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I n t e r v i e w   w i t h   J o n i   B.   C o l e

How did the idea for This Day in the Life originate?
I was having one of those really, really bad days where you find yourself still in your pajamas past noon and, meanwhile, you just know everyone else in the world is off doing something fabulous and important. I was feeling blue about an illness in my family, money was tight, my freelance writing business was in the pits, and my then four-year-old daughter was mad at me about socks. In the midst of this pity party, I wondered if anyone I knew was having such a bad day. Surely not. But what were other people doing and feeling and thinking on this day? What was a day in the life really like for any other woman? And the more I thought about that question, the more I truly wanted to know.

You’ve done two This Day books that ask a diversity of women to share a day in their lives. Now you’re working on This Day on the Job. Why the shift in focus?
It seems like a great extension of the This Day theme and mission. What better way to find out the reality of women’s working lives than to have them create first-person, in the moment day diaries that not only capture what they do, but what they are thinking and feeling as they go through their workday. Similar to the previous two This Day books, the point of This Day on the Job is to capture the heart of a woman’s daily experience. One other thing to mention, when we do readings people often suggest a job-related book, so that makes us even more excited to do this project.

For each book, your method is to enlist a diversity of women from around the country to be day diarists. How do you pull off a project of this national scope from a small town in Vermont?
Fear of failure is a great motivator, and it helps that we believe in the value of this project heart and soul. We pull out all the stops: cold calling, emailing, networking, and shamelessly promoting this project to anyone who will hear us out. But what really makes the project a success is the incredible generosity of our day diarists. A majority of the women (and men!) we contact love the concept behind This Day. They get behind it 100 percent. As a result, they not only volunteer their day diaries, but also help spread the word to communities of women we never would be able to reach without this kind of broad and generous support.

What were your goals for recruiting day diarists? Did contributors have to meet any particular criteria to participate in the book project?
The goal is to recruit as diverse a group of women as possible, reaching across experiential, cultural, geographic, and socioeconomic boundaries. In terms of criteria, we limit participation to women who are American citizens or Americans by virtue of making their home in this country. Beyond that, we have no restrictions, which supports one of the major premises of the book—you don't need to meet any special criteria to be interesting, or for your perspective to be of value. You just need to be you.

Were there any particular surprises that emerged from doing your first two This Day books?
I was floored that so many women were “flattered” to be asked to participate in this project. But eventually I learned that women—even prominent women—aren't often asked to speak in their own voices, to share their daily experience, which is often discounted as boring or ordinary. Yet, when you read these first-person accounts, whether the woman is at home with the kids or on the job or just inside her own head, the content is interesting, powerful, and often inspirational. I always believed this book would be a good read. But even I was surprised at how much the day diaries resonate. As I go through any given day, I'm constantly recalling details from these women's lives. It's as if they're keeping me company as I go through similar experiences or emotions.

Did any particular themes emerge in the day diaries that speak to gender or American culture?
Women's lives are hectic—often too hectic—with the theme of so many day diaries being rush, rush, rush. Women can be masters of multitasking but at the end of the day, they've often sacrificed time for themselves or for reflection. In the most recent book in stores (This Day in the Life: Diaries from Women across America, Three Rivers Press, 2005) there was definitely a strong current of emotion in the day diaries related to the war in Iraq. It was very telling. We had done a trial run of the book before September 11, 2001 and the day diaries written on that trial date did not reflect nearly the level of disquiet so prevalent in the day diaries created for the first book in the series (2003), or in the second book.

What constitutes a good day diary?
Honesty. A lack of self consciousness. Details. And as much internal monologue as itinerary. Sharing someone's day diary is a great way to discover what a woman really does all day. But it's just as interesting, if not more so, to understand what that woman is thinking and feeling throughout the course of that day.

How did you ultimately select the contributions that made it into the book?
This was so hard. These day diaries were addictive. We'd read one, which only fueled our desire to read another and another and another. We really wish the book could have accommodated every single contribution. But, when we did have to choose, we tried to represent a mix of lifestyles and perspectives. Beyond that, when you have such a wealth of material to select from, obviously your own interests and personality quirks came into play.

What are some of your personal favorite day diaries in the two books published so far, and why?
All my personal favorites made it into the books, but given page parameters we also had to leave outstanding contributions on the editing room floor, so to speak. Some day diarists appealed to me because I could relate to them; they made me feel “normal”. Others enlightened me—the funeral director, the madam, the double amputee, the nun… Reading these women’s day diaries gave me an opportunity to understand a lifestyle or perspective I was clueless about before. And many, many day diarists inspired me; not only the women dealing with huge issues like cancer or poverty, but also the women who were simply trying to do right by their families, their jobs, and themselves, and preserve a sense of humor along the way.

What are some of the responses you got from participants about the experience of creating a day diary?
Women really appreciate how this simple exercise illuminates so much about their life, from their daily routine and priorities to their attitudes about life and love. The experience offers real insights into the things—big and small—they want to change about themselves or their daily lives. Day diarists also appreciate the idea that they are participating in this activity on the same day as hundreds of other women; that this is a communal experience and one meant to be shared. One day diarist expressed it this way, “My day diary is meant to be shared with others, so there's a sense of vulnerability as well as openness. This is a very powerful feeling.”

Whose day diary would you like to see in a future This Day book?
Oh, I've got lists and lists of women whose day diaries I would love to read, from Martha Stewart... a televangelist... a brand new mom... a corporate executive... a Wal-Mart clerk... a movie star... women in every decade and phase of their lives… Actually, I can’t think of any woman whose day diary I wouldn’t want to read.



To request an interview, talk, or day diary workshop, please e-mail joni@thisdayinthelife.com 
or call 802.295.5526 (EST)



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