I continue to journal one thousand or more words every morning (nearly always first thing) for the
same reason I pray every day. In fact to a large degree my journaling is a prayer. It takes me the
first hour of the day, usually, and is the most satisfying hour of the day. That’s probably why I
continue: it’s very satisfying. Some people get up and work out, some people turn to a rerun of
The Price Is Right, some eat breakfast, some call their grandchildren…I and many others like me
Obviously, I’m a maniac. At least about writing. I do it for a hodgepodge of reasons, most of all,
probably, to maintain such sanity as I continue to possess. (Not much, some days, I admit.) But
one of my big reasons is to be an historian of my life, my family, and in some microcosmic way, my
times. Where would history be, after all, without people like us to write our own histories and
thereby contribute to the general history of the world? I’d say we’d be without a history. We’d be
without a culture. We’d be lost.
History is just about the past, of course, but the present has an interesting habit of turning into
the past one day at a time. So the history of the phone interaction I had today with my grandchild
is as important to be written as the history of when I was a grandchild and interacted (as we did
not say then) with my grandfather so many years ago. History continues to be necessary.
This would just be a truism, a cliché, but for the fact that we microhistorians insist on being
microscopic. We look at history up close and personal. We shine our searchlights on the darkest
and most neglected nooks and crannies of our existence. We write about the interstices of life as
well as the big moments. This doesn’t mean, necessarily, that we are investigative journalists or
that we write about stuff most of us want to keep quiet. That too, perhaps, but by interstices we
mean mostly that we write about overlooked or forgotten moments, what we did on the way to the
banquet where we were presented with a gold watch (well, now I guess we’d be presented with a
gold cell phone or something) rather than merely the moment when we received the award. We
write about our heads, what’s going on in there, we write about our feelings, ideas, and of course
the physical life too. Everything is the stuff of history: everything.
Today--it's great to be here!But apparently it wasn't so great thirty years ago, and this is
what I wrote in my Journal then, in 1980 -
The Autobiography of Charles Kempthorne
I am going to begin with the sentence, “I was born in Minot, North Dakota on January
24, 1938.” And then I’ll ask, “So what? What does it matter?” And then, the proper
question of an autobiography, “What does it matter?” for every autobiography is an implicit
statement of what the author thinks does matter.
Life is complicated in these times because we have so many options. I have had too
many options. I have had too many ideas and not enough experiences, too many fantasies
and not enough realities.
It may come as a surprise to those who knew me then--and who remember--that I was
a lonely, alienated child. I was lonely in a crowd, alienated from myself.
I do not matter, what I have perceived and felt matters immensely. I am more than 42
years old, I have lived 15,373 days and nights, I have outlived my mind a dozen times. If I
could live to be 250 years old, I might get it all together. I find myself more disgusting than
admirable, though I do admire myself.
Life is really very simple, I have concluded, and not at all strange.
It’s very hard to know what to say. Is anything worth saying? Is anything worth
doing? I’m convinced that the answer to both these questions is yes, but the yes is not
resounding, or glorious, or noble. Life is okay. So is death. It’s an experience.
The problem is that I began conscious life by thinking it was al very significant, which
it is not. My life is significant to me and those close to me. Otherwise it is utterly without
What can I say? It seems I will have to be concrete.