Thursday, June 28, 2012
photo: Farmer's Wife in Clogs, 1892 by Louis Roy, from 1st-art-gallery.com
Check out this website, 1892farmwife.blogspot.com. As the link suggests, it's a diary of a Maine farmer's wife in 1892. Doesn't sound interesting? Well, I thought so, too, but since I was doing some research for The Gravediggers--I needed to know everyday life for New England farmers in 1892--I gave it a shot. The really interesting thing about the journal is that its author writes just a few sentences--if not just one--per entry.
And so you might think, "How much can I learn about someone who only writes a couple of sentences per entry?" The surprising answer is: A lot. Why? Because she writes every day! And I do mean every single day. So it's not what she writes that matters; it's the consistency of what she writes that matters. And because the writing is so spare, you learn a lot about her, and the time, because there's no fluff at all to get in the way. In fact, I read the whole year in about 30 minutes.
You learn that she's religious. Okay, most rural people at the time were. But you also see that she mentally beats herself up quite a bit. When she even hints that she may have done something bad, it's jarring. And she never tells you what she's done, or to whom she's done it to, so part of the enjoyment of reading this thing is that you have to do a lot of playful guesswork sometimes.
The publisher of the website says she has an entire journal to put on the site, but nothing beyond 1892 appears yet, even though it's been a few years now since it was posted.
Why am I pushing this? Because the woman's philosophy is one I'd love to embrace. Keep it simple. Thoreau: "Simplify, simplify." This woman is honestly grateful for everything! She keeps it simple (and keeps it real) by doing what she has to do, accepting what comes, being grateful for the good, and hoping for better. She's no pushover, either, just passively accepting everything. (She comes across as someone not to be messed with.) She's a hard-working go-getter, if not a particularly gifted writer, and she is an obvious presence. The site's author notes that her great-grandmother (the author of the journal) was a woman of her time, and probably not known at all outside of her household and closest neighbors. But she seems content with this as well, and just gets along as best she can with her bad knees, her quiet convictions, and her place in a very unpopulated area that is very cold and very harsh.
I've been keeping a journal--as I always have--but lately I'm trying to do the same: to boil the day down to its two- or three-sentence essence. Maybe I can make my head and psyche as clear as my journal.
And maybe you can, too.