Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Notes to myself

‘I will be what I will be - and I am now what I am. Here is where I will devote my energy. My power is with me, not with tomorrow.’ So wrote Hugh Prather, who has just died, in his so-called diary, published as Notes to Myself some 40 years ago. The book, which has now sold over 5 million copies, is said to have inspired many to keep similar diaries.

Prather was born in early 1938 in Dallas, Texas, into a fairly oddball family - his father married four times, and his mother three times, providing him with a host of disfunctional step-parents, including one who was a murderer, and another who was an embezzler! Prather studied English at Southern Methodist University before doing some graduate work in psychology at University of Texas.

After his first marriage ended in divorce (with one child), Prather married, in 1965, Gayle Halligan with whom he had two further children. When, as Prather says, the flower children lost their way, and the ideal that all people should be allowed to do their own thing ‘deteriorated into angry, judgemental riots’, he and Gayle took a job on a ranch in Colorado, where Prather cleaned out Beaver dams and Gayle cleaned cabins.

Having been an aspiring poet and writer for several years, there, on the ranch, he decided to collect together the notes from what he called his diary - existential musings - and send them off to a small publisher. It was a life-changing decision. Real People Press, a husband and wife team that had only published three other books, decided to gamble on Prather’s journal calling it Notes to Myself. It soon became a word-of-mouth success, and before long The New York Times was calling Prather ‘an American Khalil Gibran’. Bantam published a 20th anniversary edition in 1990, which is still in print, and the book has to date sold over 5 million copies.

Thereafter, Prather wrote many other, what are now called, self-help books, often collaborating with his wife: The Little Book of Letting Go, How to Live in the World and Still Be Happy, I Will Never Leave You: How Couples Can Achieve The Power Of Lasting Love, and so on. The couple also ran relationship seminars, and did relationship counselling. For a while they ran The Dispensable Church, in Santa Fe, combining elements of various religions; and later Prather became a lay minister for a United Methodist church. Prather died on 15 November, in a hot tub and from a heart attack, according to his wife.

There is not very much biographical information on the internet about Prather: Wikipedia’s article is all too brief, but The New York Times, the Arizona Daily Star and The Washington Post all have informative obituaries. He is not much remembered in the UK, where no newspaper seems to have afforded him an obituary.

Notes to Myself has been labelled a diary or journal, and may well have inspired many to keep diaries. The Washington Post says ‘thousands of people became diarists and started examining their own lives after Mr Prather’s public introspection’. However, it is clearly not a diary in the usual sense of the word, there are no dates attached to any of the entries, nor are any of the entries at all about Prather’s daily life, instead they are all aphoristic (to borrow the descriptive adjective from The New York Times).

Brief extracts from Notes to Myself and other Prather books can be found on quotation websites, such as ThinkExist or Famous Quotes and Authors.

‘Another day to listen and love and walk and glory. I am here for another day. I think of those who aren’t.’

‘When I get to where I can enjoy just lying on the rug picking up lint balls, I will no longer be too ambitious.’

‘I'm holding this cat in my arms so it can sleep, and what more is there.’

However, much of Notes to Myself can be browsed at Amazon.com.

Prather says, in his introduction to the 20th anniversary edition: ‘Notes to Myself is the journal of a young man whose personality is yet unformed and whose approach is yet untested. I was plagued with questions of career, sexual expression, feelings of inadequacy, and especially a longing to know oneness with Gayle and all others. . . Notes to Myself was essentially a stack of yellow sheets (which I called my diary) where I went to sort things out, where I put down my pains and problems, and my very deep longing to break through to some truth.’

Here are two further extracts from the book.

‘My prayer is: I will be what I will be, I will do what I will do.

All I want to do, need to to, is stay in rhythm with myself. All I want is to do what I do and not try to do what I don’t do. Just do what I do. Just keep pace with myself. Just be what I will be.

I will be what I will be - and I am now what I am. Here is where I will devote my energy. My power is with me, not with tomorrow. I will work in rhythm with myself, not what what I “should” be. And to work in rhythm with myself I must stay deeply connected to myself. Tomorrow is shallow, but today is as deep as truth.

God revealed his name to Moses, and it was I AM WHAT I AM.’

***

‘There is a part of me that wants to write, a part that wants to theorize, a part that wants to sculpt, a part that wants to teach. . . To force myself into a single role, to decide to be just one thing in life, would kill off large parts of me.

My career will form behind me. All I can do is let this day come to me in peace. All I can do is take the step before me now, and not fear repeating an effort or making a new one.’

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