“Wow, Mom! Look at this book! What is it? It’s blank inside. I’ve never seen anything like it!”
“That’s a journal, Sweetie.” We were in the store, hurrying through isles so we could get back home.
“What’s a journal?” I asked her.
“It’s a book where people write about their lives. Every day, or a few times a week, people write and say what’s going on and what their thoughts are. Years later, it’s fun to look back on. Go ahead and pick one. I’ll buy it for you and you can give it a try.”
The idea of writing my own book thrilled me. A book about me. Wow. It seemed strange and exciting.
I picked out a soft blue journal with crocheted flowers attached to the cover. In the car, I opened it, listening to the “crack” of the pages and binding as I first laid eyes upon the lines where I would later write out my childhood thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, and activities.
“Do I have to write every day?” I asked my mom.
“No, of course not. You can write as much as you like and whenever you like.” My mother’s words resounded in my mind.
And so it began.
I did write as much as I liked and whenever I liked. It became a like savored ritual for me to go to the store and give myself a treat about once a year.
To this day, whenever my old journal is close to being filled, I stand in the office supplies section of our local store and spend almost thirty minutes picking out the perfect pen: The one with .38 diameter, gel-ink that doesn’t smudge and glides over the paper smoothly.
I then move to the journals and search for my mind’s ideal: One that has a smooth cover and binding on it, a design on the cover that reflects a certain stage in my life, but when opened has rings so the pages turn easier. The lines must be narrow and the paper must inspire me to fill the pages with words. Some lined paper evokes no passion in me whatsoever. The paper in my journal must have chemistry with me. It’s pivotal to the inspiration I find when my pen eventually meets that paper.
Journals have also become some of the most meaningful gifts that friends and family will give me. I know that they pick out one with a cover that makes them think of me, and it’s a reflection their understanding that writing is significant in my life. The giving of a journal makes me feel like my passions are supported by my loved ones.
When I was a senior in high school, that Christmas one of my very good freshman friends took a college-ruled composition notebook and created a collage on the front and back of it, taped over it with packing tape to “laminate” it and wrote me a thoughtful note on the inside. That journal has become a treasure to me.
Journaling was where my passion for the written word began, but numerous other forms of writing have influenced me along the way.
At age six or seven, my dad came into my bedroom one night to put me to bed, and instead of helping me pick out another Nancy Drew or Dr. Seuss book, he suggested we read some of his literary favorites: Tolkien’s The Hobbit, or others such as Watership Down, Kon-Tiki, and Endurance. I was so impressed by the power of a good story to pluck me from by bed sheets and place me into the burrow of a rabbit or the mouth of a dragon that I began boldly picking up novels on my own.
Similarly, my mom introduced me to a series called “The Unicorns of Balinore.” We spent evenings curled up in her bed, and I’d listen to her soft soothing voice as she read book after book to me about this magical world I liked to dream was real.
Somebody wrote those books, and I was thoroughly intrigued and impressed.
In the fourth grade, my teacher gave me a book in which I was supposed to trace cursive writing over and over and over for endless hours after which she’d review it with an eagle’s eye. She sat down with me one-on-one and taught me how to do it the left-handed way. She showed me that I could tilt my paper a certain direction to give my cursive a more elegant angle.
“Why do I need to learn cursive?” I finally asked her.
“It’s an art form, a place to practice discipline, and it’s a mature, adult form of writing.” That’s all I needed. I heard the word “adult” and locked onto it. If grown-ups used it, I’d use it too.
In the fifth grade, my teacher brought out a basket filled to the brim with cans of shaving cream. “Today we are going to practice our cursive,” she said, lifting a can in the air, dramatically popping off the lid, and spraying it on the desk of the child sitting in the front row.
We all gasped.
“Roll up your sleeves!” she cried, and I grinned.
That year, we had our shaving cream cursive sessions during which we’d get to get our hands messy, feel the smooth cream squish between our fingers, and draw on our desks. We practiced spelling words, our names, sentences, and played games. Writing could be fun.
