When I was nine, I started writing stories on our family’s first computer, a black and white Macintosh. I used to throw myself in front of the screen whenever someone in my family so much as strolled by the office door. I would have died if anyone saw my stories.
This highly protective behavior lasted years. If I felt like I’d “finished” with something, I could let the outside world look, like when I started writing plays that people had to read in order to, you know, memorize and act in them. But anything else I kept carefully guarded.
When I became a teenager, the feeling of “finishing” almost never came, so I almost never showed anyone anything. My critical eye — the ability to look at something and say “that’s terrible” — developed much more quickly than any artistic ability, so I froze. It took many years of practice, in college and afterwards, to get used to the (essential, valuable) process of sharing unpolished work in order to try to make the work better. It was only because I shared rough material — in grad school, in particular — that I was able to write The Cost of All Things.
But I was writing all the time, even during the period when I was most hard on myself for the words not living up to what I imagined — the high school years. I carried (and still always carry) a notebook with me everywhere, and when I was bored or angry or sad, I’d write it out.
I kept all of these notebooks.
I have no problem in front of crowds, bugs are gross but much smaller than me, and I can handle roller coasters if I psych myself up for them. If I’m being honest my biggest fear is probably being cut adrift in space like Sandra Bullock in Gravity, but there’s no good way to confront that here (THANK GOD). So I’ll return to a deeper, more personal fear.
I am going to open a notebook and let you see what’s inside.
I grabbed one randomly from the box; it was from fall of my junior year. Let’s see what we’ve got! I blacked out names and initials, though honestly, I don’t remember who any of them are. Naturally, there are a lot of descriptions of/meditations on boys.
Quotes from things I was reading.
Some half-hearted attempts at poetry.
Cheerful late-90s fashion ideas.
But mostly, I used the notebook as a companion in boredom, picking it up whenever I had a moment to myself, writing free associations about the things I felt.
There’s a lot of angst and worry and heartbreak in the notebooks, because they were a place I could let go of all that stuff, or at least try to understand it. For many years, I dreaded looking at the notebooks almost as much as I feared someone else reading them, because they were so weighted down with emotion. But I’m glad I had them, and I’m very glad I kept them.
And now they’re on the internet. Yikes!
|Maggie Lehrman is a writer and editor living in Brooklyn, New York. She grew up outside of Chicago and went on to get a degree in English at Harvard, where she once received a grant to purchase young adult books the library didn’t have. During her decade of working as an editor of books for children, she also earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. The Cost of All Things is her first book. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr.