Journal Failures

The other day someone asked me if my blog is “about something or more like a journal.” I didn’t really know how to answer. Is it about something? Um, not really. It’s about…me, I guess. I suppose that would make this more of a journal. But I also don’t like thinking of it as “a journal” because of my long history of failing to keep journals.

When I was in second grade, I purchased a tiny diary with a lock at a book fair. The diary was pink with a ballet slipper on the front. The fact that I chose that particular style of diary confuses me now, as I don’t remember being much of a girly girl. But alas, maybe that was the aesthetic I was aiming for then. I wrote my deepest thoughts in that diary in pens of many different colors, as collecting a variety of pens with unnaturally hued inks was one of my main interests at the time.

At first, I vowed to write in my diary every night before I went to bed, which I did faithfully for a grand total of four days. After that, I found that I had a lot of trouble writing about the mundane. Over the next few years, I was compelled to write in the diary only when something big happened, like when my very first nemesis chased me around our playground – which was the parking lot for our school and church – and called me a “skinhead,” which led me to pretend that I was sick and spend the afternoon crying in our principal’s office. Or when I was angry at my family friend and had the sudden realization that she was “a BICH,” which I scrawled with gusto and then crossed out for fear that my mother, who I was convinced was reading my diary, would see that I had written a word that I wasn’t even supposed to know.

Eventually, I gave up writing in the ballet slipper diary. I found it years later, when I was fourteen and we were moving to a new house. I threw it out along with all the other notebooks that reminded me of my past selves.

The number of journals I started after that first one, I don’t think I could count. I followed the same pattern with all of them. I would write consistently for a few days, until the pressure to write every day became too much and I would set the journal aside entirely because I was so ashamed of my failure.

Then, in my junior year of high school, I discovered LiveJournal thanks to a group of my friends who published reliably “emo” laments and screeds on the platform. LiveJournal was the first place that I shared my thoughts and feelings for public consumption. I assumed that my friends were the only people who read my entries, which were appropriately dramatic for a seventeen-year old who spent a not insignificant amount of time driving around suburban New York alone, listening to Belle & Sebastian.

Many months into LiveJournaling, I found out that the college I’d applied to early decision had deferred my application. I was despondent. I was almost too embarrassed to write about what I deemed, at the time, to be my greatest failure. But I did it. I wrote a post about how I felt, in which I said that I deserved to get into this school just as much as anyone else.

It turned out that more people than my friends were interested in what I wrote. Days after I’d published that post, someone told me that they’d heard from another girl in our class that I had said that another girl who had also applied to the same school and was deferred didn’t deserve to get in. I was indignant. This wasn’t what I’d said at all. I was talking about myself. I tried to clarify this in another post, but that didn’t really matter. The damage had been done. I was irrevocably a bitch who talked shit about other people on her LiveJournal.

Though that was the only time I remember someone taking issue with words I’d posted on the internet, the same sort of “bitch” characterization occurred several times for me during that year. A few things I said in real life were either taken out of context or blown out of proportion. I accidentally made enemies just by being myself. I didn’t have “mean girl” status in high school. In fact, I didn’t think I had any status at all. I felt powerless when others called me names or said they hated me. I rarely defended myself, except to those who were on my side in the first place. When I wonder why it took me so long to develop my voice and to rid myself of any of the fear I’ve felt in exercising it, I have to think that this reinforcement of my self-consciousness had maybe a little bit to do with it.

After my LiveJournal incident, I posted less and less frequently, until I stopped posting altogether. I wouldn’t write anything personal to post on the internet again until I started this blog. (I’m not counting Facebook or Twitter because, well, I never really used those platforms to express sincere personal opinions or stories.) I did try keeping private journals again, with varying degrees of success.

I wrote in a journal when I studied abroad in Paris. At first, I recorded everything I did and felt, focusing mostly on my acute homesickness and broken-heartedness. Eventually, though, I became used to things in Paris. I was busy. I had made friends. I didn’t need the journal so much anymore. I wrote a few final entries during my last week, and when I got home to New York, one of the first things I did was stash it in the top drawer in my bedside table. When I opened it years later, I was too embarrassed by what I’d written to read it at all closely and threw it back in the drawer.

I procured another journal during my senior year of college, which I very faithfully wrote and drew in for months and months. When I stopped writing in it as much, I felt the same sort of anger at myself that I always did when I abandoned journals. But then, I just decided that I couldn’t put pressure on myself to write in it. I would use the journal when I needed it, when writing out my feelings made sense. This was extremely helpful during a period when I was trying to figure out “what I want to do with my life.”

I still have this journal, though I’ve mostly abandoned it like I have all of the others. It sits next to my bed, in a basket underneath my nightstand. I’ve crossed out the address in the front and written a new one three different times, not because I think I’m going to lose it, but to note the passage of time. I only open it these days when I feel that I need to write out how I’m feeling in a safe, private place. This has occurred only twice within the past year. Both of those entries were about men. I think the four previous entries were also about men. It’s effectively become a journal about my uneventful love life, which is something I don’t think I’ll write about in public until those non-events are well in the past.

When I first started writing here, I actually wondered how long it would take me to abandon Emphatic Hands. But I’ve been consistently posting for a year and a half now and am kind of shocked by my dedication. In a way, this blog has become my first successful journal. It’s also become my first successful blog. So…who really cares what it’s about? I’m just glad it’s still happening.

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