When I was fifteen, my parents read my diary. It was a defining moment in my life, placing them firmly in enemy territory in my mind. I don’t know why it had never occurred to me that they might read it before they did. Once they did, I felt exposed and betrayed. I thought I might never write again. Years later I realized that even if I had foreseen they might read it, the urge to write still would have won over.
In that diary, I’d confessed to my many teenage crimes, like trying cigarettes and kissing boys. My mother, the one who found it and took it to my father (a traitorous act it would take me a decade to fully forgive), seemed to feel guilty after the big blow-up it caused. My father called me to the kitchen and accused me with the impeachable evidence of my own handwriting. I grew defiant and angry. It ended badly. Afterwards, trying to smooth things over, my mother came to my room and said, “It’s never a good idea to write things down.”
I remember the smothering fury that statement caused in me. She was trying to help, but she did the opposite. I couldn’t not write even if I wanted to. It was an almost irresistible itch. And, as much as I wanted privacy, I wanted to explain things in writing even more. It called to me, sentences running through my mind as I went about my daily business.
The sentences haven’t stopped, narrating as they do almost every moment of my life. It’s partly why I’ve started working on the memoir. As I have an experience, I catch myself wondering exactly what phrasing would capture it best. It never stops. Sometimes, it’s so insistent that I have to stop what I’m doing and write it in the Notes on my phone. Other times it just swims around my head until I can get to a computer. Often – maybe too often – I say too much. Even on here, I catch myself blurting out things I should probably keep private. I do my best to protect the guilty (and the random innocents), leaving out names and identifying features. “You’re so brave,” my readers write me and my friends tell me. “You reveal so much of yourself.” It has nothing to do with courage. I just can’t not. Every time I hear the voice in my head that says, “Don’t say so much,” that old, familiar smothering feeling comes over me. I can’t not.
I’d like to see some honor in it, some refusal to be cowed or silenced. It’s probably not that pure. There’s an aching need to be seen, a feeling that writing is only refined and made better by knowing it’s out in the world. I could write privately and leave it on my hard drive, but it doesn’t feel the same. I could never be Emily Dickinson, cramming poems into the crannies in the walls. Perhaps it is a singularly modern issue, this need for attention, so easily scratched by blogs, bypassing gate-keepers in a way that Dickinson couldn’t, quality control non-existent as thoughts tumble inelegantly into the world. I don’t know. I don’t think about it that much, usually. I just put it all out there.
And here you are, my partners in crime, the people who read. As long as you keep coming, I’ll keep showing up and giving you my diary. No need to go searching for it in my room. Here it is.