 1913–1914.

  • Coney Island today is a fine place to force-feed yourself hotdogs and get a weird rash, but in centuries past it was a bona fide dreamland—so much so that a new exhibition of early Coney Island art is called “Visions of an American Dreamland.” J. Hoberman writes, “As befits a dreamland, the exhibit—curated by Robin Jaffee Frank, who also wrote much of the show’s excellent, richly illustrated catalogue—is a mix of artifacts and artworks and a trove of suggestive juxtapositions … A 1910 wooden cut-out cartoon of Mae West and Jimmy Durante, both of whom got their starts in Coney Island ‘concert saloons,’ is positioned opposite a selection of roughly contemporaneous Sunday pages by the master draughtsman Winsor McCay, whose gorgeously inventive comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland was surely the greatest graphic expression of fin-de-siècle Coney.”
  • Morgan Jerkins reflects on the role of the diary for black women: “The boundaries of a black woman’s social life are many and varied. Alice Dunbar Nelson, who had been married to the famous black writer Paul Laurence Dunbar, wrote in her diary of her lesbian and other extramarital affairs. One of the fears that many black women writers have historically had is that if they reveal too much of their intimate lives, it could reflect badly, not only on themselves but on the black community. In addition to matters of romance and money, these earlier diaries of black women are filled with confessions about strained familial relationships, and personal demons and insecurities … For a black woman in a white world, a conversation with the self is crucial: for when she walks through that often-unwelcoming world she is subjected to confining perceptions of who she might be. When that world insists on racist and narrow paradigms, the diary gives these women a chance to scratch out and rewrite such definitions.”
  • Today in unsolicited advice for parents: take your kids to see Where’s Peter Rabbit, a new puppet musical designed to preserve the memory of Beatrix Potter’s darker side. It’ll scare the shit out of them … but, you know, in a good way. As the designer Roger Glossop argues, “[Potter’s] stories really are not all fluffy bunnies. I mean, Mr. Tod, the fox in The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck, is one of the darker villains you will find anywhere in children’s literature … It is a really foul piece and so, dramatically, that is terrific! We do wonder if some children in the audience may leave weeping, although we will certainly not try to scare them.” Sold!
  • Not unrelatedly, a new book of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s letters sheds some much-needed light on her past and her feelings about the coddled youths of her day: “Later in life, as the Little House series grew in popularity, her letters are devoted to readers—children, parents, schoolteachers, librarians, even a congressman—who flood Wilder with fan mail. The Laura in this period is given to mildly political disquisitions on how things used to be. ‘The children today have so much that they have lost the power to truly enjoy anything,’ Wilder wrote from her ten-room house in 1944. ‘They are poor little rich children.’”
  • To go by the new collection of Jane Austen’s juvenilia, Love and Freindship [sic], no one would ever accuse her of being a poor little rich kid. The book is, at its best, sublimely ridiculous, as in the case of a 1788 work called The Beautifull [sic] Cassandra: “Escaping her parents’ millinery shop with another woman’s hat on her head, Cassandra sets out to ‘make her Fortune.’ Her attempt would last seven hours. For a lot of heroines, that exit from the parental home would be precisely the moment when a handsome man, whether a villain or a preserver, would be thrown in her way. But when Cassandra finds herself in just this situation, passing an attractive Viscount, she walks right by him to devour a gluttonous amount of dessert … The heroine ‘proceeded to a Pastry-cooks where she devoured six ices, refused to pay for them, knocked down the Pastry Cook and walked away.’ ”