My second best friend, a girl I met at school in the 5th grade, introduced me to modern fairy-tales, adaptations of age-old fairy-tales. Magic, and witchcraft, elves, and dragons, princesses and princes, and spells -all of these abounded in the pages of the novels she sent my way. Her family had a little more money than mine, so she got books from the bookstore almost weekly. She’d bring her latest novel to school to read during our recess when we’d walk laps around the playground while I read the novel she had gotten from the previous week or another that she’d picked off her shelf for me. During our sleepovers, we’d discuss our books, the stories, what we liked or disliked about them, what parts made us scared or excited. Our friendship was bound up in the passion we both shared for literature. I had never met anybody so different and exciting to me than Lizzy S. She was spunky, exciting, unpredictable, and yet in all of this, she was incredibly creative and intelligent, with enough focus to plow through book after book with impressive speed. It devastated me when she moved away and we never spoke again.
I quickly learned, though, that making beautiful letters or appreciating literature are only pieces in the greater world of writing.
Language is an entirely different art form in and of itself.
In the seventh grade, I sat in my English class. I was new in school, and the teacher, a petite woman with a slender waist and long legs walked quietly to the front of the room, her Converse sneakers flashing at me as I peered over my desk. “She has those shoes? Everybody here does. Man!” I was so out of the loop. I glanced down at my white Sketchers.
Sentence diagramming was what we were warned about for our first year in junior high, and it was a fair warning indeed. I took it very seriously, understanding that learning the parts of language would help me develop into a better writer. Sentence structure would finally give my fine-looking cursive a proper home.
But that too, was only a piece of it, I realized at the end of my junior high years. When would the puzzle finally be complete?
Composition followed next along with four years of a fantastic English instructor challenging me to think outside of my comfort zone, and to compose a well-structured and well-researched paper.
Finally, creative writing was introduced. I knew how to make my letters, order those into correctly spelled words, put those words together in a proper order, and then place those sentences into an intellectual context. I had all the foundation I needed. Now, my chain was cut loose, and I was set free.
A blank page sat before me.
I could fill it with absolutely anything I wanted.
I joined the school newspaper and wrote articles with a few of us willing to sacrifice the occasional lunchtime hour.
But I wrote other things too.
The girl who sat next to me in junior high used to compose stories that took place in a world she’d created. Her imagery was elaborate, plot-lines intricate, many of them running together only to quickly separate with a dramatic turn of events, sometimes a character being introduced who I had no idea where it came from until I realized that it was carried over from yet another one of her stories. She’d be a successful published author one day. But me? No, not me.
I tried to copy her stories at first. I tried to make up my own world filled with fantastical creatures and characters, overflowing with action, adventure, love, romance, loss, and joy. No matter what I did, though, I couldn’t release the passion I had pent up inside of me.
Then, in a journal entry written in defeat, I stumbled blindly across the subject I had passion about: Love.
My passion for writing about love was certainly not borne of experience, but rather, an innocent curiosity. What was it like to have somebody to share life with? What would it feel like to be wrapped in a warm embrace? What did an argument with that person feel like? What was there to argue about? What was it like to feel a soft kiss placed upon the crown of one’s head?
I had known lots of love in my life. Parent and child, friend to friend, mentor to mentee, but never, never had I experienced the love of a man and a woman. It was uncharted territory. Junior high and high school aren’t the best places to go looking for it, of course. Instead, I learned in those places lots about what love wasn’t, so I began writing love stories, finding my inspiration in creating the opposite of what I did know.
And I knew lots.
“I’d like you if you weren’t so weird,” one boy turned to me abruptly in English class and blurted out one day.
He even wrote it out on a paper that he put onto my desk. I slipped it into my pocket and with blurred vision, stumbled to my next period, PE, where I locked myself in the big stall in the locker room and let the tears fall while the other girls changed into their PE clothes.
“Sometimes, I just want to bang you,” was a note I found scrawled on a piece of paper on my desk in Bible class one day.
