Mary shares how she fell in love with her beloved craft.
My first ever journal entry reads, “My name is Mary I am seven years old and I collect rocks,” and the next, “On Sunday march 15/16 my family went ice skating. I no how to ice skate real well my mom says I.m a pefesenol.”
These early dabblings in memoir did not go unnoticed by my ever-supportive family and, if I recall correctly, an elementary school teacher or two. Their attention to the written workings of my young mind, no doubt brought on by my constant demands for it, was enough to jumpstart my early interest in the craft of writing. I began penning stories, some funny and some somber, in an effort to capture the world at large. Common themes were monsters and baseball teams, and my entries were often accompanied by wildly creative illustrations of both. My artistic genius had no boundaries. Soon I began entering short stories in school — and community-wide contests.
Alas, I won nothing.
Undeterred by the public’s unwillingness to recognize my talent, and still fueled by my parents’ insistence that writing was my obvious destiny, I kept on crafting stories and writing daily journal entries. My interest in fame and celebrity had waned but I still felt compelled to record my thoughts and experiences on a regular basis. During my teenage years, birthday and Christmas gifts from friends and family almost always included fresh journals, which I would quickly fill with my scribbly observations and add to the growing stacks in my bedroom closet.
Over time, my work departed in new directions as I gained interest in other things: friendships, dating, grades, parties, slight variations on my hairsprayed bangs. I wrote in my journals about whatever it was that was on my mind that day. If I’d go too long without writing an entry, I’d wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and run to my desk to scribble down my thoughts. “Jason and Skip both wore blue on Tuesday. Blue is my favorite color and Tuesday is my favorite day of the week! What does it all mean?” Sometimes, clearly worried my siblings might read my work and use it for blackmail, I’d write in code: “S isn’t interested in M anymore. P tells why. ND for sure.” These cryptic entries offer little more than evidence of my insatiable need to keep a record of life.
It wasn’t until I was an adult living on my own in New York City that I really began to understand why writing was so important to me. It never had anything to do with whether or not I had the talent for it, or what life as an author would feel like, or what other people might think of my work. It was the pure joy of experiencing the world knowing that each moment contained infinite emotions, experiences, and mysteries, and that all these moments could end up somewhere more permanent than my memory. I would feel an almost overwhelming tension at the very thought of all that was taking place at once in every instant and my way of dealing with it was to somehow capture what very little I could. Writing down what I see and think and what I imagine others see and think gives life shape. It helps me make connections and attempt to understand the world and give it meaning.
Writing is hard. Sometimes I get distracted for months at a time, consumed by another project, a relationship, a life crises or a celebration. Sometimes I forget completely that I’m a writer, the same way some people might forget they’re American or middle-class or other things that might be true without any active behavior making them so. But inevitably, after a few days or weeks or months of meandering through life, my thoughts will insist on being spilled out onto the page. And I think back to my seven-year old self and how – as much as I liked rock collecting and “pefesenol” ice skating – the thing that made me happiest was running back to my room and clearing a space at my desk to write about it.
Photo credit: Lindsay