A&O Diary


Your A&O Diary


We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand”


Actually, the epigraph above, extracted from C.D. Lewis’s book The Poetic Image  (1983)  applies to all artistic expression.  Arguably the first “audience” for any creative expression is one’s self.   

Your CLASS JOURNAL: is a key tool: this is your personal document in which new material from class and your personal passions are more-or-less integrated.  This is yours alone and private, but can be used in multiple class exercises.  If there is ever an open-book quiz, this will be the book.  Please look at how journals and diaries have worked for other people. (e.g., Maria Popova’s 2014 essay at Brain Pickings blog and her collection of comments on diaries by Virginia Woolf. I keep a diary and her comments really resonated with)

Also, for me, C.D. Lewis’s observation works: “We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand The cognitive processes involved in the act of writing seem to synergize with other processes that taken together, help us understand what we’re thinking in ways we still do not understand.   (from A&O Course Description)

“Toward the end of this life, [Michel] Foucault [French philosopher, theorist, and critic]  reflected on a more modest genre of writing in antiquity called ‘hupomnemata’ [also “hypomnemata”], the sayings of the Stoics, the Epicureans, Jesus. In ‘Self Writing’ (1983), Foucault said:


In this period there was a culture of what could be called ‘personal writing’: “taking notes on the readings, conversations, and reflections that one hears or has or does; keeping notebooks of one sort or another on important subjects (what the Greeks call hupomnemata), which must be reread from time to time so as to reactualise what they contain,” (From Andrew Hui’s essay “In Praise of Aphorisms.”) a process connected to an observation related by E.M.Forster: “How will I know what I think until I see what I say?”  (and see many other similar observations by accomplished artists at A&O notes on extraordinary experiences of artists in their own words)


Another version of diary, more like a scrapbook is the Commonplace book.  A cultural tradition at one time –a seeming precursor of personal web logs. (See entry in A&O GLOSSARY)  see Dwight Garner’s comments on his commonplace book in NY Times

ZEN of taking notes.  Taking and transcribing notes: There is an obscure element of Zen training, Sutra Copying.  This was addressed by Taizan Maezumi Roshi in a Dharma talk at the Zen Center of Los Angeles:  “What is the practice of copying sutras? The Lotus Sutra says repeatedly that those who copy it will, just in the act of copying itself, accomplish supreme enlightenment. Copying is an excellent way to fully put yourself into a sutra. You are one with copying and one with the sutra, truly sensing and feeling it. The action and object are easily unified. When you are copying, there is a sense of copying and also of the sutra allowing you to copy it. This interrelationship is felt intimately and, such a state of being, is itself supreme enlightenment.” [i]   

Artists do this: many immerse themselves far more deeply than anyone less preoccupied with expression would think necessary.  Something about this rings true.  In the early 1960’s, when first exploring spiritual practice, I benefited from the exercise of learning sumi brush work and copying scared symbols or even just words hundreds of times.   When technology enabled me to copy notes of interest out of books, journals, or magazines I took to it eagerly … then learned for certain ideas it was sort of “disrespectful,” and I found myself taking the harder route– copying word for word (as I did since high school and until the advent of on-line resources).  It was often (not always) better.  I felt a greater intimacy with the ideas I was writing out.     


DIARY NOTE July 29, 2018.   Something happens as information: thoughts, ideas dreams, flow through me: at each step progressively more meaning is created.  There is a cognitive neuroscientific way of envisioning this process and I know some of its expressions as I think, create internal speech, dialog, I “hear” it although silent in my mind, I see it as my lips move, I hear it as I talk out loud, as I express myself, as I formulate words, or pictures, or sounds, as I share it.  I know it as the sanglot forms unexpectedly in my throat.  The acts of expression are wonderful (sometimes brave) ways of communicating–but my first audience is myself.  Perhaps the expressions, the words are not even my own.  I read poetry out loud (always the best way) or a script.  Whether I am expressing or appreciating someone else, my part in this communication is a profoundly creative act. 



As you find your way, I hope you will explore alternate paths … go beyond writing in mere words: embellish and doodle freely, the privacy of your personal field guide should be empowering, and its results are likely to surprise you. This will be the natural history of you. 

There are highways, by-passes, back-roads, barely detectable dirt roads but then “We make the road by walking” (Antonio Machado) 


The Natural History Notebook, examples:


Explore a New Archive of 2,200 Historical Wildlife Illustrations (1916–1965): Courtesy of The Wildlife Conservation Society

[i] THE PRACTICE OF SUTRA COPYING  写経 Shakyō .   Zen Center of Los Angeles.  https://zcla.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Sutra-Copying-Introduction.pdf  downloaded, February 22, 2021.  Collected Materials and Writings for Zen Training Purposes only