After spending the day sorting through old papers, I thought I would share with you an essay written in college. Some things have changed since October of 2004. Some life events, another child, and a lot of growth has happened, but my love of writing has been constant.
Confessions of a Young Writer
It’s a quiet night, about nine pm. The children are all asleep and my husband has gone out for the night. I have the house all to myself. It is the perfect time to sit down and write. I sit down at our large table. Dark hammered hard wood gives the impression of age, and the benches provide room for eight or even ten people. But tonight the seats are empty. Except for my notebook and two sharpened pencils, the only objects on the table are the candles and some crumb missed by the dishcloth. As I sit staring at the paper I think “what to write?” Many times I have sat down with a blank sheet of paper, my hands aching to write something, but nothing in my head. The clean white paper seems to beg to me, will me to fill its pale blue lines with my dreams, my imaginings, my memories. Sometimes the words come easily; I already have them in mind before I sit down. Other times I eventually give up, putting away the paper and the pencils for another day.
For me, writing is a sensory experience. I love the smell of the pencil that has been freshly sharpened. They always have to be perfectly sharp. A dull pencil won’t do; it stifles my creativity. I enjoy the feeling of the smooth paper under my hands and a slender, sturdy pencil between my fingers. Listening to the gentle scritch-scratch of the pencil smoothly gliding across the paper. Watching my thoughts, my imagination come to life on the page. Filling line after line, sheet after sheet with my words.
* * *
It’s third grade. My teacher, Mrs. Priester, has dancing eyes and short brown hair. Her laughter sounds like little squeaks, like a small toy being squeezed over and over. It makes me smile whenever I hear it. While learning about the Netherlands we are sampling sweets and cheeses, and learning about Sinter Claus.
The big event this year is our spelling bee. I am a good speller, but so is Joyce. We’re the only two left. I don’t much like Joyce. She told Eric I like him, which is true, but I don’t want him to know. And once she told me that the paste was mashed potatoes. I knew it was only paste and I told her I wouldn’t eat it. She laughed and said she was just teasing.
Long after the other students are working on other projects we sit in the back of the room with our teacher. Back and forth, word after word. But in the end, I had spelled the most words correctly. My reward is entry into the big spelling bee at the shopping mall. My mom and my Sunday school teacher, Leah, are there. I can see them standing above me on the upper level, smiling and talking. They see me looking and wave enthusiastically. The words get bigger and bigger. I make it up to words larger than eight letters.
Crocodile. C-r-o-c-a-d-i-l-e. Crocodile. It’s incorrect. Crocodile is spelled c-r-o-c-O-d-i-l-e. I get to go home with a certificate of participation and the correct spelling of crocodile engraved into my memory, for life.
One of my favorite things to do in class is make books. We write out our stories; then Mrs. Priester hands a small book to write it in. The covers are thick and textured, made from discarded samples from wall paper books. The pages inside are grayish with solid and dotted lines, so I know how tall to make all my letters. For Halloween I write a spooky story, and write in a book shaped like a ghost. Seeing our finished products, our creations, give us a sense of pride and accomplishment.
* * *
I’m not able to write anything tonight. The words are not coming together. I put away my pencils and paper and begin my nightly routine. This is when my small neurosis, or obsessive-compulsiveness really rears its strange head. Moving in a counterclockwise direction through the house to check that everything is safe and locked for the night. I start in the playroom checking the window locks, looking in the storage closet to make sure nothing is hiding in there, and turn out the light. Then into the kitchen where all knobs on the oven are glanced over and the windows and back door are locked, including the hinge lock that keeps my children safely inside at night. Tonight because I am alone I am extra careful. I must make sure that there is nothing on the stove top except the whistling teapot, and that the toaster, mixer and coffee machines are unplugged. I then check all the windows in the livingroom, and switch for the fireplace. Last before I head upstairs is the bathroom window and the front door. On a good night everything is only checked once. On a night like thins, when I am home alone with the boys, I will check a second time. If I’m exceptionally stressed, I may wonder as I drift off to sleep if I have remembered everything, and I will come down to check again.
* * *
Sixth grade. I am eleven years old. We are in the gymnasium for a school assembly. I am standing in front of all the students, my paper shaking in my hands. Along with a fellow student, I have been chosen to read my story before the school. I see my hands shaking. My voice quivers so much, I’m afraid I cannot read. They say I did fine. They could hardly tell I was nervous. I wonder how they missed it. From among the many students in my grade that wrote stories. I was chosen to attend a special weekend program for young writers.
Early that Saturday morning my dad and I pack our lunch bags and drive to the district office. It is a cool and dusky morning. We board the school bus with several other students and parents. The ride to Eugene is long, but I enjoy the time talking to my dad. He tells me about riding the bus to school when he was a kid. About slouching down in your seat and putting your knees on the back of the seat in front of you, about sitting over the wheel well in the rear of the bus. We arrive at the University of Oregon campus and make our way to a large lecture hall. My stomach growls and I pull the almonds out of my bag. They are bitter and oily, but they calm the monster in my belly. This is my first time on a college campus and I am overwhelmed by the size of it. Some of the buildings are very old. They seem like stuffy, worn, and aged men sitting about a large room. I sit listening to one of the college professors in one of these ancient oracles of the past. It smells dusty and old. The chalk board looks weathered from the years of lectures and lesson, the chairs creek under our weight.
