Diaries Into Books


Ninety-five years ago today, on June 12th, 1929, Anne Frank was born.  Almost everyone is familiar with her book, The Diary of a Young Girl, which is usually referred to as The Diary of Anne Frank. Her intimate account of hiding from the Nazis was published after her death in 1947 through the efforts of her father, the only family member to survive the holocaust.

Diaries offer us glimpses into the past. They can provide us with unique, eye-witness accounts of major historical events, and they can give us insights into worlds or cultures we may not be familiar with or be able to visit. Though Anne Frank’s diary is one of the most famous diaries to be published, it’s not the only one. There are many others. Here are just a few to consider:

The Diary of Frida Kahlo by Frida Kahlo. A meticulous record of Kahlo’s thoughts, inspirations and artistic experiments, the diary provides a unique perspective on her position as a female artist in a predominantly male art world. It also shines a light on her identity as a Mexican woman, details her struggle with the expectations of society, and highlights her determination to challenge the boundaries of traditional art.

Captain Scott’s Last Expedition by Robert Falcon Scott. Scott’s diaries were originally published in 1913 and paint a harrowing account of his expedition to the South Pole in 1910-1912. The diary was discovered with Scott’s body and the final entries were written in his last days while he was hopelessly trapped in a tiny tent on the Great Ice Barrier. Considered to be as gripping and inspiring as any fiction.

The Diary of Samuel Pepys is considered one of the most important diaries in the English language. Pepys’ diary, which spans January 1660 to May 1669, offers a firsthand look into daily life in 17th century London. It also provides a detailed account of several critical historical events including the Great Fire of London, the bubonic plague, and the coronation of Charles 11.  

A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf. Along with providing insights into her life and mind, Woolf’s diary transports readers to the early 20th century literary scene in England and offers up perspectives on literature, feminism and mental health. It also details her observations and encounters with other writers including T.S. Eliot and E.M. Forster.

The Diary of a Young Man by Charles Darwin. Darwin’s diary, which was later published as The Voyage of the Beagle, documents Darwin’s experiences and observations during his five years aboard the HMS Beagle, his hazardous travels off the beaten track in South America and his dramatic encounters with other cultures and ways of life. On his return, Darwin joined the world of natural history experts and declared his time on the Beagle to be the most important event of his life.

Conversations With Myself by Nelson Mandela is a moving collection of Mandela’s letters, diary entries and various writings encompassing his anti-apartheid struggles of the early 1960s as well as his twenty-seven years of imprisonment. This diary humanizes a heroic figure who fought hard for freedom and justice, and a man who considered his years in prison to be the most meaningful ones of his life.

Listening . . .


It’s funny how the universe sends us messages . . . if we’re open to hearing them. Ironically, the messages I’ve been getting lately are about the importance of listening.

The first nudge came from our neighbor. He’s a sound producer by profession so his world is, as you’d expect, all about sound. Knowing we’re planning a trip to Japan, he told us about a bar in Tokyo where patrons are not only encouraged to listen, but they are basically barred from talking. In fact, talking at Bar Martha will get you turfed out. Music is king. Patrons cannot chat, surf on their phone, interact with staff in any way other than to point at their menu selection. The idea is to sit in the dimly lit space, watch the DJ pull vinyl from ceiling-high shelves containing over 6000 albums, and listen reverently to Nina Simone, Eric Clapton or whoever else is currently playing. To put this in perspective, Tokyo is home to nearly 14 million people. By all accounts, it is a city with a frenetic pace . . . one where technology rules supreme and stimulus – noise – is everywhere. Except, it seems, at Bar Martha where music replaces discordant chatter and our only job is to settle in and listen.

Listening also came to the fore the other day during a conversation with a writer friend. She’s struggling with her novel. Her first draft is finished but she has issues with the middle. There’s so much going on in the narrative, she told me, that the through line of the story is cloudy and the ending doesn’t have enough punch. So, she sought out feedback. Members of her critique group came up with a few suggestions, and beta readers offered different takes too. One reader suggested thread A be dropped . . . another loved thread A but argued that thread B needed to go. Several others ignored those threads entirely and suggested taking the story in a completely different direction. My friend was confused. What, she asked, did I think?

