When I was ten, I got my first diary as a Christmas present. It had a lock, but it was no problem to open the journal without the key. Turns out this was good, because soon enough the key had vanished, probably stolen by my brother or swallowed by the dog. I kept writing in the little purple diary for months, regardless.
I didn’t have much of value to say when I was ten, but I certainly felt like I did. The pages were filled with cryptic bitchings about my brother, N (whose name I never mentioned even though there was no one else I could’ve been talking about). Day after day without fail–endless rants about whatever horrible thing he’d done that I was never in a million years going to forgive him for. I wrote for meanness. I knew he was reading everything I wrote (because brothers always used to read their sister’s journals), and I wanted him to hurt. I wanted to wreck his life the way I felt like he was wrecking mine.
At ten, I was a hateful fucking drama queen.
For a while in junior high, I stopped journaling and started writing short stories about a character named Georgia. She was the antithesis of me. She did all the things I couldn’t or wouldn’t, and by the end of the story, she’d always gotten herself in a heap of trouble and learned her lesson once and for all (until the next time, obviously). The only thing Georgia and I had in common was our “creative” mother, though mine usually behaved marginally better. All these decades later, it occurs to me that I have never been capable of even imagining a world without my mother in it. I should’ve known that, since it’s always been difficult for me to believe that my friends didn’t have moms just like her waiting at home.
In 8th grade, I started journaling again following a drama-filled and devastating all out war with my two best friends at the time. After all kinds of backstabbing and tears and the revocation of my membership to our “club,” we were all sent to sit with the school counselor, who was an epic idiot with not a damned thing to teach any of us. We dutifully answered “yes” and “no” in the appropriate places, apologized to one another without meaning it, and left as quickly as our feet would carry us. I dug a clean notebook out of my locker and started a new journal that very afternoon. I didn’t stop until three or four years after high school had ended.
I’ve said it before: I was Harriet the Spy–I just came to it a little later than most girls. I felt powerful with my high school notebooks, and I recorded everything I saw and every angsty teenage thought that entered my head until I graduated. I never felt like I was writing for anyone but myself, and it never occurred to me that I should be trying to write well, or that I should be attempting to say things that mattered. Even for a teenager, I was extraordinarily self-centered. Nowhere in any of those high school notebooks is the scantest reference to the world that existed beyond the tip of my nose. There’s no politics anywhere, and no mention of world–or even local–events. Somehow, I failed to document the day our local roller rink closed down forever, and how I missed bemoaning the loss of the candy factory (whose sweet smell from ten blocks away was the olfactory narration of every childhood memory I possess), I will never know. Instead of all those things that mattered (and that would matter to me now), I talked about the people I saw every day (even if I knew nothing about them but their names) and my silly feelings about everything that happened and didn’t in my small and exceptionally mediocre life.
And then suddenly I was 20 and married with absolutely no idea how I’d gotten there. The truth is, the whole thing was ridiculous from start to finish. We were divorced a year to the day after we were married and the relationship was left happily in the past, but that period of time was a landmark in my writing and in my reasons for writing.
At twenty, I started writing in order to process. I put it all down on the page or on the screen of my Brother word processor, and then I went back to read it minutes, hours, or days later and tried to figure out what I thought and felt about it all. Writing was (and is) my therapy. (In recent years, it’s also become my memory.) In the past couple of decades, this has made my notebooks fairly problematic, especially in a houseful of people. I worry about them being discovered and read without my knowledge or permission, because they contain some worrisome and potentially hurtful and damaging things. They’re mine, yes, but sometimes they say shit that isn’t me. The truth about stream-of-consciousness, put-the-first-thing-that-pops-into-your-head-down-on-the-page writing is that a lot of the time, what comes out isn’t necessarily what I think or feel beyond those first few hurt or heated moments. Sometimes my feelings seem to change even as I’m writing the sentence on the page. If someone read one of those pages, I wouldn’t know whether to feel violated or like I was about to be punished for someone else’s crime.
I’m trying to do better lately. Although I still tend to write more during emotionally extreme times, I attempt to come back to the subject again with a cooler head. I don’t want the wrong things to end up in my long-term memory–if I even have one of those anymore. In the last couple years, I have been stunned–repeatedly–by the number of things that I flat out do not remember. Mom or my brothers (or even my sister, who didn’t come into my life until I was 17) will mention something from times gone by and (unless it has to do with music) it has almost invariably completely vanished from my memory. Who loses their memory before they even hit 40? Seriously, I ask you.
So now, because my brain is apparently failing, I try to write it all down. Politics, religion, old wounds, new wounds, shit the kids have done, moments when I get to visit with my mom or my brothers, and times when I finally get to see my husband for more than two seconds before we fall into the bed like dead people. And in case you don’t see a problem with that list, let me lay it out for you: there are not enough hours in the day. Consequently, I mostly do not write about the daily minutiae of my life (and I absolutely should) because I’m too darned busy actually living it.
Or, you know, playing The Sims 2.
When I write online (here), it’s an altogether different experience from my 50-cent composition books, and I think I probably do it for a whole other set of reasons. Twenty or so years ago when I started in the world of online journaling, I did it anonymously. Regardless of common decency and good sense, I held absolutely nothing back, said exactly what I wanted, and was entirely unconcerned with good writing. I wrote to be read and to read other people. Though I might not have articulated it quite so well at the time, the fact is that I was constantly on the lookout for community, which is something that isn’t easy to come by for a liberal, non-religious former lesbian in either the South or the Midwest. Nevertheless, I think it’s a thing that people need, even if they only find it in an ephemeral place like the Internet. I needed community–then and now–but without question it’s been a stretch to come back under my own name and entirely without privacy protections. I run out of things to say. No. That’s not it. I run out of things I can say.
And yet I write here because I need to. Because it makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something. Because it’s good for me and I’m at least somewhat good at it. Because I’ve started this thing, and if I don’t get it done I’ll feel like a bag of shit. But more than all that, I think maybe I’m doing it to feel–for just a moment–like I’m being seen. By you all, sure, but also by my family, most of whom are (silently) reading along. I’m as sure as I can be that this is unhealthy (and probably narcissistic) behavior, but I keep going anyway and try to put that idea out of sight somewhere where I’ll be likely to forget it.
I’m doing this for…reasons, okay? REASONS.
There have always been reasons, and maybe they’ve never been good ones. Once upon a time, I wrote to be mean. I wrote to be a more daring version of myself, and to chronicle the people in my life. I wrote to think and feel, to remember, and to find my community. I’m still looking for that, even as I try to power through the dry spell and refrain from airing familial dirty laundry.
Anyway, I’m still writing. And I’m still here.
*This entry was written in response to the first installment of the “Writing: Finding everyday inspiration” section of WordPress’ Blogging University. I probably went a little overboard.