“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written in his works.” -Virginia Woolf
When I was in high school, I used to lock myself inside the orchestra practice rooms during our study hall practice time and write. Not about anything particularly life shattering, I just wrote. Even back then, I would pick my journals for their cool factor or their pretty factor. I remember one in particular that was purple and had a gothic purple fairy on the cover, tied shut with a lavender ribbon. When I found the next cool notebook, I would set aside whatever one I was working on and jump to the next. As a result, I am now much older and have a plethora of totes with incomplete notebooks stuffed inside. I cannot bear to throw any of them away.
Green, velvet, hardcover, with a magnetic flap clasp—my favorite of all my old journals. Funny though, how when I flip through it, there are so few pages filled. It’s one of the few that I actively remember its origin. I was sitting on my bed in the adolescent eating disorder unit, or RED, when there was a knock on the door frame. One of my high school teachers. My favorite teacher. She perched on the edge of my bed, and we chatted for a while about nothing much in particular. The journal and a horse pin with two horses, one gold and one silver, racing each other, were her parting gifts to me. “Write your pain,” she told me. I was sixteen years old. I wonder if the reason that particular journal is so empty is because I didn’t know how to write then. I didn’t know how to be the sixteen year old narrator, the current me. Supposedly I know how now.
My current journal is a hardcover, black Moleskin notebook. It’s more full than most of my journals. I bought it when, halfway through this past semester of graduate school, I was ready to tear out my hair from my hatred of writing. “I’ll go back to basics,” I thought. “I’ll write things by hand.” My beginning thesis work then was a struggle bus. (Still is.) People who were reading my work kept telling me that I needed to learn to be more reflective in my writing. I had to “embrace the current me, the 31 year old narrator.” I didn’t want to, but I tried in this journal. I wrote about religion, about sex, about all things with my ex; I wrote about what I thought now about all of these things, and I wrote about why they had come to be the way they had come to be. My joy in handwriting my life story lasted about three weeks. Now I carry that notebook around, because I refuse to buy another one until I can fill this one. But I don’t want to write my thesis anymore. I don’t want to write anything.
I don’t want to be the 31 year old narrator.
I often hear that, as a writer, I am “doing it right.” I don’t know what that means. I try not to laugh at people when they say it. I mean, what is “doing it right” anyway? If “doing it right” is writing, then I’m doing it all wrong. I write what I have to. New work appears occasionally. I tinker with editing old things. But I do not write like I used to. Certainly not like I used to as a child.
One of my notebooks is a green softcover that says “My Diary” on the front. I covered it in Lisa Frank animal stickers. I got that notebook when I was eight years old. I used to take it to the park and pretend I was Harriet the Spy, writing down random things about the people and events that I saw around me. The playground was a particularly great source of material; had I been any older, children’s parents may have thought I was a stalker. I thought that I would always write all the things. I liked that writing came easy. But I’ve learned as I grew older that isn’t what being a writer is at all.
Somewhere along the way I stopped writing everything and anything. When I go out now, I usually wear headphones so people on transit won’t talk to me. I don’t look at strangers unless I absolutely can’t afford it, because I don’t want to engage them. I’m no Harriet the Spy. I’m just me.
If being a real writer means not writing? I’m certainly “doing it right.”