I was familiar with her story because we’d brainstormed elements of it at various times. That’s what writers do. And given a little thoughtful discussion, I could have offered an opinion. But in the end the decision would be up to her.  It was her story. There wasn’t a right way or a wrong way. There was only her way.

“What is true north telling you?” I asked her instead.

“I don’t know,” she replied.

True north is the wisdom of our heart. It’s our internal compass, one that guides us through life at our deepest level and keeps us on track. It helps us with big things, little things, and everything in the middle, including our creativity. The trouble is noise and chatter from well-meaning people can drown out our true north. And in my friend’s case, it had.   

I suggested she find her own version of Bar Martha and get quiet. I suspected if she tuned out the world and tuned into her story there was a good chance it would tell her exactly how it wanted to be told.

Because in the end, listening isn’t just good for hearing music. It’s also good for hearing the truth.

My May Reads

The consistently warm weather isn’t here quite yet, but my overwintered gerberas and geraniums are slowly migrating out of the greenhouse to take up their positions on the patio. Taking their place are flats of tomato, pepper, eggplant and melon seedlings. They got a late start because we were away for a week in April (primary seeding time) so I’m hoping they catch up. Speaking of catch up, that seems to be the theme in the garden lately, partly because of the weather but also because my back is dictating a slower pace. I’m okay with that; it means more time for a good book. And here’s what I’m reading this month.

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

Homecoming by Kate Morton

Ikaria by Diane Kochilas

Books read to date in 2024: 28

When Too Much . . .

. . . is . . . well . . . too much.

In writing, there’s such a thing as going too far, or overwriting. In her book Steering the Craft, esteemed author Ursula K. Le Guin says it’s important to “slow down and leave enough white space around the words and silence around the voice.” What you leave out in those pauses, she believes, is infinitely more important than what you leave in.  And yet, there’s a balance. Leave out too much and your reader won’t understand what’s going on. Cram in too many details, particularly in action scenes, and the pace falters. The rhythm, the speed, will be off.

Visual artists know this well. White space, whether that’s literal white space around an image or the grout that fills the gaps in a mosaic, is a key principle in design and applied arts. White space separates and highlights other elements. It allows the mind to rest and reflect, to absorb the message or the image. On the other hand, there are times when words or an artistic medium like paint are overused precisely because that’s the effect the creator is going for (the recent official portrait of King Charles 111 and his big red controversy comes to mind).

Overdoing has been on my mind a lot lately. The first draft of my current WIP is overwritten (as is my tendency in a first draft), the herb bed in the garden is overplanted (I love too many plants; what can I say?) and now my poor back is suffering because I’ve overdone it on a number of levels. My back warned me, but I kept pushing through and didn’t listen. I went too far.

Now, though, too much has been . . . too much.  I’ve been forced to slow down, to pay attention to my body . . . to rest and reflect and to relearn the lesson that life, just like art, also requires some balance. I think Ursula K. Le Guin would approve.

Happy May


Today is May 1st, also known as May Day. In many places around the world, it’s also International Workers’ Day … a time to celebrate and recognize the contributions of the working class. In some places, in fact, today is a national public holiday.

The ancient Celts celebrated May Day too. They called it Beltane and considered it the most important day of the year. It was celebrated with bonfires, Maypole dancing and feasting, and culminated in the crowning of a May queen.  They also considered it the beginning of summer because in the Northern Hemisphere May 1st falls halfway between our Spring equinox and the June solstice.

It’s not quite summer yet, but the tulips are in bloom, the lilacs are about to open and the garden is waking up from its winter slumber. And that’s something to celebrate. Happy May!

My April Reads

A change is as good as a rest, or at least that’s how the saying goes. I hope there’s some truth to it! We’re on the mainland babysitting our four-year-old grandson and rest is hard to come by. He’s not one for sleeping, and his inquisitive nature is in gear before dawn. That first morning, when he nudged me awake at 5:30 am and I replied that it was ‘too early,’ he snuggled in beside me and tried to engage. “What does too early even mean?” That led to a discussion (one sided) about how I squish my eyes tight in the morning “even like Mama.” So, there’s very little rest to be had, but there’s lots time for laughs and cuddles, crazy bath time routines and books. And here’s what I’m reading this month.

Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae & Guy Parker-Rees

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller

Abroad in Japan by Chris Broad

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Books read to date in 2024: 22

Revise, Revisit, Redo

Celestial events are on my mind lately, influenced at least in part by this week’s solar eclipse. We didn’t see it here but some of my friends and relatives back east had a spectacular view. Even people who don’t normally follow these kinds of things seemed to be talking about it.

Some gardeners believe eclipses, moon phases and other activities in the heavens can impact our plants and gardens. The Farmer’s Almanac even provides information to help gardeners follow celestial rhythms. But gardeners aren’t the only ones who take their cues from gazing skyward. Many of the writers I know do too, particularly when it comes to the planet Mercury.

Mercury, in case you didn’t know, is the closest planet to the sun and the fastest one in our solar system. It rules communication of all kinds, as well as publishing and everything related to that industry. It rules other things too (technology, including computers, and travel being two of the biggies). Three times a year Mercury appears to move retrograde or go backwards for about three weeks at a time. When that happens, lifestyle stories sometimes pop up in the news or on social media feeds warning that Mercury is about to play havoc with communication, travel plans or our computers. And it’s true, if you follow the patterns, that there are more Mercury-related glitches during a retrograde period. But writers love it when Mercury is retrograde because it’s the perfect time to revisit manuscripts and refresh them. In fact, it’s the perfect time to do anything that starts with the prefix ‘re.’ And Mercury is retrograde right now.

Ironically, until the solar eclipse, I’d been too busy to notice. We have five yards of fish compost in our driveway waiting to be spread on the garden beds we’re revamping. I have a manuscript sitting on my desk needing to be reassessed and revised. There’s recycling that needs to be dropped at the depot. An orchid that needs to be repotted. All of these things are calling to me because in a few days we’re heading to the mainland to revisit family and friends and I’d like them done – or well underway in the case of the manuscript – before we go. The eclipse made me take a step back and look to the heavens. That’s when I realized I’m caught up in a number of Mercury retrograde activities. Does that mean I’m in the celestial flow? I hope so.  I’ll report back in a few weeks. When Mercury goes direct.  

What Would You Do . . .


. . . if you were guaranteed a positive reaction to your effort or decision?  Follow me down the rabbit hole (after all, it is nearly Easter).

I was talking to a friend recently about our mutual realization that we probably worry a bit too much about what others think. We didn’t go deep into the why of it; we were intent on enjoying our lunch. Instead, we briefly shared how this trait shows up in our respective lives. Curiously, we didn’t touch on how (or if) it impacts our creativity, though we both pursue creative work.

A few days later, I told a different friend, this one a talented visual artist, that I wanted to create a mosaic with our house numbers . . . something I could put on a large rock for the end of our driveway. I’ve had the idea in mind for over a year. We live on a cul de sac and the house numbers are not sequential or in any way logical. The numbers we have on our house are often overlooked by delivery folks. We need something with more presence at the street. I could get a rock engraved, but I wanted something different. Something with a little more color and interest.  Something personal.

I’m not a visual artist. I’ve made a couple of mosaics in my life, with guidance, and I had so much fun doing them! And while I’m happy with the mosaics I made, I’m under no illusion that they demonstrate any great artistic or design skill. Still, I love that I was able to create something visual like that myself. Why not do something similar on a rock?  I wondered. Especially since I already have a decent-sized rock waiting to be used.

I started thinking about the shape of the rock in question . . . I considered colors . . . I began to cast around for design ideas.

That’s when it hit me: the end of our driveway. Our driveway.  And instead of feeling filled with anticipation and joy, I felt a tiny jolt of horror.

The rock, or, more specifically, the mosaic, would be on full display for everyone to see. Not everyone would like it. Some people might even point out its flaws, for flaws it would certainly have.

I’d stepped right back into worrying what other people would think.  

