Kyra Peralte thought keeping a diary during the pandemic might help her sort out her tangled feelings. Then she decided to drop her journal in the mail and share it with a stranger.
Peralte — a mother of two in Montclair, N.J. — started writing candidly last April about the challenges of juggling work, marriage and motherhood during a global crisis.
Writing was cathartic, but Peralte, 44, wanted to know how other women were doing. Was she alone in her feelings or were other women experiencing the same overwhelming stress? She craved connection.
So she made an unusual offer. She invited other women from near and far to fill the remaining lined pages of her black-and-white marbled composition notebook with their own pandemic tales.
“I wanted an interaction that felt human, and it feels very human to read someone else’s writing,” said Peralte, a children’s game designer.
She dreamed up “The Traveling Diary” — a simple notebook that would traverse the globe via snail mail, collecting handwritten stories and, ultimately, creating a community.
A year later, seven marbled notebooks have circulated in various locations — from the United States to Australia, Canada to South Africa — and a growing group of strangers have formed an unexpected friendship as a result. So far, 115 women have signed up to participate.
Peralte found her first contributor on a Zoom conference for entrepreneurs, during which she mentioned her diary idea. A woman from North Carolina immediately reached out and said she would like to write in the book.
From there, Peralte wrote a Medium article, in an effort to recruit more women to get involved. Word spread, and she created a website so participants could easily add their names to the queue. Each person is allowed to keep the diary for up to three days and fill as many pages as they wish, with whatever writing or artwork they choose. Then, they are responsible for mailing it to the next person, whose address Peralte provides.
Women around the world from various cultures, races and lifestyles eagerly signed up to share their stories. They each began filling the pages with their own handwriting, narrating their pandemic experiences, recounting obstacles they faced and sharing lessons they learned. While some women wrote about grief and heartbreak, others wrote about joy and new love.
“Everyone approaches the blank pages in their own personal way,” Peralte said.
The entries all reflect the moment in time when they were written.
Amy Tingle, 52, sat down with the diary last September, in the wake of civil unrest and ongoing protests, and she decided to focus her entry on America’s racial reckoning.
“I couldn’t escape the sadness,” said Tingle, who lives in Maine. “I remember being really disappointed in humanity.”
Writing in the communal diary, “was definitely a therapeutic thing during that time,” she said. As an artist, she also included a collage of women, symbolizing the sense of friendship she felt with other participants.
While writing her own thoughts was healing, she said, it was equally meaningful to read the words of other women who held the book before her.
“It was so fascinating to know that we’re all in the same moment in time, but having such different experiences,” Tingle said.
Kirsty Nicol, 29, who lives in London, heard about the Traveling Diary through a friend. She received the journal two months ago, after it was shipped from New York City.
“It came to me at a challenging time during lockdown,” she said, adding that on top of struggling with prolonged isolation and pandemic fatigue, she also got tonsillitis. Reading the entries allowed her to escape, transporting her into the lives of others and finding bits of wisdom they left.
One woman from Australia had written: “Working with the setbacks. Not against them. Patience and gratitude. It’s a dance. Life is moving and we can stomp our feet in rejection, or we can gracefully embrace the mess, tidying as we go.”
While some women opted to write about broad issues impacting society, others got more personal.
When Colleen Martin, 44, received the diary on her doorstep in Florham Park, N.J., last November, “I had just recently lost my brother,” she said.
Although she had originally signed up for the Traveling Diary months prior, it ultimately arrived at just the right moment for her, she said.
“By the time I actually got it and wrote in it, it was much more of a therapeutic relief,” she said, explaining that she wrote about her grief.
It helped her look for meaning and “the growth and development that occurs in terrible times.”
Martin shipped off the diary to the next participant, and shortly after, Dior Sarr, 33, received it at her home in Toronto just before the new year.
“I wrote about my ambitions, my goals and how I wanted to step into the new year,” she said. It felt meaningful to “to pass on something so personal. It felt like these were women that I had known even though I didn’t know them at all,” said Sarr, who works in health care.
Recently, though, Sarr did meet some of the women whose stories she read, through a virtual get-together that Peralte organized.
“It has really evolved into a community,” Peralte said. She often hosts Zoom events so the women get the chance to get to know one another more, share stories they might have missed and connect more intimately. Some of the women, she said, have actually become close friends.
Nan Seymour, 54, described meeting fellow Traveling Diary participants as a “miraculous” experience.
Seymour, who lives in Salt Lake City, received the diary last month. She learned about the project on social media and immediately signed up.
“I loved that it was a tangible book, and I loved that it was coming by snail mail, operating at a different speed and frequency than our jacked-up Internet-based life,” she said.
Holding the book in her hands, “I felt like I was reading something sacred,” she said. As she slowly examined the 12 entries that preceded her own, “it evoked a sense of awe.”
“I found all the experiences relatable in their essence, but there were definitely reports from lives very different than my own,” she said,
Seymour wrote a personal essay about her 26-year-old daughter, who is transgender.
“I wanted to represent that part of my life, and I thought it might benefit others,” she said, adding that she knew her words would be well-received.
“We’re all drawn to this project from the same heart-based purpose,” she said. “Once you come through this door, you’re meeting people whose values align.”
Although six notebooks are still traveling the globe, the original diary — which contains Peralte’s very first entry about navigating pandemic life and reconnecting with family — is finally back in her possession, with two more books expected to arrive in May.
“It was beautiful to have it again and to read it,” she said. “I carry these stories with me on a daily basis.”
She feels a strong bond with the people who wrote them, none of whom she would have otherwise known.
Peralte’s spontaneous idea, she said, has had a profound effect on her, and she hopes, the other women who were part of it.
“The Traveling Diary is making sisters out of strangers,” she said.