* * *
Before I retire to my bedroom for the night I look in on the boys. Benjamin has wiggled out of his blanket, so I cover him as I gently kiss his cheek. Then I stand on the side of his bed to reach Samuel in the top bunk. He is nestled on the far side of his bed. I watch a moment for the soft rise and fall of his side as he breathes, then I lay a kiss on his hand. In the next bedroom, Jacob is close to the head of his bed. This is where he always sleeps, and he is close enough for me to climb the ladder and bury my face in his hair. It smells of my fruity hair gel and sweet little boys sweat. The baby is sleeping soundly on his crib mattress below. He is a very shallow breather and I hold my breath watching for his. I kiss his bare baby back right between his tiny shoulder blades, hoping he will stir so that I know he is OK. He does stir, almost too much, and I hold my breath again hoping he will stay asleep.
* * *
I’m not the only one in my family who writes. My brother plays guitar and writes wonderful songs. He wrote a song for my parents on their 25th wedding anniversary. After my great grandfather finally succumbed to cancer, my aunt wrote a beautiful poem, one more to ad to her collection of moving, emotionally charged verses. My great grandmother even had a book of poetry published: Poetic Gems by Evelene Alice Stout. It is a thin paperback book with a worn orange cover. I read my favorite over and over:
My world is filled with melody,
(Like a summer breeze)
Refreshing, enchanting and sweet.
My heart is filled with notes
(Like a meadowlark)
Inspiring, with reverence, complete.
One of her poems was typed up and printed out for the whole family at a recent reunion.
* * *
In my room I grab my journal. The black spiral binding holds together the perfectly re covers. I chose it for the color, red is a Chinese symbol for good luck. It is easy for me to write in my journal. Sometimes I get carried away and tonight is no exception. Before I know it the clock says midnight. I haven’t noticed, I am too wrapped up in the writing to feel tired. The pages are filled with events, feelings, dreams, and prayers. Yet I am careful of what I write. Someday I will be gone and this will be all there is left of me: my writings. What will my personal journals say about who I am? Although I may share my frustrations about situations or people, I am not critical or cutting toward anyone. My writing is honest, loyal, and kind. In the first entry I set the tone with one of my favorite verses: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Ephesians 4:29 NIV).” My words must show integrity, and respect for the subjects.
* * *
I’m a junior in high school, David Douglas High. I have a tight group of friends and I’m getting average grades. Much of my time is spent in the Performing Arts Center, building sets and learning about the sound system. But not everything is going great. I have been dealing with serious depression and anxiety for four years. Some days are better than others. Occasionally I can have an entire month worth of good days, but that is rare. On the bad nights I have started checking the locks on the doors and the windows.
Notebooks and journals have been filled with writings and poetry. It’s what keeps me sane. If I can get it onto the paper, it’s not in my head anymore. I can see it and start to make sense of it.
One poem tells of an invisible box. The anxiety has me trapped, chained into something I cannot see. Another wonders who will help me. But another tells of the value of friendship. My feelings put to rhythm and rhyme.
* * *
I begin looking through past entries in my journal. The feelings are fresh as I read them on the page. The happiness when my children have said funny things and the excitement when I learned I was pregnant again. The nervousness when I started school and the grief when I lost a friend in Iraq. When I read my writings I learn things about myself. Like meeting a new person or doing a character study. What have I learned about myself. I’m a little neurotic. I want to be remembered as a woman with integrity. I value honesty and respect. I love my children dearly. I have been inspired by many people: teachers, parents, friends, my boys. I have many thoughts and dreams and hopes.
* * *
I am twenty-five years old and a mother of three. For years I have abandoned writing except for journal writing, and even that is rare. It may be from a fear of failure. I always know there is someone out there better than me. I don’t want to be the best, I just want to be worthy of reading. I begin writing articles for a website I created, but don’t follow through after 9/11. Ideas for books and articles are swimming through my head; about parenting, crafts, children, gardening, faith. Projects have been played with and began. Short little sections in my journals. Maybe someday I will be brave enough to let someone read them.
* * *
It is evening again and I am putting my children to bed. As I rub my three year old’s back the soft light from the hallway seems to shimmer in his strawberry blond hair. They are sleeping and once again I sit down with my clean white paper and my two sharp pencils. The words come easily tonight. They flow smoothly from my mind to my hand, onto the paper. I write. I write for those who inspire me; for those who teach me; for those who encourage me. I write for my children, for their past and for their future. I write because it’s in my blood. I write to keep me sane. I write to be remembered. I write to be respectful and loyal. I write to learn, about others and myself. I write to improve my writing. I write for the feel of the paper and the smell of the pencils. I write for the sheer joy of it.