Mr. Petrol Head can relate. After twenty+ years of sporadically working to restore a 1959 Sunbeam Alpine, his restoration is nearly complete. So much so that he’s finally taking it to a couple of British car shows this summer. Everyone who comes loves cars, so he’s sure to get a lot of positive feedback. But he’s likely to get some ‘constructive’ feedback too. “It’s not 100%,” he admits. “And someone is bound to notice.”

Regardless, he’s taking a risk and putting himself out there. Instead of asking himself what he would do if he was guaranteed only a positive reaction to his efforts, he’s asking himself the only question that counts: what is he so excited to do that it doesn’t really matter what kind of reaction he gets?

I admire his attitude. The question is, can I embrace it? Only time, or more specifically the rock, will tell.

My March Reads

Today is the spring equinox, that point in time when day and night are the same length all around the world. As we in the north tilt more towards the sun, our days get longer and our nights get shorter. Warmer weather is coming and so is spring. Speaking of spring, our clocks ‘sprang’ forward an hour last weekend, marking a return to daylight saving time. Regardless of whether you think that’s a good or bad thing, this time of year definitely calls on us to get out of the house and be more active. For me, that means more time in the garden and the occasional bike ride after dinner. For now, though, the evenings are still cool, so I’m quite happy to curl up with a book after dinner. Here’s what I’m reading this month.

The Happy Life of Isadora Bentley by Courtney Walsh

Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia & Francesc Miralles

Three Souls by Janie Chang

Books read to date in 2024: 16

Words Matter


This week is Words Matter Week, a time devoted to the celebration of words.  Started six years ago by the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors, the goal is to promote opportunities for (and bring awareness to) people who make a living with their words. And I can certainly get behind that!

This year, however, I’m thinking about the importance of words generally, not only written ones, and I owe it to my neighbor.

For the last few years, she has hosted foreign high school students during the school term. This year, she has two students living with her – a student from Spain and a student from Japan. Japan and Spain happen to top the list of places we’d like to visit in the not-too-distant future, and when I mentioned that to my neighbor, she suggested we meet the two young women to talk about their home countries. So, we got together.

Prior to visiting, we brushed up on our Spanish and also practiced saying ‘hello, it’s nice to meet you’ in Japanese (Konnichiwa, hajimemashite). We took smallish maps of Spain and Japan with us so the girls would have a visual to point out their hometowns, and also because we thought it might help prompt conversation about other areas of their respective countries.

The Spanish student was chatty and outgoing, and given that she’d been in Canada for six months, she had a good grasp of English. The fact that we could communicate even a little in rudimentary (and terribly rusty) Spanish also helped. The Japanese student, on the other hand, was reserved and shy. She had arrived in Canada a few weeks earlier and was only beginning her English immersion program. We know almost no Japanese, so we communicated as best we could with gestures and Google translate, but it wasn’t easy. And because the Spanish student was more extraverted by nature and more fluent in English, she tended to dominate the conversation.

Until I said one word that changed everything.

We were talking about food. We’d already discussed Spanish tapas, paella and pan cot tomate, as well as a number of other Spanish regional dishes. Turning to the Japanese student, I mentioned how much I loved Japanese food. She nodded politely. But then I said I’d made dashi the week before.

“Dashi?” she asked.

“Dashi,” I repeated.

Her face brightened. She grinned and leaned forward, visibly wanting to be part of the conversation, whereas only minutes before she had, quite literally, been on the edge of it.

“With kombu and katsuobushi,” I added. “And then we strained it, added shiro miso and used it as a broth to poach our fish and cook our soba.”

Her whole demeanor changed; her grin grew wider. Suddenly, we were speaking her language. She held up a finger, scrambled to her feet and raced from the room. Seconds later, she was back carrying single serving packages of Japanese snack foods which she pressed into our hands. “For you,” she said shyly, sitting down again.

After that, the proverbial ice was broken. Sure, we were still dealing with a fairly significant language barrier but it felt easier somehow. We had forged a link, all because of a single word.

Words do matter.  They help us connect with, learn from, and care for others. And last week, in a very small way, we were reminded of just how powerful that can be.

Happy Words Matter Week.