Inconstant Chronicler

I began my first journal in 1975 (age 5) in response to commandment (and maternal encouragement). The initial volume served me infrequently and irregularly until around 1979. In 1983 (age 13), I tried my hand at journal keeping again using a much more nicely bound artist’s sketchbook which I’d filled after one year. This was followed by a second matching journal that was kept less consistently over the course of 1984. The next journal sporadically lasted from 1984-1990, a time period that overlapped with entries made in a larger, folio journal in 1988, and also with entries in my final, smaller journal 1988-1995. This last volume includes the final formal entry I’ve made in a journal (age 25; I’m now 38). Taken together, my journals are hardly a complete chronicle of my life.

I’ve always had competing interests with journal keeping. I love books and I love making books. The bound, blank books I was given in the early 80s inspired one of my most active journal periods. My love of books, however, has also detracted from my ability to keep a regular journal. From the start, I’ve had the desire to illuminate my journals as though they were Medieval manuscripts. Needless to say, the time required for illumination limits the amount of text that can be written in a given day.

Page from my Nauvoo journal
This is one of the pages where I relate my experience at a Boy Scout encampment in Nauvoo in 1983 — the first time I’d been to the historic sites there.

Runic Journal
In the same way that my desire to produce beautiful books detracted from my tendency to actually write journal entries, I was also hindered by my desire to write something important. To my thinking, keeping a journal ought to be like writing scripture. If I was going to keep a record, I ought to include important things like Nephi — and not just blow things off like Omni. (I also regularly used alternative alphabets and cipher, as with the above which is inspired by Runic.)

Satirical scripture
By irreverent age 18 and my freshman year at BYU, the desire to compose weighty scripture was solved through the use of satire. Part of the text at right reads: “6. Thou shalt wear socks in [a]righteousness, and he whose ankles lay [b]naked before the Lord, the same is a sinner that [c]consorts with the minions of the [d]devil.” Footnotes: “6a: Ps. 45:4, b Ex. 3:5, Acts 7:33, c TG consort, d TG Lucifer.”

Illumination from my folio journal
My illumination reached its fullest flower in my folio journal in 1989, as seen with the above example. (The text is in my own cipher.)

Standard entries
Throughout, I continued to keep more standard journal entries sporadically, with limited illumination to economize.

Among the last entries
But the mystical and scriptural sense continued throughout to the end in 1995. What happened then? Why did the journal stop? In the end, my love of making books ironically defeated my desire to keep a journal.

As early as 1978, I discovered the xerox machine. This was a marvelous wonder and I immediately understood its potential to leverage. It might take many hours to produce a drawing by hand and at the end your effort had produced only one picture. With this machine, however, that same effort could produce multiple pictures that were not limited by time; only by money.

I immediately enlisted my sister’s aid to produce our first neighborhood newspaper, whose subscription price retailed for a modest 50% above my xerox cost. I have been involved in publishing ever since. I was editor of my junior high paper and I learned desktop publishing as the industry was being born while working on my senior high paper. At BYU, I was production director for the Student Review, Insight, the history department student journal, and the business college’s newspaper. This list continued (and picked up) after college.

What happened in 1995 was that I began illustrating and typesetting books professionally. This was the straw that broke my journal’s back. Why make one book, when the same effort could be leveraged to make multiple books? Thus it was 1996 that I self-published a 372-page documentary autobiography (covering 1988-96) entitled Amicitia.

Sample pages from Amicitia
That was one of the first moments it was practical for individuals to create their own professionally typeset, illustrated and perfectly bound book for a relatively small amount of money. Since that time, the capacity has become easier and easier and the price has become less and less — it’s now cheaper for me to print a perfect-bound book than to xerox the same number of pages at Kinkos.

Books have trumped manuscripts for me. I’m no longer a journal keeper (although I am now a blogger). But even with blogging, I should note that this blog entry itself is (no doubt) part of a future collection of my essays that I will print as a book.

Comments

  1. Wilford Woodruff illuminated his journal on occasion…but your own cipher. Rock. On. This post is delightful on so many levers.

    For me, it wasn’t until I started reading journals for scholarly purposes that I began keeping one, albeit irregularly.

  2. Steve Evans says:

    Very awesome, John. What do you suppose is now the drive behind writing, journaling, keeping these records?

  3. Wow. Your creativity blows me away, John. You definitely make this artistically-challenged soul envious.

    I’ve been a very irregular journal keeper (meaning I only kept a journal on my mission), but I have tried to do better lately. Now I just use boring classes to type journal entries on my laptop.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Incredibly cool, John. Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

    For a time I had the conceit of keeping my journal in Latin, but like your illustrations I found that that was just too hard and labor intensive, so eventually I switched back to English. And to make matters worse, I’ve lost that journal; it has to be in my house somewhere, but I can’t find it. (The only reason I care is because I compose a Latin poem upon the birth of my daughter that I would love to give to her. One of these days maybe it will turn up.)

