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The Weekly Blague

47 Years of Keeping Diaries


Francine du Plessix Gray gave me a great piece of advice: "Keep a notebook and write in it every day."


She said this in 1975, when I was a graduate student in the creative writing program at the City College of New York. But I waited two years to take that advice. I'd just finished my first book and was remembering the impossible time I had getting started. I'd taken a long vacation from writing and so hadn't written a word in months. When I tried to begin the book, the words refused to flow. It was as if the writing gears had rusted and wouldn't budge. It took weeks of pounding out reams of gibberish before decent sentences began to form.


The day I typed the last page of the book, I bought a pocket-size memo pad and began scribbling in it. That was 47 years ago. Over that time I've written virtually every day and filled 60 notebooks. Francine's idea, I realized, is to make writing as natural and necessary as breathing. It's how a writer finds their voice.


Since I've been writing in notebooks, getting started on a project has never been as difficult as my first attempt at writing a book. Diaries flow into books flow into blog posts flow into articles flow into books flow into diaries. I refer to the diaries all the time. Beaver Street is based on diaries I kept when I was working as an editor of men's magazines.


Around 1982, I had so many volumes that I started losing track of what any given volume covered. That's when I began decorating the covers with images that serve as reminders. In the photo, Volume 57 covers, among other things, the publication of Bobby in Naziland, which would be renamed A Brooklyn Memoir. Volume 58 covers the first year of the pandemic. Volume 59 covers the publication of the latest edition of Nowhere Man. Volume 60, the current volume, covers my recent trip to Spain.


And so it continues, my life a river of words flowing into an ocean of sentences and paragraphs like the ones you've just read.


All my books are available on Amazon, all other online bookstores, and at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.


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A Time Machine for the Mind

In the summer of 1972, traveling alone on a super-low budget, I managed to latch on to an American tour group in Israel. They gave me a free ride through the country, and I kept a journal of that extraordinary month. I was an aspiring teenage writer, on the verge of turning 20, and I'd gotten it into my head that serious writers kept journals, especially when they were on the road.


The past several years I've been working on a book about the 1970s, and in the process I've been excavating old journals, including the one I kept in Israel. The excerpt below occurred 51 years ago tomorrow, when I visited Masada. I include it here because tomorrow is also Thursday, August 10—the 1972 calendar, from March through December, is in sync with the 2023 calendar. And what happened in that barren patch of desert 2,000 years ago is a story I heard that day for the first time.


A good journal entry is like a time machine for the mind.


Thursday, August 10, 1972

Sunrise over Masada, the Dead Sea gleaming in the distance as we gaze upon the ruins of the "impregnable" Jewish fortress, perched on a mesa in the Judean desert. Here, 1,900 years ago, King David and 960 Jews held off the Roman army. The Great Siege of Masada went on for months, until the Romans breached the walls that seem to grow out of the brown and lifeless earth. Inside they found dead Jews—everybody had committed suicide or killed each other rather than be taken prisoner or enslaved, and two millennia later our tour guide calls this mass suicide an act of "heroism," though some, like me, might mistake it for death-cult insanity.


All my books are available on Amazon, all other online bookstores, and at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.


I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on (the site formerly known as) Twitter or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

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