Saturday, January 15, 2011

Dear Diaries

I grew up playing with words.

When I was in grade school, having gone through all of the Nancy Drew mysteries, I wrote one myself. When my brother told me I was infringing on copyrighted material, I got so scared I erased every word in the little green notebook with the puffy sticker on the cover. Luckily, I had written it in pencil, I wasn't sued and the scandal has never come to light.

There were other masterpieces: A collection of scary stories; a notebook of poems; the time-traveling novella "When the Moon Is Full"; a short-lived family newsletter that I produced on my dad's manual typewriter using carbon paper to make extra copies.

I was 12.

There was so much girlish scribbling that by the time I entered high school I had chosen my favorite works, typed them up and stapled a construction paper cover to them. It was called "A Classical Collection of Prose and Poetry." It's sitting behind me in my bookcase.

I'm not saying much of it was any good, mind you.

Then there were the diaries, which turned into "journals" as I got older. My first one (pictured) was a cheap little orange number from the variety store where my mom worked, given to me for Christmas 1977. The next year, it was succeeded by (another) orange volume -- this one with a lock on it. The following Christmas brought an official "Nancy Drew Private Eye Diary," also lockable, from McMahon Books in Christiana Mall (I remember finding the receipt, and even though I had outed Santa several years previous, I was disappointed at the blatant proof of his non-existence).

At first, I didn't grasp why anyone would be encouraged to chronicle her mundane fifth-grade days at Holy Angels School in Newark, Del. Reading through it now, I can tell you when we had snow days, who my teachers were, which girls in class I liked (though this was a moving target; lots of names ended up being crossed out), the day I dared apply a Bonne Bell Lip Smacker for the first time (it was Mary Lou's, strawberry). I can also tell you the Dallas Cowboys won the Super Bowl that year, Leon Spinks made history by beating Muhammad Ali and the Catholic faith saw three popes. It would appear I was a reporter even then.

Once the habit was planted, it took hold. Arranging my journals on my new massive bookcases today, I counted 44 -- more, even, than the years I've been alive. Many are cloth-bound books, some are spiral notebooks, a number have a cardboard marbled cover. They have been read, and sometimes hidden, by four nosy ex-boyfriends. They have been carried to 15 residences and four states. One even has the dubious distinction of living in police custody for a year after my attack (the journal, not the boyfriend. He still has about nine years to go).

Reading them, I realize that while sometimes I feel like a mess of a person, I question who the real "me" is and I wonder what I should be doing with my life, I have always consistently been Me.

Though that doesn't answer the meaning of life, it gives me comfort and insight to face the question. Now I know why my mom bought that first little blank book and encouraged me to record the mundane thoughts and experiences of a 10-year-old girl in an obscure East Coast state.