  5. StillConfused says:

    My favorite paragraph out of my great grandmother’s short autobiography: “My first real beau was when I was 17 and I thought I was in love but my Mother and Dad always broke up my friendships. This man, John Omohundro, was a fine man until death but his father lost his mind and got a horse collar and put white rocks in it and sat behind the door and would blow like a goose, so they heard that and it was all off. He was an engineer on a railroad. Then I had a Mr. Willie D(L)awson, real good looking, but he drank too much. Then a Mr. Willie Johnson but he was too old, his hands felt cold and clammy like a frog foot. Then Charlie Hanson, went with him 6 years altogether and always had a good time, he had so much foolishness, could keep you laughing so much. One night we went to a Salvation Army meeting and one of their men came to us and asked him how was his soul. He told them it was pretty thin, his foot was almost on the ground. Then I had a Mr. Thomas Kidd, he was a school mate. Then I met the man I married (George Beauregard Miles)….and out of all my picking I would have been better off if I had married the first one but such is life.”

    Evie waited until the end of her life and wrote a short autobiography highlighting the things she remembered most. I think I will do the same thing.

  6. John Hamer says:

    Don’t wait too long, StillConfused (5)!

    Thanks, Ben (3).

    Kevin (4): I have about half a dozen entries written in Latin, including one written in Medieval Beneventan script Latin — very beautiful, but even harder to decipher than the cipher pages.

    J (1): Interestingly, the teenaged James Strang also used his own cipher in his diary — although, if I do say so, his was significantly less sophisticated than teenaged John Hamer’s (i.e., my original cipher rather than the Runic). It only took me a minute to decipher Strang’s code. Actually a very large proportion of my journals are in cipher. Shockingly, I actually printed the translation of much of the coded entries in Amicitia — which is a bizarrely open tell-all book.

    Steve (2): What’s the point of my current writing? Amicitia was clearly the culmination of my period of collegiate introspection. As of 1996, my life was definitely not unexamined. I wouldn’t write something like that volume now, but I can’t say that I’ve pulled so far away from it that I don’t see me in those pages.

    Why do I love books? At a certain level of personal introspection, I think you have to reach down and define postulates. What do you value? I have a core, fundamental love of books and making books and I always have. There are certainly rational reasons for that love, but I think rationalizations are actually secondary for me.

    I still live scripture. That’s my heritage from the early Saints. Scripture isn’t an alien thing that very different people did in very different times. I believe that if we don’t live scripture here and now, scripture is as dead to us as if you assign the three degrees of glory to some future afterlife. They are now, as is everything. But that’s a different blog post.

    I have all kinds of reasons to write now. My third period of nine years (18-26) covered in Amicitia was clearly searching for meaning. I’m now in my fifth (36-44) and I feel that I know myself. I have outlined multiple layers of goals, and almost all of what I’m doing (including writing) relates to those goals.

  7. Wow, speechless.

  8. John, you remind me of J.R.R. Tolkien. These are amazing. =)

  9. Duuuuuude. Wow. Amazing- and thanks for letting us take a peek.

  10. Wow, John. You are a nerd. As a fellow nerd, I found this post fascinating and fun.

    I believe that if we don’t live scripture here and now, scripture is as dead to us as if you assign the three degrees of glory to some future afterlife. They are now, as is everything. But that’s a different blog post.

    Hopefully that post won’t be delayed too long.

  11. John, I envy your artistic creativity. I can’t draw good stick figures; I just don’t see artistically in my mind.

    I struggled mightily throughout my adolescence to keep a journal. It was hit or miss, mostly prompted by guilt whenever I realized I had missed a week or a month. On my mission, I kept a consistent journal, but each entry generally was only a couple of sentences. After my mission, I would miss a month or six, then write daily for a couple of weeks – before missing another month or six. I finally gave up altogether. I simply have never cared about chronicling the details of my daily life, especially since I have lived a relatively boring daily life.

    I started blogging a couple of years ago, and I used that to keep a different kind of journal – one that compiled my thoughts and beliefs. 2 Nephi 25:26 is one of my favorite scriptures, and I found a real and powerful motivation to record for posterity those thoughts and beliefs. My own blog has that exact purpose – to record what I believe for my posterity. Thus, the name “The Things of My Soul”.

    I have “journaled” more (in both days and volume) in the past two years than in the previous 40+ combined. I wish I had discovered my own journal style and focus years ago, but I am glad I found it.

  12. This fantastic. I have been a reasonably constant journal keeper over the years, but strangely I never thought of them in terms of scripture, but more as literary memoir. As a result, it goes through stylistic periods, mirroring my own literary interests: Steinbeck, Hemmingway, Kerouac, and even Wodehouse.

  13. Hamer,
    Thou art the DB. You should write real scripture. I’d join your religion.

  14. Token Average Member says:

    Oh my goodness, my best friend and I also had a written code based on Runic that we only used between the two of us! I wonder if I could read yours?

  15. These are absolutely beautiful.

  16. it’s now cheaper for me to print a perfect-bound book than to xerox the same number of pages at Kinkos.

    Ok, that deserved a link for resources, in case some of us want to do the same thing.

  17. John this is stunning.

    Over the summer I started keeping a blog for which I was the only reader, as a personal journal, because I like that you can “lay out” the page so that there are concurrent lists and links next to the entries. I know that people use programs like Blurb to “slurp” the text of their blogs into a book & that the cost is very reasonable and the turnaround time is short, so I have in my head that I can easily do that if I want a more permanent, paper version. Although I suppose that all the sidebar doo-dads that attracted me to the blog/journal format in the first place would be lost in a paper version.

  18. cahkaylahlee says:

    wow!

    And I second the request from Stephen M (Ethesis) to provide a link to where you get your books printed and bound for cheap. Or even just printed for cheaper than Kinkos. I like to do bookbinding.

  19. Researcher says:

    it’s now cheaper for me to print a perfect-bound book than to xerox the same number of pages at Kinkos.

    Second vote for some links. My daughter is a fledgling novelist. All of her friends eagerly await every new installment of the adventures (they’ve all been written into the stories) and they’ve been encouraging her to self-publish. She never lets her parents read her writings, but from the bits she’s left around, it would be worth doing.

    I’m also voting to see Norbert’s diaries in the style of Wodehouse. I’m hoping you have an aunt Agatha!

    By the way, I’m amazed at the diary entries, John, and will show them to the novelist (my daughter) and my other children to expand their idea of journal writing.

  20. Researcher says:

    (I guess I was the third vote!) A few years ago one of my sisters handbound, very beautifully, a collection of my dad’s stories. It was a very limited edition, and I imagine my kids will eventually be fighting over my copy.

  21. John Hamer says:

    Stephen, cahkaylahlee, and Researcher (16, 18-20): There are a number of services that allow you to print books on demand. I’ve used three; two of which are more for publishers than for individuals.

    For individuals, the first I’ve used is Lulu.com. They allow you to print paperback and hardcover books. There’s no setup cost, so it’s easy to start, but their unit cost is higher. For example, to print the 372-page paperback Amicitia through Lulu would cost $11.97 each. This is great if you only want a few books, because that’s your total cost.

    Another service for individuals is BookSurge.com. (I haven’t used their service for individual authors, I’ve used their counterpart for publishers CreateSpace.com.) Both have setup costs, but once you’re set up, the per unit cost is much cheaper. The same book above would be about $5.00 each, which is the price I was boasting about in my post. Another advantage to these services is that they are owned by Amazon.com and they will list your book there without you having to become a retail store at Amazon.

    I also use LightningSource.com, which is mostly for publishers of multiple books. They have very good customer service. They have a somewhat lower setup cost and a somewhat higher per unit cost than BookSurge/CreateSpace.

  22. Is Amicitia for sale? Please send me one.

  23. John Hamer says:

    Thanks Cynthia (7), Tracy (9), and Natalie (15).

    Tatiana (8): Tolkien has clearly been one of my influences. The map in the 1988 journal entry is done in the one of Tolkien’s styles and he was a big popularizer of the Runic in my teenaged diaries. I’m definitely sitting on a Tolkienesque pile of notes and artifacts I primarily generated in the 1990s for a series of unfinished political/mythohistoric/fantasy novels.

    Kindred spirits, Christopher (10): no wonder we get along so well.

    Ray (11): I agree there’s something about blogging that has an appeal that is different from private journal keeping. Like you, my own blogging is more topical — most of my blogging energy is currently focussed on Mormon issues. Between that and my personal blog (currently offline), I’m writing a lot more now than I ever did in my journal keeping days.

    Norbert (12): I imagine the fact that your influences are literary and mine are historical makes your journals a better read than mine.

    Ronan (13): I’m working on both and I’d love nothing more than for you to join.

    Token (14): The Runic is pretty simple — I think I got it out of the 1983 World Book Encyclopedia that we had. So, yes, I think you could read the Runic entry without too much difficulty.

    Jeans (17): You absolutely can reprint your blog as a book using the services I outline in reply #21 — and there’s probably even more specialized services. But while generate your essays online, I’d also keep copies offline as a backup.

    BiV (22): It’s not for sale; I’ll remember you, if I reissue it.

  24. John, Amazing.
    Stapes, my journal writing abruptly ceased after I started working professionally with historical materials.

  25. This is just awesome. I have journal envy now.

  26. I did not start keeping a journal until 1990. Most of the time since then I have been hit or miss. On my mission I probably wrote about 500 pages but since then I have like six journals of varying size which cover a much larger period not terribly well.

    I lost the thread of daily journal writing when I moved to the UK and have never been consistent with it. In some respects blogs are about the closest I have come to that, having kept two blogs from 2005 until now.

    However I have never been that artistic or literary, my journals are usually a collection of thoughts and feelings rather than a travelogue or some other more significant effort. So if you want to know what I thought on my Mission, you get it in spades. What I did? Well that is not so clear.

  27. John, the pics you have posted are amazing. It’s cool that you had such a creative instinct and ability to express it at such a young age.

  28. Researcher says:

    Thanks for the info on self-publishing!

  29. Dude, I love this post.

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