Robert Shields (diarist)
17 May 1918Seymour, Indiana
|Died||October 15, 2007(aged 89)|
|Occupation||High school teacher|
Reverend Robert Shields (May 17, 1918 – October 15, 2007) was a former Minister and high school English teacher who lived in Dayton, Washington, United States, and left behind a diary of 37.5 million words that fills 94 boxes. The diary chronicles every five minutes of his life from 1972 until a stroke disabled him in 1997. Shields's diary was longer than those kept by the journalist Edward Robb Ellis (21 million words), the poet Arthur Crew Inman (17 million words), and perhaps the most famous diarist of all, Samuel Pepys (1.25 million words).
Believing that discontinuing his diary would be like "turning off my life", he spent four hours a day in the office on his back porch, in his underwear, recording his body temperature, blood pressure, medications, describing his urination and bowel movements, and slept for only two hours at a time so he could describe his dreams. The New York Times summarized the journal as being about anything "from changing light bulbs to pondering God to visiting the bathroom". It is believed that Shields suffered from hypergraphia, an overwhelming urge to write. He once said "Maybe by looking into someone's life at that depth, every minute of every day, they will find out something about all people." He also left behind samples of his nose hair for future study. After his stroke in 1997, Shields tried to continue the diary by having his wife write what he told her to write, but she lacked the compulsion and energy to do so and stopped shortly afterward.
Shields's self-described "uninhibited", "spontaneous" work was astonishing in its mundaneness, and now fills 94 cartons in the collections of Washington State University, to whom he donated the work in 1999. In a May 2000 interview he said "I've written 1200 poems and at least five of 'em are good." He also claimed to have written the story base for Elvis Presley's film Love Me Tender based on the Reno Gang of Seymour, Indiana where Robert William Shields was born. Copies of the manuscript are at the Kansas State Historical Society, E P Lamborn collection. Shields based his manuscript on John Reno's 1879 autobiography.
The journal for which he became known was not the first he had tried to keep; he had tried to write one at age 17 to chronicle a romantic relationship, but abandoned it after losing interest.
Under the terms of the donation of his diary to Washington State University, the diary may not be read or subjected to an exact word count for 50 years from his death. However, many excerpts have appeared, including the following:
- July 25, 1993
- 7 am: I cleaned out the tub and scraped my feet with my fingernails to remove layers of dead skin.
- 7.05 am: Passed a large, firm stool, and a pint of urine. Used five sheets of paper.
- April 18, 1994
- 6:30-6:35: I put in the oven two Stouffer's macaroni and cheese at 350°.
- 6:35-6:50: I was at the keyboard of the IBM Wheelwriter making entries for the diary.
- 6.50-7.30: I ate the Stouffer's macaroni and cheese and Cornelia ate the other one. Grace decided she didn't want one.
- 7.30-7.35: We changed the light over the back stoop since the bulb had burnt out.
- August 13, 1995
- 8.45 am: I shaved twice with the Gillette Sensor blade [and] shaved my neck behind both ears, and crossways of my cheeks, too.
- Martin, Douglas (2007-10-29). "Robert Shields, Wordy Diarist, Dies at 89". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-11-26.
- Isay, David (1994-01-27). "Robert Shields, World's Longest Diary". NPR. Retrieved 2007-11-26.
- Feldman, Michael (2000-05-06). "Michael Interviewed... Robert Shields Diarist and former Reverend". NotMuch.com. Retrieved 2007-12-01.
- "Discovered: The world's longest diary - all 3.75 million words of it". Daily Mail. 2007-10-30. Retrieved 2010-04-29. (The 3.75 million word estimate in the Mail's article comes from a misplaced decimal point. Though the title's error is repeated in the article, it is contradicted by the article's own estimate of his productivity: Over an uninterrupted 25-year period "In a good year he wrote three million words but only managed a million in a bad one.")
- "Manuscript Accession List". Washington State University. August 2009. Retrieved 2010-04-29. (three further boxes of additional papers are included in the archive)
- Martin, Douglas (2007-10-30). "Robert W. Shields, 89, a preacher who kept a 37.5 million-word diary". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2007-11-26.
- Samways, Ana (2007-11-20). "Sideswipe". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 2007-11-26.