‘People say they’re too busy; they’re often too afraid’

Diaries may largely have been replaced by blogs, but a West Cork-based New Yorker believes in the benefits of keeping a written journal, writes Marjorie Brennan

Alice Carey now lives in Durrus

ALICE CAREY has just landed in her home in West Cork from New York and is busy hoovering up the many spiders that have taken up residence in her absence. But she is fighting a losing battle. “The spiders win — always,” she laughs.

Carey’s formidable yet kindly presence can be felt down the phone line from her second home in Durrus. She has had a fascinating life, during which she has been a waitress, teacher, actress, model, blogger and writer. Her parents were both from Kerry but moved to the US, not just for economic reasons, she says.

“My parents came from Killarney to New York so I could be born there — they wanted me to be a New Yorker, not just an American.”

Carey has written about her life in her two memoirs I’ll Know It When I See It and Manhattan to West Cork: Alice’s Adventures in Ireland. She is an ambassador for Cork County Culture night, for which she will be conducting workshops on the art of diary writing. While many people keep diaries when they are young, it takes considerable discipline to maintain a written record of one’s life for over five decades, as Carey has done. She sees her diary as a constant friend through the vicissitudes of life.

“I am an only child, my mother died when I was 21 and diary writing has always been my companion.”

As someone who had a difficult childhood with an alcoholic and often violent father, Carey believes diary-keeping has had an important therapeutic role to play.

“The beauty of keeping a diary regularly is that you can deal with the bad things that come up privately, without talking to a psychiatrist or sharing it with your best friend or husband. It is your take on it. If you put it out there, you won’t be so angry at bad things that happen.”

Keeping a record also helped Carey cope with the loss of so many friends during the Aids crisis in 1980s New York. She was a volunteer at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, where her
husband Geoffrey Knox was communications director.

“Because I’m doing these workshops, I went back to some of those diaries. The reality of how bad it was really hit me. There is something about reading those entries, listing the people who died… it’s all there in black and white. It was well over 100 names, and what was so sad was that I had forgotten a lot of them. It is a heartbreaking record of the times.”

One could argue that blogging has replaced diary-writing as the modern version of keeping a record of one’s life. What place do diaries have in a society where oversharing on social media has become the norm?

“I think they serve even more of a purpose than in the old days,” she says. “It is not as bad in Ireland as it is in the US but when anything happens or people see something, they
immediately have to check in with somebody. That is simply parroting information, it isn’t thinking about it. You tell it to the phone or text it to someone, it is out of your system and it is gone; whereas, if you hold all that and write it, for one thing you will think about it more thoroughly and it will be there forever. I don’t think blogging and all that nonsense works at all.”

While most people say they do not have the time to keep a diary, Carey believes that in reality we are often afraid to confront deeper feelings.

“When people say they are too busy, it often means they are too afraid; or the best excuse is ‘I have nothing to say’. The reality is that neither do I a lot of the time. It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering to write about it. It is just important that you say something true.”

Speaking of which, Carey still has her first diary, from which she reads me the first entry. “It’s from January 1, 1959, I was 12: ‘Went to nine o’clock mass, home, then Mommy and I went to New York for two masses at St Malachy’s, lunch at Schrafft’s and saw Peter Pan.’” It is poignant in its mundanity and piety.

“This kid, all she knew was she wanted to get the hell out of the house. And she did. And I had an interesting life — I guess I was brave, I don’t know. And I kept those diaries.”

  • Diary-writing workshops with Alice Carey at County Hall, Friday, September 22, 5.50pm, 6.30pm & 7.30pm Booking at culturenightcorkcounty@gmail.com


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