I’ve been pushing myself to write, and it’s hard. People kept telling me I had to actually write to get things written, and I know that the same way I know I’m supposed to exercise for 30 minutes a day and schedule annual dentist visits, but that doesn’t mean I do it.
I haven’t written a successful essay since 2009. The two I wrote then were my personal best. The next semester, I could not duplicate the eerie calm of “Convalescence” or the outrageously well-timed section breaks in “Everyday Things.” Nothing I wrote sounded like me. I couldn’t stuff my memories into neat little paragraphs, I couldn’t create meaning by leaving things out, I couldn’t write anything that made my professors praise my bravery, and I couldn’t think of a creative way to talk about any of the stupid thoughts in my stupid head. Everything I wrote came out in fragments. The pacing was off. I don’t think there is a single semicolon in “Convalescence,” but all of a sudden my sentences took up half a page and had punctuation marks I didn’t even know I knew about. The pieces I finished for my portfolio were indulgent and emotional and entirely one-note. I didn’t write at all over the summer. When I came back senior year I couldn’t finish anything I started, if I started it at all. I jumped from one project to the next, writing a big block of text about something and then never looking at it again. Everything was vague and expository. Where a semester before there’d been too much emotion, here there was none. My voice was flat and dull and could have belonged to anyone in the world, and I no longer had any interest in listening to it.
In 2012 I took a job with the largest investment company in the world and moved in with my boyfriend and stopped drinking on weeknights, and my friends and family were so proud of me – they kept saying I always knew you would turn out okay and thank god you finally got your shit together – and there were plenty of times I felt proud too. But other times it wasn’t enough. I felt like I was operating at 50% all the time, keeping myself from totally unravelling, yes, but the effort it took meant I was never fully present. There were places I would not allow my brain to go. Writing was one of those places. The guilt that I was letting myself down, and the fear that I might wake up in fifty years with that same guilt, was overwhelming. I thought of quitting my job at least once a week, but I could never justify walking away from my salary and my health insurance for something I wasn’t even sure I could do anymore.
One of my new year’s resolutions was to read at least 75 books in 2016, which broke down to 5-7 each month. I read 10 in January and then completely stopped caring. This would not have been as embarrassing if I hadn’t already told everyone I know about the resolution and recorded it with a bright pink pen in my extremely expensive planner. The worst part was that it felt so familiar. I remembered announcing to my family that I was going to start making my own jewelry a few years ago, then spending hours walking up and down the bead aisle at Michael’s and poring over The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beadwork before shoving the book under my bed and forgetting about it. I remembered being so obsessed with buying new makeup one summer that I drained my entire savings account. I remembered that last year I wanted a degree in nutrition and would not have eaten something that contained high-fructose corn syrup if you paid me, but if there were Oreos in my apartment right now, I’d eat a whole sleeve.
I have many flaws, but a lack of self-awareness is not one of them. And yet I somehow never noticed that I couldn’t commit, not to a relationship like a normal commitment-phobe, but to my own interests. I’m sure there are many possible explanations for this, and maybe I should have explored them, but instead I registered for a writing class. And then, instead of waiting for it to start, I started on my own.
I cannot explain what this has been like. That’s a lie. I definitely can. It’s like when soldiers come home after years overseas and their dogs don’t wag their tails so much as they wag their whole bodies, or the dogs curl up on top of their graves. Except I’m not the dead soldier, I’m the dog. If that sounds dramatic to you, maybe you’ve never spent seven years ignoring the most important thing about yourself.
I’m a different kind of writer now. I edit most things half to death before they ever make it onto the page, which is a shame, and I have fears I never used to have. I’m scared to share too much. I’m scared I’ll get stuck. I’m scared I won’t ever write an essay I’m proud of again, or that I’ll start one but get hit by a bus before I finish it. But there are good things too. I discovered that some things are blog posts, not essays, and that’s just fine. And I remembered that even though “Convalescence” and “Everyday Things” were written just weeks apart, they have vastly different voices, and both of those voices are mine.