Tags: diary, History of the Diary, Merrill Markoe, The Morgan Library
There is a new show at the Morgan Library and Museum, in NYC, that appears to be retrospective of the human being and his centuries old need to present himself and his life through the keeping of diaries. From the review I read in the N.Y. Times, it looks like an exhibit I would love. The show appears to contain everything from a fifteenth century ” first printed edition of St. Augustine’s ‘Confessions,’ and that book’s 18th-century secular heir, Rousseau’s “Confessions” to the hand written musings of assorted luminaries such as Sir Walter Scott, Emily Bronte, and Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife (see below). There are also contributions from that old diary perennial Anais Nin as well as musings from Bob Dylan, Tennessee Williams and a policeman at the site of the World Trade Center during 9/11. All appear to share the amazing details of being alive in their particular moment. Somehow everyone seems to know instinctively how to create the kind of entry that deserves to be placed upon the sands of time and burned in to the pages of history.
But speaking now as someone who has been keeping diaries since I was in the third grade, I was a little stung that I wasn’t asked to contribute. Yes, yes…of course I am aware that I don’t exactly occupy the same space and weight in the world as a Sir Walter Scott or a St. Augustine. But still…does not every life matter equally in some a kind of a basically incomprehensible quantum physics kind of way? That was what I was telling myself as I went in to the closet to fish out my earliest diaries and examine them for relevance. What, I was wondering, might I have been able to contribute to the exhibit had I only but been allowed a chance?
My instincts were correct. What I found were the richly rewarding texts written by my younger self as I documented daily life at the beginning of the sixties. The excitement of that decade’s rebellious spirit of social upheaval comes alive on every page, as we clearly see in my first entry below which was written when I was in the fourth grade. Its interesting to note how l reject the constraints and gender expectations of a post war American middle class, while also predicting the coming feminist wave . In a follow up entry written just several days later,(not shown) I go even further down this path as I boldly dismiss ever having anything to do with the whole idea of menstruation, entirely.
Illustration two, written a few weeks after that, shows an oddly prescient sampling of the change in consciousness that this tumultuous decade would eventually bring. The truth is that every page of this amazing diary is such a treasure trove of textured insights, it was hard for me to pick just a few pages to highlight for this summary. Nevertheless, I will close with one that offers a tantalizing glimpse of the woman I would one day become as it tells the engaging tale of my attempt to triumph in a contest being held by a local television show called The Jim Dooley Hour. Then, as now, I was overcome by a heart felt desire to win a personal visit from a chimpanzee. (illustration 3)
Summing up, I would like to say that there are many many many other pages just as worthy as these. And since The Morgan exhibit doesn’t even close until May, there is plenty of time for them to give me a call. (Note to curator : Also available upon request are diaries from the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades.)