I had the most wonderful first grade teacher; part of our class was writing and illustrating our own stories. We put together tales of events from our lives; and she would type the words (back in the typewriter days) in book format and bind them together, then we would get to illustrate our own stories. I maintain this may have been one of the greatest school activities ever. Decades later, I still have the stories I wrote and illustrated. They make me smile to this day.
When I was in third grade I learned about the daily diary. I am not sure from whom, it could have been on a TV show or in a book I read, or I had just heard about it from the “cool girls” or should I say, the girls I thought were cool and wanted to be like.
Regardless of where the idea came from, I had received a journal as a gift; it was divided by week, each day having a little space to write down the day’s activities, draw pictures or disclose your deepest secrets and desires. When I first started, I honestly didn’t know what to write. I recall one day I wrote, “today I had crackers as a snack”. Another time I couldn’t think of anything fun I had done on that particular day, but I remembered something from earlier in the week so I went back and wrote what I had done on that date instead. I was definitely not a dedicated daily writer and I was not thinking creatively our relating my emotions in third grade. My life consisted of going to school and doing homework, possibly a piano lesson or soccer practice. It was quite routine.
One day in school I heard a juicy rumor that a cute boy “liked” me. I was not one of the “pretty” or “popular” girls so I was very surprised and a little excited. Not sure why, I did not pay much attention to the boys at school. At this point in my life, what I knew about these boys was that when they played football it covered the entire playground and that was annoying.
On the playground my favorite activity was swinging; the area used for football was not by the swings but I did have to walk through the middle of the game to get there. To this day, I can still get in a swing and spend an hour going back and forth. There is something about the rhythm, trying to get as high as possible and the freedom of feeling lifted that brings joy. Even as an infant I would be in the baby swing for hours; I would fall asleep, and when it would stop I would cry and my poor parents would start the thing again.
When I got home the day after hearing the rumor, I was super excited I actually had something special to write in my diary. That day I wrote about the boy and the juicy rumor. Then I wrote “If he asked me out I would say yes.” Remember, in third grade that basically means you stand in line together or sit together at lunch or maybe hold hands if you were serious.
I was shy and awkward for most of my youth; not finding my own strength until I was older and this “boy” idea was quite scary but also exciting for me.
I moved on writing other random, not particularly noteworthy, things in my journal over the next few weeks. Essentially moving on and forgetting my earlier entries, almost as quickly as I wrote them.
A few weeks later a few of the girls I thought were cool were at my house. We were in my room and I cannot remember how the subject came up, but I confessed to them I had tried to start a diary and had been trying to write. Somehow I ended up showing it to them, and as they looked through they laughed and laughed. I was pretty sure most of what I had written was not comical, but I pretended to laugh along, despite being totally devastated inside. When they got to the “juicy rumor” about the boy, it was the topic of the century.
From my perspective of the conversation, it seemed they had “dirt” on me and could share my secret with anyone against my wishes. They did not actually blackmail me, but the idea our whole class might know what I had written was terrifying. When their parents picked them up that evening, I was glad to see them go. I threw out the diary, and didn’t write a word that wasn’t required for school for many years.
For required school related writing, especially if I had some space to write my story and my style, I would excel. However, I never pursued anything beyond my assignments. I also never shared anything I wrote with anyone but the people required to read it.
In 6th grade I was a member of Power of the Pen for part of a year before my family moved. I likely joined to get extra credit for my English class. I had forgotten how much I loved to write; still I never wrote anything serious, or close to true. I would only write off the wall fiction.
There was a writing contest for Power of the Pen; we all showed up that morning prepared to write in the competition. When we arrived the teacher told us everyone in our group would not be allowed to compete, and I was one of two people chosen to sit on the side. This meant we still wrote, but it was only for practice. The prompts that day were excellent, and I recall feeling very confident about the piece I wrote. My good friend actually won first place for her writing, and I cheered her enthusiastically; however, I was also bitter about not being considered “worthy” to compete.
A few years later one of my projects for English was to write a short story, I forget the topic now. I wrote and wrote and wrote creating a complex plot with twists, and when I turned in a rough draft, to what I thought was the teacher it included pages that I had brain dumped and not re-read or edited. Apparently, we were supposed to turn in a more final version for our first draft, but that was not what I was expecting. I was mortified when our papers were collected shuffled then randomly handed out for a classmate to read and edit. Even worse, I ended up in the hall behind the girl who had read my story between classes and I heard here laughing with her friends about how many different endings and simultaneous actions were transpiring in my story.
I did my first mini-blog in college; I don’t even remember the name. But I had a lot of pent up anger and frustration in those years, so I recall the entries were dark and cruel towards others, primarily my roommate, due to the unfortunate nature of being forced to share a tiny space. But this was the first time I allowed myself to use writing as an outlet.
In the last years of high school I started a quote book, one I still keep. This book is the closest thing in my life to a journal. I still have it, and it is hidden safe and I don’t share it. Interesting how small incidents from our childhood shape us for life.
Looking back I can pinpoint the incidents from my childhood that have influenced my development over my entire life, and not just those related to writing. Introspection has helped me clarify the reasoning behind some of my more interesting personality traits. The moments that define and change your personality are stored in your memory banks. All you need to do is ask the question.
For me, fortunately, I can’t help but write. Even when I was not writing things down on paper, I was living in my head. Oh the stories that will never be.
The experiences of your life shape who you are. Without these experiences, who knows what would be different for you. Looking back I know you have similar stories, some painful, some joyful; but through close examination you can determine how they impacted your decisions to work harder or stop working towards one of your possible goals.
“Nothing is predestined. The obstacles of your past can become the gateways that lead to new beginnings.” – Ralph Blum