I spent five uncomfortable minutes last week Facetiming my Dad as he located all my childhood journals. I felt like I was letting him in on a dangerous secret as I instructed him to look behind books on the overstuffed shelves in my room, beneath piles of stuffed animals, behind boxes under my bed, assembling an army of partially filled notebooks that chronicle fifteen years of my life. He seemed shocked by the level of dedication I appeared to have devoted to journaling over the years and vowed not to read a single word of my pre-adolescent ramblings.
The package arrived two days later and I dumped its contents on my bed, picking up the pink-and-gold-tiger-print journal that I knew was the earliest one I had kept. I opened to the first page and though the entry wasn’t dated, judging by the handwriting and use of multicolored gel pens (I switched colors every three letters to keep things exciting – very important to make sure one’s audience is engaged and if an artist does that using multicolored gel pens, so be it) and the shakiness of the all-capital letters, I would guess it was written around 2001. It read: TOD A I BOT THIS NOTBIC AND.
This entry, written in the barely legible scrawl of a five-year-old who hasn’t even solidified her lefty identity and was convinced by preschool teachers to use her right hand, is symbolic of the relationship I would go on to have with journaling for the next fifteen years. I’ve had a reputation within my family for as long as I can remember of refusing to communicate, remaining virtually silent as I observed the world from a safe distance behind my too-long bangs for the majority of my childhood. I’ve also maintained an identity as an extremely capricious individual, known to abandon things as quickly as I pick them, prone to forgetfulness, and what some might characterize as “carelessness.”
My inability to communicate as a child coincided with my desire to write down my feelings and the events that comprised my daily life. Though not obvious from my sparse entries, I was an extremely anxious child and I used journaling to combat the feeling of dread that weighed on my chest as if my parents had filled my barnyard-animal printed duvet cover with bricks before tucking me in at night, causing a sense of crushing doom on nights when I couldn’t fall asleep out of fear that I’d awake as a grown up. I wrote in my journals because I wanted to document everything and felt that by doing so I could remain exactly where I was for as long as possible— or at least create a safeguarded method that would ensure the option of returning to those moments whenever I desired. I rarely wrote about my feelings, and never about my anxieties, because I wanted my journals to be a place of escape.
Looking back on my entries from kindergarten and first grade (only 5 in this notebook, dozens elsewhere as organization has never been my forte) chronicling various events such as my family’s tour of the Capitol and the haircut that everyone els in my famly likes more than me because I liked my har better when my it was long, I hardly recognize myself in the shaky letters. In those early years, my shy, anxious self journaled out of a desire for a much-needed sense of control. Today, while I’m grateful to be able to pick up my pink-and-gold-tiger-printed-journal and be transported back to my cousins weting on Cape Cod, I’m struck by the similarities between my childhood-self and my current self. Though I no longer live in constant fear of the future, I still sometimes find myself consumed by anxieties about my future—it’s just that now I’m a bit more aware.