Growing old is certainly far easier for people like me who have no job from which to retire at a given age. I can’t stop doing what I have always done, trying to sort out and shape experience. The journal is a good way to do this at a less intense level than by creating a work of art as highly organized as a poem, for instance, or the sustained effort a novel requires. I find it wonderful to have a receptacle into which to pour vivid momentary insights, and a way of ordering day-to-day experience (as opposed to Maslow’s “peak experiences,” which would require poetry). If there is an art to the keeping of a journal intended for publication yet at the same time a very personal record, it may be in what E. Bowen said: “One must regard oneself impersonally as an instrument.”
~ May Sarton, The House by the Sea (1977)
(Robert) Coles himself says elsewhere in the piece, “Not everyone can or will do that— give his specific fears and desires a chance to be of universal significance.” To do this takes a curious combination of humility, excruciating honesty, and (there’s the rub) a sense of destiny or of identity. One must believe that private dilemmas are, if deeply examined, universal, and so, if expressed, have a human value beyond the private, and one must also believe in the vehicle for expressing them, in the talent.
But I believe we learn through the experiences of others as well as through our own, constantly meditating upon them, drawing the sustenance of human truth from them, and it seems natural to me to wish to share these aperçus, these questions, these oddities, these dilemmas and pangs. Why? Partly, I suppose, because the more one is a receptacle of human destinies, as I have become through my readers, the more one realizes how very few people could be called happy, how complex and demanding every deep human relationship is, how much real pain, anger, and despair are concealed by most people. And this is because many feel their own suffering is unique. It is comforting to know that we are all in the same boat.
~ May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude (1973)