I imagine myself in time looking back on myself –
I have been writing since I was very young. I remember distinctly being about ten, hunched over a multi-subject notebook with a transparent yellow cover I'd begged my dad to buy for me, a fine-pointed pen taken from the cup by the phone, writing. I wrote for the entire weekend, and when I got back to my mom's house, I picked up a different notebook and wrote something else.
Those early stories were, of course, pretty awkward. I wrote then, as I do now, to help myself understand things that I was struggling with. My ten-year-old stories were about birth and death and families, perhaps unsurprisingly. Probably they were a little weird; I don't know if any adult ever read them, but I know the friends who did sometimes found them to be A Lot. In any case, most of them were thrown away five or ten or fifteen pages in.
As a teenager, I wrote less fiction, but my diaries and blogs were full of the stories I was telling about myself to decide who I was, who I wanted to be, and the ways I tried to understand how to get there. I filled a notebook a month, at least, and when I finished one, I burned it. I carried them everywhere, and I wrote through every minute I could wrest away from other responsibilities. I wrote while hiding in my car on my breaks at work, sitting on a curb or at a table tucked into a corner of my friend's family restaurant while my then-boyfriend skateboarded, and at the lunch table in school. I wrote like I was running out of time, because I usually was. Pages and pages of my heart, trying to untangle itself in fleeting minutes.
In undergrad, I wrote mostly academically, hundreds of pages of history and politics and philosophy, most of it full of awkward attempts at sounding academic when I didn't feel it. I got there, finally, in my last year: I could pull it off. I knew what I was talking about enough that I wasn't forcing it anymore. It was never really my own voice, though; it wasn't until the end of grad school that I began writing in a way that started to feel like it was me speaking, rather than my idea of what a Serious Writer sounded like.
I have a writing voice now, one I'm generally pleased with and proud of. I can usually say what I'm trying to say, and now and again I even manage to draw out a phrase or idea that glitters on the page even on re-reading. I spend most of my time either reading or writing, developing my voice and looking for ideas. In retrospect, of course I do; I was probably always going to. Had you asked me at nineteen, though, if this was where I'd be, writing mostly freelance and working on a novel that never quite seems to get its legs under it, I'd have probably made a nasty face. I was going to be Something More, after all. I wasn't going to keep house.
I think most of our nineteen-year-old selves would have some words for our thirty-year-old selves, of course. I have a happy life, one I wouldn't trade for the world, but the shape of it would have knocked my nineteen-year-old self cold. She would have felt betrayed; she could never have imagined filling in the shape of this with the life she imagined for herself. But as it turns out, ten years adds a lot of filling. There's a lot of happening that goes into making a life, and it's unpredictable and weird and hard to plan for. It's not what I expected happiness to look like, but I'm happy, all the same. I have a voice, and it is mine.
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