"Let us not be ashamed to speak what we shame not to think."
-Michel de Montaigne

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pity Party for One, Anyone?

I've kept a journal since I was probably...10? For the last 17 years, I've chronicled every awkward phase (or, I should say, every phase of a perpetually awkward life), every heartbreak and new love, nearly every vacation, most of my harebrained book ideas/poem drafts/sketches of random strangers on NYC subways. My diary has been with me on the bank of the Seine, the beaches of Hawaii, and in the hospital room where my daughter was born. My diary contains the eulogy I wrote and read at my father's funeral.

I think it's a peculiar thing that people should even have the impulse to journal. Some might think it is an inherently narcissistic motivation--this desire to archive the minutiae of one's existence. Who, after all, stands to benefit from your illegible musings besides you? But narcissism or not, I was incredibly grateful for my journals the other night when I was in the midst of a pity party for one.

I've been in a weird place professionally and creatively. An odd purgatory where I've had enough success or achievement to lodge a foot in the door, but not enough to actually be invited in. Last week I was battling a hefty double punch of self-pity: I'd received two rejection emails from literary magazines I was hoping to publish in, and I was dealing with an unmitigated sense of loser-ness in the prospect of my future career as an academic librarian.

And as I retreated to my journal to commemorate it, I noticed that I only had one page left to write. Not only that, I was finishing my journal EXACTLY a year to the date that I'd started it. I figured it was a sign. Divine intervention. So I gave the first entry a reread.

What I wrote about myself was this, "For what purpose am I here? Failed poet and sappy diarist. Overblown ego and burning heart."

That one line in particular, "failed poet," prompted me to read my diary from start to finish. I wanted to know if that statement still felt true a year later.

What I realized after reading my diary was this: I had grown tremendously as a woman, as a writer in the past year. When I wrote those things I was coming from a place of brokenness having made the difficult decision to leave my teaching career behind, and feeling insecure in my capabilities as a writer. But in the year since I penned those statements I wrote two manuscripts worth of poems, won a poetry prize, secured publications in three fantastic literary journals, nearly completed a Master's degree, and conquered some personal issues that had been previously crippling.

That's when it hit me--this understanding of the transformative power of journaling--the unique treasure of being able to rediscover yourself and grow from the retrospective examination of who you were, are, or wanted to be at any given point in your own personal history. As my pastor likes to say, "That's good stuff." Good stuff indeed.

I felt reborn after rereading the ups and downs of the previous year. I was ready to become my own cheerleader. I was ready to steam forward into my next journal, and whatever next phase lay ahead of me with some genuine joy in my heart. For my last entry, instead of lamenting my rejection slips and lack of professional security--I wrote a list of specific ways I had grown over the last year, and another list of traits I'd like to develop in myself going forward.

Page one might read "failed poet," but the final page has yet to be written.

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