“Bang me?” I wondered what that was. I tapped my best friend’s shoulder who sat next to me. “What does this mean?” I asked her.
“Becca!” she cried. “Who gave you that!?!” I looked around the classroom. I had no idea.
“You don’t know what that means?” she asked me when I shrugged.
Before she could stop me, I handed the note to my Bible teacher whose eyes grew wide. “Who wrote Rebecca this note?” he asked, addressing the entire classroom.
Nobody, of course, confessed.
Later, a boy passed me in the hallway, walking the opposite direction and whispered, “I wrote it.”
Before the age of texting and Facebook, but past the era of snail mail, I began an email correspondence with a guy I had a “crush” on in the 8th grade. We emailed for about a year. He used to call me every night on my house phone and play the piano for me.
“What song do you want me to play for you?” he would ask me, and croon into the phone songs and melodies that he’d play and sing. In hindsight, they probably weren’t all that great, coming from somebody just learning to play, but to me, they were beautiful. Somebody was making music for me, showing interest in me. “Was this love?” I wondered.
“I’m not allowed to date until I’m fifteen,” I told him during one phone call.
“I’ll wait,” he promised.
Wow. He’d wait. “This must be love.” I felt more assured now.
I’d get to do it the right way, develop a deep friendship with him first, and then one day, we’d get to date, go out places together on romantic dinner dates. He’d probably take me to the movies or teach me to dance. He’d write a song for me, and maybe, if he got famous, I’d hear it on the radio. Maybe that’s how he’d propose. Or maybe he’d sing to me at our wedding. Would his parents like me? We’d have a family, a home. Maybe he’d become a pastor or a worship leader at our church. Maybe he’d be a missionary and we’d travel. Maybe he’d have an office job, and I’d know exactly what time he came home so I could surprise him with dinner, a clean house, and four kids excited to see him. Maybe he’d make CD’s or create the score to a movie. The possibilities were endless.
Our emails mostly consisted of our dreams, our hopes. Then, during one summer, they started coming in less frequency. He stopped calling altogether.
I started to lose interest in him because we hadn’t really talked for a while.
My house phone rang one night.
“Becca?” he said my name kind of funny. “I have something to tell you.”
Was he going to ask me to date him? We had to wait at least two more years. My parents wouldn’t let me date yet. But I was thrilled that he was about to ask me. I could hear it in his voice. I knew something exciting was coming.
“Becca…” he said again. “I cheated on you.”
What was that? I’d never heard that terminology before. I pretended to understand.
“It’s okay,” I reassured him, not understanding, but distraught by how upset he was.
“I just…I needed to tell you that I started dating somebody. It’s been several weeks.”
I was quiet. It took a moment to register.
“Oh,” I finally replied.
“I’m so so sorry.” I thought I heard him start to cry a little. “She goes to my new school, a police officer’s daughter, and I was lying to you by not telling you.”
“It’s fine,” I said. “Actually,” now the lie began. Sure, I’d lost interest because he’d stopped talking to me, but if he’d kept talking with me, would that have happened, I wondered? It couldn’t hurt to just lie and save face.
“I was going to tell you I was not ready for a relationship anyway, not really interested right now,” I blurted, mustering up all the acting and convincing that I could inject into my voice.
“Oh, you were?” he asked.
“Yeah, so this is no big deal, kind of a blessing in disguise that it happened. Saved me some extra effort.”
“So you’re okay?” he asked.
“Totally,” I thought I was.
“Well, goodbye for now, I guess. I’m glad you’re okay. Sorry again.”
“No problem. I’m fine, relieved, mostly. Bye.”
I stayed on the phone, listening, hoping to hear him say he changed his mind, that it was all a lie, a joke. But instead, I just heard the soft click of the receiver hanging up, and I knew that this, this was not love.
The writing began. Stories, lots of them, never finished. I never knew how a love story finished, about what happened after the wedding day. Disney never told me. I saw it with my parents and grandparents, of course, but that creates a very uninteresting story. So instead, I just wrote plots about wooing, pursuing, heartache, disappointment, friendship, renewal, coming back together again, and they all ended at the start of a long-term relationship or a marriage, the point at which my experience ran dry.
