An idea intended to help people cope with the isolation of the pandemic is bringing people together nearly three years later without the constraints of social distancing. 

When Montclair resident Kyra Peralte started the Traveling Diary in April 2020, she was searching for a community in a time of uncertainty.

“I think that over the last few years, we've all experienced some form of loneliness, or feeling disconnected, and have relied on a lot of other tools and spaces, and things in our lives to help fill that need or that void that we might have,” Peralte said. 

In Peralte’s case, she obtained a traditional black and white composition notebook and got to writing. This notebook ended up being a safe space that contained a range of emotions not only for her but also for women across 30 countries. 

The Traveling Diary consists of a group of women who sign up to receive a globally shared notebook that they can write anything in. They can express their hopes, insecurities and ideas in a book that they then ship off to the next woman three days later. 

“There's something different that comes out when we pick up a pen,” Peralte said. 

In the notebook, Peralte says she can see the difference in handwriting when one person is talking about something joyful versus a concerning situation in her life. 

When women sign up to be a part of the diary, there is an agreement made that they have to wait months or even a year before they receive it. The agreement states: “The magic is in the wait. We practice patience and rely on trust to move our stories along our human blockchain.” 

Despite the waiting game that comes with the diary, participants still flock to the simple composition notebook that allows them to be vulnerable. 

“When you receive the diary, it's not asking you about your title, where you live, your job, any roles that you have, or any of the badges that you normally might wear,” Peralte said. “It's just simply asking you to talk about who you really are, and what is really going on in your life.” 

Now, Peralte has brought the stories to life through a live reading of the diary on the Traveling Diary tour.

Ana María NL Toporek reads the first diary entry of the evening, from a mother of three experiencing low self-esteem and troubles in her marriage. (KATE ALBRIGHT/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Ana María NL Toporek reads the first diary entry of the evening, from a mother of three experiencing low self-esteem and troubles in her marriage. (KATE ALBRIGHT/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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On Saturday, Dec. 3, a Traveling Diary “speak-easy” that consisted of music, art and storytelling was held in South Orange. For Peralte, seeing in person women whom she knew only through notebook entries was fulfilling. 

“Being able to see them together, it just, it always gives me wings,” she said. “It’s just like reading a new entry in a diary, it never gets old.”

Peralte finds renewed encouragement through these events while also being reminded how important it is for her to continue to create spaces where women can come together “not as women, not according to their gender, but as human beings and to connect with one another on that basis.”

Keisha Cole, who participated in the Traveling Diary Tour, said she had never attended an event like this before. It was her first time hearing about the organization, and when entering, she and others were greeted with talismans on which they wrote wishes that they had. 

“It really reminded me to stop from the everyday busy to really tap into my emotional and spiritual state,” she said.

Keisha Cole shows the message she wrote to accompany her talisman. Guests were asked to write a wish and exchange it with another guest before attaching it to felt. (KATE ALBRIGHT/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Keisha Cole shows the message she wrote to accompany her talisman. Guests were asked to write a wish and exchange it with another guest before attaching it to felt. (KATE ALBRIGHT/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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This was the second live event Peralte held, but the first where stories were shared. She deliberately chose stories from women outside the United States. Accounts from women in Canada and Africa were read by volunteers who Peralte said embodied the emotions of the women.

One of the readers, Ana María NL Toporek, found a common thread between the writer of the piece she chose and herself. In her piece, the woman is a mother of three kids and talks about the difficulty of holding onto your identity while being a mother. 

“I've been through that,” Toporek said. “So I'm reading this piece, and I'm noticing some things in here that feel so real to me.” 

Leading up to the event, Toporek made it a point to think about her subject every day. She would think about her family and send her good wishes. 

When it came time to perform, she became so overwhelmed with emotion that people thought she was reading her own Traveling Diary entry.

“I just remember getting into tears, and just really feeling both the pain that the woman was feeling, but also her deep desire and deep longing to find her strength again,” she said. 

In the piece, the writer asks the women to evoke and accept feelings of anger, but to turn that anger into making a change in their own lives. 

“It was such a powerful transition,” Toporek said. “And then asking for that  trust. I trust that I am going to get there, I will get there to that place of strength as well.” 

To be a part of the Traveling Diary, visit thetravelingdiarytour.com.