When I was 11-years-old, I kept a writer's notebook.
I carried it with me wherever I went, (à la Harriett the Spy) jotting down ideas that I was exploring for the first time. I still have this and if you want to know what I would save in a fire - this is it.
I turned more serious in college, taking an essay writing class that, eventually, changed my life. My finest piece centered on anxiety & a vague realization about a new relationship that I was afraid to identify. The truth was a dark cave that I turned my back to, unwilling to acknowledge what it would reveal.
So I focused on journalism, where I could sit more comfortably on the other side of the story - telling it for someone else, hoping that if I starved the essayist in me, she would be quiet.
But she only screamed louder.
Writing other people's stories was becoming my vocation but writing my own had always been my craft. Giving that up left me feeling lost and miserable.
In a fiction writing class that I signed up for to satisfy an elective requirement, I wrote true stories, my own, disguised as passable fiction. Each one centered around one night in the life of the same young married woman and each ended when she was confronted with truths she would rather not see. I said nothing of my personal life, afraid my classmates would realize the woman was me.
And outside of that room, no one read these.
Maybe because of the privacy, or maybe the passing of time, I was able to be honest, if not artful, and direct. The act of writing made my feelings real, tangible, something to be explored. I started to see the patterns in my thinking and every day when I would open that notebook up to write again, I was confronted with all of the times that I had written the same thing before, day after lonely day, and done nothing.
That diary became an in-the-moment account of the hardest year. If the fire grants me time, this is the second thing I would save.
A few weeks ago, I woke up early on a weekday and felt compelled to start sending short, personal essays out into the world for a little while, for free, just for me. I wrote that first post quickly, while getting ready for work, thinking no one would read it.
When I hit 'publish', I felt relief. The muse stopped screaming at me and finally, I was back on speaking terms with that 11-year-old girl who carried her purple notebook everywhere she went; who was never afraid to go into dark caves and write down what she saw.
So, I won't be stopping soon.