When teachers weren’t looking, my notebooks with the stories got passed around to every girl in my class. Before I knew it, I had every one of them begging me to keep writing.
“We want to know what happens,” they’d exclaim.
“You write so well, I could picture everything. What is going to happen to them?”
Those girls never found out what happened to my characters. I never did either. I never knew love.
Finally, I just stopped writing about it, because it seemed futile.
Years later, I now know love. In a three year relationship with a man who sees me at my best and worst, I know love, but now, for a good story, I want more, partly because the love I know now I’m not so sure I could articulate with mere words, but also, because I’ve grown to see that life has much more in it besides love.
I’m simply waiting for inspiration to hit. I desire more than just the boring interplay in the wooing and pursuing process. This became clear to me when I was introduced to Les Miserables amd A Tale of Two Cities. Those stories are the epitome of genius to me. They are my inspiration for writing. I love how the authors so accurately capture human nature, and the common experiences we all share across culture: love, loss, jealousy, redemption, forgiveness, etc.
So instead, I turned to writing articles. My life seems to be full of interesting experiences, and if I’m lacking experiences, my brain is certain to come up with deep and philosophical thoughts (it’s really rather busy in my head).
I used what I knew: journal entry style articles.
Regardless of people’s thoughts about what I wrote, I wrote just for me, just for the sake of writing.
The responses of my Facebook followers were actually surprising.
Sure, there were supportive comments and praise there, but I never trust Facebook. It’s far too easy to click “like” or comment, “Good job!” or “Well-written” or “Nice thoughts!” I mean, I’ve seen posts where people say something like, “My dad died,” and there are twenty-six likes (LIKE? I mean, I’d get it if there were a “support” button, but LIKE?) and ten comments saying “I’m sorry!”
It became very obvious, however, when people approached me at church or in the store or wherever I happened to run into them, and they’d tell me details about what they loved from my recent articles. Many of these people were of the generation where Facebook was foreign, so they became my silent cult following, reading, but never commenting or liking. I called them my “ninjas.”
When I traveled to the Dominican Republic and Haiti, I wrote whatever was on my heart about poverty, loss, hope, life, God and His relationship to man. I wrote letters to friends, funny anecdotes from my day, thoughts on recent current events, and people were telling me, “Your funny stories are the best. Your life is so exciting! I can’t stop laughing when I read what you have to say. You should compile all your posts into a book. It’s fantastic.”
I’ve had other joys in writing too:
A friend of mine who is majoring in journalism writes for our college’s newspaper and asked me if I’d be willing to come up with some tips for new students. I’d been put through college boot camp and all kinds of horror stories had happened to me, so I gave that response my all. She thanked me profusely. Later, when I saw the article she published, my quotes were scattered throughout it. I was beaming, and she had no idea the pleasure she’d brought to my spirit by including me.
I’ve had my share of disappointments too.
I had a good friend of mine who was dating somebody, and I was trying to befriend his girlfriend to show my support in his life, to give her peace of mind about my friendship with him, and because she seemed like a smart and interesting person who I’d like to make friends with. I’m really rather socially awkward, so I went about this in the best way I knew how: through my writing.
I exposed myself by telling stories, sharing pieces I’d written, and I hoped she’d do the same. I was excited to make a new friend. Her responses seemed nice enough. But one day I got a text from my good friend saying, “You should stop emailing my girlfriend. She just slammed her laptop shut and said you were so annoying and that you write too much. ‘She’s pissing me off’ she says, and she also says she doesn’t have time to read them. She’s really upset, and I’m the one that has to live with her. Maybe just lay low for a bit.”
Geeze. That stung on multiple levels. First, that he, my close friend who always seemed to support me and treat me with kindness and respect, would suddenly treat me like that. In hindsight, it was just stemmed from frustration I’m sure, and he apologized profusely for it later. But second, it stung that his girlfriend was just doing that stupid woman thing and lying to me by pretending to be nice and pleasant in her emails, but truly, replying only out of social obligation or some other reason unknown to me.
