Diaries. Morning Pages. Journals. Ever since I read Julia Cameron’s book, Vein of Gold, I am a convert to her system of writing ‘morning pages’. She recommends writing three pages, first thing in the morning, by hand. Her theory is that we mine our subconscious, the place where our truth lies, in our early waking minutes. I have a favorite Pentel mechanical pencil and it is a ritual I value, and serves as a sort of meditative time. The thought of my descendants reading unedited journals, however, is not exactly the plan.
But I absolutely love this precious journal that belonged to my ‘aunt’ Charlotte Hay, who was born in 1807. She is the first family Charlotte. What a delight it is to have some evidence of what her life was like, which is ultimately the goal I think, for those of us who poke around in family history research. We are always looking for glimpses of who they really were. There are drawings, and verse, penned by friends, in this quite handsome volume, engraved with her name, in gold lettering and “Sold by W.B.Gilley, 92 Broadway, New York.” Charlotte was born in Haverstraw, New York, and moved South when her younger sister, Martha Louisa Hay, married Thomas Woodward Hutson Sr. in 1829. They had old ties to Charleston, Beaufort and the Lowcountry. Her great grandfather was John Gordon, a Scots highlander who arrived early at the settlement at Darien, Georgia, and stayed in South Carolina until the Revolution. He was a merchant, with ships that sailed from the Charleston and Beaufort harbors; his schooner was named “Tybee”. He amassed land from Charleston to Florida. I am intriqued by his story and think about those tall ships sailing the waters off Edisto Island, which they surely did, every time I walk that beach. I wonder exactly where his plantation was, near Charleston, named Belvedere (SCHGM, vol.3,1902, pg 177).
The first entry in Charlotte’s book, from South Carolina, was written from Mt. Pleasant in 1830. Can you imagine what Mt. Pleasant looked like then? It was penned, in the finest hand, by a gentleman friend, signed, Edward, and dated Aug 5. It is a poem to her called A Morning Walk. She never married, and was buried in Boiling Springs, near Barnwell. She still had a Scottish accent, and her sister, Martha, with whom she joined the Stony Creek Presbyterian Church in Pocotaligo, died at just twenty-six, a young mother of three. Charlotte’s friends wrote poetry about the moon, and love, in a calligraphic hand that is slow and careful.
This little book makes me think about the purpose of diaries. Recently, someone published the great writer, Susan Sontag’s, personal journal, after her death. Some of my personal penciled writing is processing stuff, just plain old angst at times. I am not sure Susan Sontag would have been happy about this diary being published. But historically, I am really grateful for the diary writers, that I can read them and get a glimpse of who they were. Maybe even the unedited versions would tell me about how they processed their own joys and sorrows. Recently I was able to find a copy of the diary of my grandmother Mary Woodward Hutson, who died in 1757, at a little bookshop in London, where it was printed, after she died, by her husband, Rev. William Hutson (yay for abebooks.com) She was amazingly devout, and surely her entries were edited. But to hear her voice is really important to me. She is more than a name and a date to me now, and I can hear what she’d say in a way. (She admonished her children, in the mid 1700’s, to “read only good books” making me wonder what bad books were then.) The South Carolina Historical Association, here, on Meeting Street, has the diary of her husband, the Reverend William Hutson, too, which was written while he was minister of the Circular Church. It’s discovery by my cousin, Mike Hutson, years ago in McPhersonville, SC is worth telling. One of the elderly aunts simply handed him a paper bag, and in it was the hand written diary. It had been ‘borrowed’ by the Rev. George Howe for his renowned History of the Presbyterian Church so some of it had been recorded. But now it has been transcribed and studied, and serves to give us insight into Charleston in the middle of the 18th century.
Diaries, Journals, Morning pages. I am still a believer. What do you think?
Dear God, I hope nobody ever publishes my journals post-mortem. My grandchildren will be scandalized. I do like the idea of keeping family books, though. I make scrapbooks, and keep them in the bookcases. My favorites are the baby books from my children’s upbringing. I always say, if there was ever a fire, those are the only two things I would grab. We bring them out on birthdays, too. It is good to have a record.
