Sunday, June 6, 2010

Journals as a Window to Other Worlds

Right now, I'm reading "Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters" edited by Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower, and Charles Foley. It's a collection of letters that the creator of Sherlock Holmes wrote to his mother, Mary Conan. He began writing to her during his boyhood in a Jesuit school and kept on until her death in 1920. The first two authors are members of the Baker Street Irregulars (a society devoted to Sherlock Holmes) and Charles Foley is Arthur C. Doyle's grand-nephew.

His world (late 19th-early 20th century Europe) is a different world from ours. He brought a lot of real-life aspects to his writing. His worst subject was mathematics, so he made Holmes's arch-nemesis, James Moriarty, a mathematician by training. He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, and so made Doctor James H. Watson a doctor. Doyle was horrible at dating his letters (not to mention organizing them and punctuating them), and Watson's chronicles were also written in the same haphazard way. Doyle also mentioned his idols (Poe's short stories inspired Holmes's serial adventures) and even mentioned some of his critics' early reviews of his work.

They say that art imitates life and that's true, especially about writers. "Write what you know." Journals can give you an insight into a writer's mind and into what influenced him/her to write about what they did. They write about their worlds from their unique points of view. Many casual diarists don't consider their lives special, but to an outsider, looking in, each entry reveals a little more about that life that I might not have known about.

I have a whole shelf full of journals written by various people. The Journals of Lewis and Clark. The Diary of Anne Frank (both "A Diary of a Young Girl" and a 1956 British copy inherited from my godmother), Zlata's Diary (of a girl living through the Balkan war), and A World War II Diary 1941-45 (of a U.S. Navy Sailor stationed on a destroyer in the Pacific). I also have a copy of a fictional journal of a girl in the Middle Ages, Catherine, called Birdie (2 copies, in English and Spanish). Call it a habit, but I've always been fascinated by other's journals.
I started my own journal when I was 8, in regular spiral-bound school notebooks. Then I switched to hard-bound journal books when I got married. Each book's cover reflects something going on at that time of my life. So far, I have 18 hard-bound books in a box in my closet. And I still write when I can.

Do you keep a journal? How often do you write in it and what do you write about? A friend of mine describes his as "The Life, The Universe and Everything" (with apologies to Douglas Adams). How special is it to you?

All writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

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