I’ve always valued honesty. I don’t and never have played that “girl game” very well. I often miss those girl cues, the mean glances or subtle put-downs that sound like niceties to the untrained ear. I wish she’d just said that she was very busy at that point in her life and wasn’t interested in working on a new friendship. Instead, she threw my writing back at my face through a very close friend of mine in order to dissuade me from writing back.
She never knew it because I was too polite to share it (and honestly based on her reaction to me, she probably wouldn’t even care), but she really hurt me, and I held onto it for some time afterwards.
My senior year of high school, I was given the honorary title in our yearbook of “Most likely to write a 20 pages for a 2 page essay.” I laughed, because in some ways, it was true. But in other ways, it simply poked fun at a much deeper insecurity.
“Maybe that woman was right,” I thought, remembering the text message my good friend had sent me earlier that year. I took a break from writing for a while. I stopped journaling and I ceased investing in my research papers. It’s most apparent when I look back at my first few college essays and I was given simply an ‘A’ with lots of red marked up on my grammar errors (something I was unaccustomed to seeing on my schoolwork), things I knew were there but that I intentionally didn’t bother to fix in an attempt to “blend in” better. On the minimum page requirement or a final project, I’d get a ‘B’ which threatened to taint my good grades, but I’d calculated beforehand would still leave me with an A in the class. I had the power to get any grade I wanted, and I was purposely short-changing myself in a desperate effort to dodge spitting comments about my writing style, length, frequency, structure, whatever it was that insecure and hurt people felt they could be free to say to me or about me.
This endeavor to undervalue myself and my abilities didn’t last long, though. It was like my hands were bound again, my pen taken from me, which was my voice in many ways, and I loathed it.
It was during that time that my boyfriend published two books for me on my birthday and Christmas. “I know you always dreamed of writing a book,” he told me, “and I know you haven’t been able to. So I took all your writing, compiled it, and I did it for you.”
This was the greatest expression of love I’d ever known, the love I once wondered about.
“I know what love is,” I thought, my age-old curiosity finally squelched like water being tossed on a candle’s dancing flame. “It’s wrapped up in this man right here.”
He’d made my dreams come true.
“Who cares?” I said to myself one day shortly thereafter. “Who cares what that woman or anybody else thinks about what I have to say?”
“You can write as much as you like, whenever you like.” My mom’s words rang in my ears. I remembered my childhood enthusiasm for the written word.
So, I picked up my pen again.
My Facebook posts resumed, taking on a new life and energy, and after one particularly successful post, everybody suggested I write a book.
“Blogging,” An ad came up on my computer that day.
“I could blog,” I whispered, breaking the silence in my bedroom. With those words, relief, excitement, and a sense of being freed washed over me.
I’d never told this to myself before. But, I decided I’d give it a whirl.
Nobody might ever see my posts, but who cares? It is a place that is perfect for me: where people expect me to write, where it is acceptable to write as much as I want and as often as I want. Blogging is the thing for me. I was thrilled when I realized this. I had that “just-found-the-puzzle-piece-I’ve-needed” feeling. Nothing could rob me of that:
Not that woman who slammed her laptop shut, not any ill-meaning blogger; nobody could take it away.
I decided I would write because I had a right to write. I’d write because my soul is lifted when I write. I’d write because I write better than I speak, and because it is through words that I am finally able to express the deep feelings, thoughts, and passions I hold inside of me. I write because I think I might have been made to write.
So, I’d like to welcome the few people who have ever made it this deep into my blog. Thank you for taking the time to read my words. It’s an honor to have you read this. I count you as my friend, and I’m interested in what you write, if writing is nearly half as important to you as it is to me. Feel free to share your works with me as you take the time to look at what I’ve shared with you. Don’t be a stranger. No need to be the “ninja” follower like I described above. Comment on my stuff. Make yourself known to me. Like I said, I’d count it an honor.
~Cheers! Cheers to the writers in this world!~