By Anne T. Donahue
Like most people reading this, my most familiar internet is the one rich with first-person stories. I love the act of sharing, of participating, and of the bonus feeling of “I’m not alone!” that tends to accompany the best type of pieces. It’s a very special thing to find kinship in the ordinary or quite less so, and to feel like you’ve found a kindred spirit in a person who can say what you’re looking for. But it’s also a strange feeling to realize that you may not have been sharing for the right reasons. Almost like you’re back in grade nine English, reading your terrible poetry as your contribution to a presentation that really only necessitated a breakdown of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (I’m sorry to the boys I had crushes on who I kept making upsetting eye contact with.)
I’ve spent most of my years as a person who writes by sharing my own stories. And as an attention-obsessed only child, I don’t have a problem with that. But at some point over the last year-and-a-bit, I feel like I’ve found myself at a standstill. Normally, I love to share. I love to talk and write about what I’ve learned and what I’m going through. But now I’m stuck: I’m working through grief and loss and various types of recovery, sprinkled with the gorgeous, “What do I even want to do with my life?” and it feels personal. But in a way that feels precious – not in a way I’m willing to type out and hope that something sticks. Not in the way I used to when I feel like the act of changing and growing was in the rear view mirror. And certainly not in the way I used to feel when writing about an event or a revelation felt like an act of power instead of something reactionary.
Which has, for all intents and purposes, fucked me up. Writing through it (whatever “it” was) felt like I was walking towards a beacon of light at the end of a long tunnel. Analyzing and re-analyzing myself and my actions made me feel like I was in control of my life and everything that happened in it. Sharing (and perhaps oversharing) became a way for me to get ahead of emotions I needed to spend time alone with by deflecting them via incredibly written (see: totally average) paragraph. I’ve been writing about my feelings while hiding from them, simultaneously. And it only took a boatload of trauma to make me face that, leading to me wondering whether I even wanted to write at all.
I do, for the record. For the months and months I didn’t write, I eventually started to miss it. I missed typing out what I’d been bottling up, and I missed organizing my thoughts in a way that made me better understand my own story while hoping that maybe a kernel of it would resonate with someone who needed something I was offering. I missed seeing the product of overthinking and worrying and anxiety and joy and happiness and pain and, and, and present themselves in a way that felt concrete and real instead of lost in a bubble in my head, set to a Def Leppard song. (The mind! She’s chaotic!) And I missed communication in a way that made me feel safe: typing, from over here, and being able to walk away to put whatever-I’d-said on the shelf until I was ready to pick it back up again. Writing has made me come face-to-face with the emotional aspect of myself that I tend to run away from because it’s just a little too much when unprocessed and taking up too much space. It’s like the middle man between me and my eventual decisions; a document I can point to and cite as the reason I’m, say, going back to school or see as the moment I started re-examining my intentions for wanting to be a writer in the first place. (Short answer: because I’m selfish, and I like working out my ideas and forcing them on other people.) (Also because sometimes it’s fun.) It’s a long and boring scrapbook of who I was once without any live, love, laugh stickers attached to it. It’s been the catalyst for long-overdue cries and those fleeting moments of feeling like I could achieve something (anything! Like typing words!) It’s been like a friend, albeit one I never listen to because I’m too busy talking about myself. (Sorry, pal.)
Although I did start to listen to it, recently. Coming out of the cloud of doom, I stopped trying to fight through my gut instinct of “no, you’re not ready to dissect the happenings of 2021 in full yet” or “maybe we talk about this, that, or the other a little bit later” and began acknowledging the boundaries that have helped me love telling stories again. Nobody’s ever asked me to go overboard with details about my life. Nobody’s ever insisted I parade my feelings around in hopes that they’ll be validated. Nobody’s waiting for my thoughts on most things, or to see what happens to me, personally, next. These were the pressures I put on myself and on a job that literally asks only for what you’re willing to give it. Writing is embarrassing and weird and proof of how self-absorbed many of us can be – but it’s not a sentient being who demands you squeeze everything that’s left from your wrung-out self. It was never the writing I didn’t like, I came to realize. It was the version of me I’d made to churn out pieces nobody particularly asked for.
So I’ve learned to like writing (and myself) again in a way I’ve started looking forward to. I’ve learned that not everything is for consumption all the time, and that not a soul on this earth expects me to share, well, anything. There are millions of people who write better than I do – why would anyone put so much pressure on this bitch from Cambridge? And more importantly, why would I turn the one thing that’s made me feel slightly more anchored to this planet into an exercise in using trauma, experience, and everything else as a type of currency? I love first-person writing, and I love being able to share parts of my first-person with anyone who wants to read or hear it. But this time, I trust myself enough not to share the bad grade nine poetry and bore into someone’s eyes with the fervor of a girl who must be noticed. Instead, I will write because I like it and it helps me. And I’ll let myself hope that somewhere in the ether, someone else will like it too.
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