30 @ 30: d'être et d'écrire* [#5]

why did I find this appealing?
*to be and to write

There was a time when getting me to write -- at all -- was like pulling teeth. Seriously. In the dusty recesses of my memory are recollections of a period when my mother resorted to talking to me with a Raggedy Ann puppet in order to make short writing projects palatable (for obvious reasons I remained dubious).

I don't remember very clearly why writing seemed like a stupid waste of time. I think it felt laborious, communication was uncertain (I was not a fan of standardized spelling), and why write something down if I knew it already and could talk so much more quickly? This was seriously something my mother and I used to fight about when I was small. I could be stubborn, and was disinclined to acquiesce to her requests, even when she (or Raggedy Ann) asked so very patiently. I had better things to do with my time than put pen to paper and form words. 

I can't really say when this changed, in all honesty. I remember that my first acts of fan fiction creation were verbal, not written -- when the latest issue of the Pleasant Company Catalog (the precursor to the American Girl franchise) arrived in the mail I would curl up with the glossy pages and narrate stories about the the lives and relationships of the dolls therein. Yes: I would literally tell myself stories, out loud. 

When I was six, I received my first diary. I still have it stored away in a box in Michigan. The first entry begins: "To dae I stayed in bed to late..." and then describes how I walked to the library and what I did there. A few entries later my little sister is born. "We have a new baby," I report. "She poops in the bathtub." There are illustrations. This less than auspicious beginning led to what would eventually become a nearly twenty-five year habit, thought entries remained erratic and highly uninformative until I hit adolescence, at which point journaling became a multi-layered activity: one part journalism, one part self-reflection, one part fiction, always with a high level of adolescent drama.

Journaling (October 2007)
 I kept a journal obsessively for over twenty years, which amounted to over 100 volumes and approximately 19,200 pages worth of jotting. Journaling kept me grounded and it was what helped siphon off some of the constant verbiage that rattles around in my brain (these were the days before blogging). In addition to keeping a diary and writing novels -- which my adolescent years also saw their fair share of those -- I also had several pen-friends (yes, actual pen-friends, to which I wrote actual hand-written letters). I deluged them with correspondence: letters made up of as many as twenty-five or thirty leaves of lined notepaper, filled on both sides. 

There are probably several posts worth of story I could tell about my evolving relationship with the written word during the seven years I was in college and the four years I spent in graduate school. College was what turned me on to the power of nonfiction writing, specifically creative nonfiction and research papers. Given my habits as a diarist and my fondness for epistolary writing, it's not a big surprise to me, looking back, that I took to personal essays with boundless enthusiasm. I also grew to love -- though not without tears! -- the way in which research and analysis helped me to organize my often chaotic thought process in a way that people outside my own head not only seemed to (wonder of wonders!) understand but also to appreciate.

My brain while writing a research paper
Email and blogging have replaced correspondence and journaling these days, something that I'm not entirely at peace with. Actually, my abandonment of daily journaling coincides almost exactly with the beginning of my relationship with Hanna -- a fact that causes Hanna some amount of anxiety. I've been thinking about the evidence, though, more or less since I realized a pattern was emerging and here is what I've come to think: that writing, all along, has been a means of conversation for me. That was, after all, the reason my haggard mother pushed my first journal into my six-year-old hands: with a new baby on the way she realized there was no way she would be able to keep up with the conversations her eldest daughter wanted to have. Constantly. Ceaselessly.

Journaling, correspondence, fanfiction, memoir, blogging, email, academic research and writing -- all of these are ways through which I connect to ideas and the trans-historical, geographically disparate set of people who think and discuss them. Journaling was what I did when I was living a largely solitary life; now I have someone to share life with, discuss ideas and events with (except when she cries "enough!" which she occasionally does). Between blogging (and comment threads), email, and a primary relationship it's simply difficult to find the time or the motivation to replicate my thoughts in a private space where no one else will read them.*

Perhaps the title of this post should be, more accurately, de s'entretenir et d'être (to converse and to be).

*Story: A few years ago a researcher at the MHS practically had a heart attack from joy when she saw me writing in my journal at the front desk. She pleaded with me to ensure that my diaries would someday reside in an archive where they might be accessible to future generations of researchers like herself. I didn't mention to her how many volumes there were, but I do actually intend to donate my extant diaries and correspondence to an archive somewhere, someday. As a researcher who depends on those types of "everyday" sources for my own work I figure I owe it to my successors!

1 comment:

  1. Ah, the journal. I started writing in one just before I turned 14, and am still keeping it today--about 23 1/2 years later.

    I find it serves a different purpose than does blogging, I guess. Plus, habit! Habit is strong with me.

    On days when I'm trying to crank out words for National Novel Writing Month AND a blog post AND an entry in my journal, I do get a bit of writing fatigue, but it comes from different places most of the time.

    I hadn't really thought about it before, and it's an odd idea, but I suppose if the many notebooks are still around, they SHOULD probably go to an archive after my death if one wants them.

    Who knows who might want to look at something like that in 100 years? Weird.