I was a prolific journal writer as a kid, studiously keeping track of my days even as an 8 year old. I still have some of those diaries, and during a recent move I took the opportunity to skim through them. Of course this is always an awkward enterprise, this reading through the dramas of one’s childhood. Not only did I have a flair for the dramatic (a shared trait among the autobiographically-inclined, I suspect), but amusingly, an historian’s attention to the mundane. I wrote as if I were Thomas Jefferson, keeping track of the social, historical, and even meteorological events of my young life. For this reason, I know that the temperature hit 80 degrees on my parents’ anniversary in February of 1987 – an important event, considering it had snowed on the day of their marriage over a decade before. I can’t help but smile at the precocious youngster I was as I read over the very serious consideration of global warming I wrote that day, scrawled in the great big bubble letters of someone not yet proficient in cursive handwriting.
As I revisited my old journals that day, one particular trait struck me as telling: I kept starting over. Every time I’d filled the pages of one book, I would start the next with an introductory description of myself. On page 1 I would tell my life story all over again – this is my name, this is the city where I live (this is the population of said city – I kid you not!), these are the names of my pets, the name of my school (and teachers, and friends)….etc. Reading through these is absolutely exhausting! It’s nice, of course, to be reminded of details long forgotten over the years, but I’m amazed at all the work I did establishing a narrative for something as private as a personal journal. In one sense I was a budding writer, and these journals were my way to learn to capture the world in prose. But as an adult, I see in those scrupulous introductions the first manifestation of my perfectionism. Writing out all these things gave me some control over all those aspects of my life that were confusing and messy and frightening. It was not enough to write these journals for myself; they (and therefore my own life) must be designed to please others.
As an adult, having battled the relentless and self-effacing effects of perfectionism over the course of the past few years, I regret the long journey that began in those entries so long ago. But most of all I feel compassion for the young me: I was struggling to understand myself and my place in the world even then, carving my own path when offered no other form of guidance. These are concepts I still wrestle with today. This is the Drama of the Gifted Child, playing out before my very eyes.
Blogs aren’t really the kind of place where one lays out one’s life, Victorian-novel style, before commencing. Rather, they are a medium best designed for diving into the action, giving people a quick run-down of the important information. I started my last blog with the description of a vivid dream I’d had, one in which the destruction of my childhood home had left me with hope of rebuilding my life and clawing my way out of the deep depression I’d been in for months. I begin this one with merely the acknowledgement that I am still learning about myself and who I want to be, and these entries will likely reflect that part of my life.