I have written in some form or another pretty much since I learned how to write. My writing has traveled through the early days of pencil and paper to Moleskins, swanky Italian notebooks, the early days of online message boards, blogging, and fittingly, back to pencil and paper when I returned to university to finish my degree, finalement.
I have kept journals for as long as I can remember. When I was young, I had journals and notebooks geared towards preteen girls into which I poured my little heart and then slid between my boxspring and mattress for safekeeping. (Or not. I later discovered that my father had a habit of going through my room, seeking out everything he could find. That’s another story.)
Throughout the early college days, I was the one in the room that would inwardly cheer whenever the instructor would mention the word essay. I took many, many courses on literary criticism, creative writing, composition. During my first attempts at community college, I took several writing and English courses with one particular teacher who I loved. When I contacted her only a few years ago, she told me that she absolutely remembered me and that she still had a few pieces of my writing saved, which says something, because she doesn’t save much students’ work for longer than required by the school. She said that she hoped I was still writing and I felt badly, I felt disappointing because the only writing I was doing then was unstructured, sporadic rambling on blogs. Before her, I had banged out a 10 page research paper the night before it was due and was told that, had I time to make a few edits, it would be entered into a contest, one of only three that were. (I did not make the edits in time because I was well versed in self-sabotage practically from the day I was born.)
Long before college, at the very start of high school, a young, aspiring teacher joined my English class as a T.A for a few weeks. He was bright-eyed and eager, he had a Dead Poet’s Society kind of energy about him. As he had one-on-one meetings with each student as part of his work, I felt inspired to tell him that I loved to write. I told him that I wrote every day and that I fantasized about being a writer, though I didn’t tell him that I was far too insecure and shy to take that fantasy seriously. He took me seriously and asked if I’d be willing to share. It was the first time that I can remember feeling like someone saw me as a person, as someone with a potential skill, as someone to take seriously and encourage. The next day I rounded up some of my terrible teenage poetry and presented him with a folder – he responded as though I’d given him the keys to the kingdom. I was terrified but riding high on this new sensation of encouragement. Of course, I beat myself up afterwards thinking how horrible and twee everything was that I’d given him; I wish I’d never said anything. The next day he immediately told me, with an authentic smile, that he’d started reading and thank you so much for sharing… he returned my folder a day or two after that. He’d added a few pieces of notebook paper on which he’d written comments on every single thing I had given him, sharing personal stories that related to things I’d written. He even shared an anecdote about a painful breakup that one of my pieces reminded him of. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. He had connected with me through each word then wrote several sentences telling me to keep writing and he ended it with this quote:
“Life is a banquet and most poor bastards are starving to death!”
(from Auntie Mame, by Patrick Dennis)
It pains me that I have remembered this for over 20 years but I cannot remember the TA’s name. It’s fine, it makes for a great story, but I wish I could tell him how much that has stuck with me, this one lone moment of encouragement in over 20 years, this one lone experience of connection, of being seen.
After that moment, I tucked my writing away once again. Eventually, I began writing in journals again as a way to process and release the fury of emotions during a particularly difficult, abusive, and tumultuous relationship. Writing in journals became a regular thing through my 20s. I wrote feverishly in an infamous, supple notebook with a gray suede cover and wrap-around leather cord. I had thought once that my heart was broken like it could never be again after I fell head over heels for a tattoo artist who only reciprocated after I gave up. (He would not be the last to pull that old trick – they have always missed the attention when it’s taken away.) But the “Gray Journal days” chronicled a heartbreak and chaos that far out shadowed anything I’d ever experienced before. My suspicions and questions and quest for the truth about cheating and lying I was sure were happening were not only waved off and dismissed but denied in a way that suggested I was crazy and making things up. But that journal became a document of the strength of my intuition. I was right, I was right, I was right and I have never doubted myself since. Passive aggressive men are dangerous beasts.
During that time, I had made my entry into the world of the web, both professionally and personally. I created my first blog that was intended to chronicle my move to Prague but became so much more. When I voiced my thoughts about my love of writing out loud, that particular boyfriend told me that, “all girls write.” A stronger person wouldn’t have been so do deeply affected by those dismissive words, but I was. Rather than continue to write from the heart, to write anything real, I shrunk myself back down. I wrote about surface things, I wrote about silly things, I wrote from a distance and crafted words in a way that was more for performance, to fit in, than in a way that was authentic. It’s one thing to be told that you suck when you’re faking it but nothing cuts deeper than being criticized and critiqued for who you really are.
I continued to keep blogs on which I’ve half-heartedly written over the last decade and a half with no less than seven or eight urls. Sometimes I write frequently, sometimes it’s all crickets and tumbleweeds. I promised myself that I would begin writing again, with regularity, after I graduated and had more time.
I have lived, and continue to live, in terror of mediocrity. I have been terrified to pursue the things I really love. I also tend to dismiss myself often – “I work in tech, writing is frivolous,” “I can’t justify wasting an entire morning writing when I should be doing something productive.” I fret over feeling like writing is a narcissistic activity – what do I have to say that hasn’t been said already? What do I have to add? Why do I think anyone needs or wants to hear me? Anything that I love, anything that I enjoy doing always feels self-serving and no amount of yoga (something I did for quite some time) could teach me that “self care” is something I deserve. (In actuality, I’ve come to realize that yoga only taught me how to justify denying myself the things I love!) But again, that’s another story. The fact is that, in person I’m more of an introvert but I do love to share, I love to connect. Some of the friends that I’ve had the longest, some of my favorite people, are those that I met through my old blogs. Most importantly, I have always written in order to process and to remember.
In the last couple of years I’ve begun taking steps towards working with languages and becoming officially multilingual, a dream I’ve had since I met Claudia, an exchange student from Guatemala that came to my elementary school so long ago. (I was fascinated with her and loved hearing her say her name for me, properly, with her Guatemalan accent – Cloud-ee-ah.) I’ve always been quite adept at making things happen, at finding a way to do the things that I want to do. So now I’ve set my sights on the things I *really* want and have purposefully avoided all this time.