I’ve had some interesting insights into myself since I arrived here in Florence, Italy a little over a week ago.
This is the first entry about those insights. In my journal, I’ve noted that I’m aware of the possibility that someone else might read my words and I find myself silencing or editing myself because of the risk that my words might be judged, evaluated. I don’t necessarily intend to share my journal writing with anyone. I may edit writings for blog posts, like this one. But I’d like what I write in my journal to be for me, to be free of any “generalized others”, any audience that may read and draw conclusions. (Yes, I hear the echos of Kenneth Burke and George Herbert Mead in what I’ve written.) I desire to work on this.
As I revised my journal writing for this blog post, I had an insight. I know where this concern came from. Like all teenagers, my life had a degree of angst. I used to journal all the time. I can still picture the spiral notebook in which I wrote. The peach and pink swirls on the cover. I loved that notebook. I wish I could still picture the words.
One day, while I was in 8th grade, the principal, a very serious nun I did not particularly like or trust (She was one of those people who could make any information fly out of my head simply by asking me a direct question.) had a fellow student call me out of class to go to her office. That was never a good sign. In 8th grade, it typically meant our cheerleading skirts were too short (Yes, I was an 8th grade cheerleader) and we were going to have to kneel on the floor and have them measured with a ruler.
This time was different. I walked into her office and she just looked at me. Eventually, I felt myself squirming. However, we didn’t speak until spoken to, so I just waited. Finally she asked me to take a seat across from her desk. This never happened. No one sat down in her office. I sat nervously, wondering what I had done, what she wanted, what was wrong… A million thoughts flew through my head.
She opened with “So, I understand you like to write”. I was startled. I had no idea what she was referring to. I replied, “Yes, I guess”. “Well, do you or don’t you?”, she asked pointedly. “Yes”, I stammered, more of a question than an answer. “So, what is this?”, she asked picking my journal up from her desk. I panicked and froze. “It looks like my journal. How did you get my journal?!”, I whimpered. I had written my most personal thoughts in that journal. It was not for anyone else’s eyes. “You’re a very good writer. Keep writing” she stated, “Now go back to class”.
Shaking, I took my journal from her hands and left. Rather than feeling supported, as my optimistic self believes she probably intended, I felt betrayed. I felt rage! What gave her the right to read my journal, to read my private thoughts? And how did she get it anyway? I never got answers to these questions. On my way to class, I made a detour to the incinerator in the basement. I tore my journal to shreds, feeding page after page into the fire, last of all the peach and pink swirled cover. I watched as the flames licked it black and it turned to ash. When I was done, I walked, still shaking, back to my classroom. I have no idea what we studied that afternoon. I know only that I felt relief. No one could ever again read my private words. Often when I saw her in the hallway after that, she’d stop me and ask “Still writing”? I’d just smile. I’d stopped writing. I stopped writing… for a long time.
Now, many years later, I would do almost anything to be able to read the words in that peach and pink notebook, to have access to those thoughts, to know what my younger self pondered, questioned, explored. Something precious was lost that day. While I can’t get her words back, perhaps I can learn to claim mine again, on paper, as I did then, so that one day, my older self will know me through my words. Or, maybe some other reader who cares to know who I was will read them. I hope that I, she, he will hear through my words the real, unedited me, not a redacted or silenced me. I hope they will see me in all my shades and passions, the angst and joys that I experience. That is my hope. We will see.