Laughing. Well, Hadley, when do we edit our journals? I rarely go back to read mine, but recently spent a morning re-reading some and found great insight. In one, I realized that one of my paintings, Ozzie, Harriet, and Robert, is a self portrait. Wow, I was amazed. There is a well known diarist from Charleston, Eliza Lucas Pinckney, whose book is a collection of letters, a “letterbook”. The early colonists often copied each letter, in case the original did not arrive via its arduous journey. But looking at someone through what they write to others is a self that does not live in one’s own writing to oneself. It interests me. Do you save your letters to others? I think we should copy the good ones, put them in a file. Letters, these rare family ones, that we are so fortunate to have, from the Antebellum South, reveal so much about not only them, but the times. Copying our emails, now, I suppose, requires a little doing.
Charlotte Hay’s elder sister Matilda Hay kept an identical album, commencing with poems written in Haverstraw, New York, in the early 1820’s. Your posting got me to dig it out and appreciate the entries and art work once more. Charlotte and Matilda, both unmarried, later lived together in Boiling Springs, South Carolina. Your great-grandmother Charlotte Matilda Hutson was the namesake of these two journal-keepers, and it was another Charlotte, the late Charlotte Hutson Young of McPhersonville, who passed on Rev. Hutson’s diary to me.
Dear cousin Mike, Oh, would I love to see the companion journal of Charlotte’s sister, Matilda! Thank you for reminding me about Boiling Springs. I think that is actually where she is buried, isn’t it? A Hay cousin sent me a photograph of her tombstone last summer, there, at the little Presbyterian Church, I think. Thank you for adding so much, and for connecting all our family Charlotte’s!
Years ago when studying at Bread Loaf, I remember when Janet Emig spoke about one of her grad student’s theory about the connection of our hands with our thinking skills, about how a baby’s hand motions might correlate with speech development, about how some authors break through their “writer’s block” by switching from the keyboard to handwriting. Setting aside time for writing each day isn’t new advice, but I find Julia Cameron’s advice about actually handwriting “morning pages” intriguing, at least when compared to using the keyboard, but maybe there is more to it than that.
Could it be that using our hands to release our thoughts is more related to our physical beings than with the writing instrument we choose? Suppose each night our minds sort images, encounters, and concepts gathered during the day. Considering that our dreams and nightmares indicate brain activity during sleep, our minds certainly are reservoirs worth exploring during our early waking hours. Perhaps the physical routine of allowing a stream of conscientiousness flow from our minds to paper without self-editing, without self-criticism, without the normal sieving and shifting, allows us to view our minds, at least during the moment of writing, as a way-of-being experience rather than as a craft.
Writing can be a release in the same way that prayer is a handing over of concerns or celebrating blessings. Writing can possess a physical state similar to a runner taking a morning jog, or a dancer interpreting music, or an artist illustrating a scene. If handwriting is a physical form of thought, of expression, of deliverance or preservation, then consider thinking as a being more than a silent, separate, and still activity. If we see writing, especially handwriting, as a holistic experience involving the entire body and mind, then does the importance of writing daily become more of a priority?
My daughter Anna does a similar kind of morning journal. I resolve each December to keep a journal and rarely make it for very long. Part is the excuse of hand problems that making handwriting [vs typing] painful. But I suspect I would find it challenging even if my hands were fine. Yet I do love reading the journals of others, a way of feeling like you are conversing with someone you can never meet in person. As a non-fiction writer I dream about finding journals or letters when I am working on a book. Every single time I do an author visit at a school I tell kids about the importance of journals as a way of letting future historians know what children were thinking instead of relying on what adults write saying what THEY think children were thinking about x,y,or z. That whole thread is a key part of my workshops with kids now. And yet, I rarely manage to do it myself. Hmmmmm. Pot. Kettle. sigh.
I agree with some of what Bev wrote about the holistic experience. In fact, I think that is what makes it hard for people like me to do it. The reflection it involves requires slowing down and being attentive to inner thoughts and feelings. I don’t think you can journal well in a rush, without quieting the mind and spirit and then taking time to let the thoughts flow. People like me who tend to go full throttle and be outcome, product, or strategy focused have trouble taking the time to let the process be enough. Even my blog tends to be more practical than philosophical. again…. sigh.