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A Woman's Journal


What I think I'm doing...

By Maggie Turner

Janurary 9, 2000

What I think I'm doing...

I am sated; I cannot look at another photo, document, letter, or memory from the past. After such an intense period of absorbing information and feelings, it is time to process. This takes place below the surface of daily life, a deep undercurrent that will eventually change the face of the surface. I need to spend time just doing things, following routines. Therefore, into the new plastic storage chests went all the contents of my former treasure box. The old cardboard box sits empty on the living room floor, soon to be recycled.

Part of what I think I am doing while writing this journal is to record my daily life. It is not that I feel my particular life is so very special that it merits attention. Quite the contrary, it is because my life is so ordinary that it merits recognition. When my Grandmother died in the spring of 1976, I was grief stricken. Later, that summer, I bumped into a diary she kept around the time I was born. It was not "literature"; it was not "art". It was a link with my past, it rooted me firmly in the world within and without. It recorded the planting of peas, a late frost, and the birth of a calf, going to a movie matinee and many other day-to-day experiences. The diary is a treasure of connection and continuity.

I have always believed that the true human history is largely unwritten. Most people who have lived on this planet lived and died in comfortable anonymity. The conditions within which they lived and the day-to-day patterns of their lives and loves are lost to us. History, as it is written, includes primarily those who are highly visible, for whatever reason. These people lived extraordinary lives. History is the story of the powerful, the influential, and the privileged.

Life is a story that remains almost entirely untold; it is vastly more interesting and more pertinent. A book that does attempt to describe life in the past is "Civilization & Capitalism: 15th ­ 18th Century: Volume 1: The Structures of Everyday Life: Limits of the Possible" by the French Academic, Fernand Braudel. I read this book while studying at the University as an undergraduate. A Professor recommended the book to me; another Professor was disgusted that I would read such a book. The politics of knowledge led me to read the book in secret, while on vacation with my children. It is rich in descriptive detail but lacks the authenticity of personal anecdotes and observations of the people living at that time. It is likely that there were few anecdotes or recorded observations from average people to include in such a volume.

Part of what I think I am doing here, writing this journal, is to record those personal anecdotes and personal observations in our time. It is not "literature"; it is not "art." It has value.


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