Pages from the Past

Just over ten years ago, during my longest stint to-date in New York City, I bought a blank book at my neighborhood Barnes and Noble. Made from recycled maps, it was just what I needed to start writing daily. Being in New York was stressful, I had nowhere to let off steam, and the book was as cheap as it was lovely–very important for an aesthetically-conscious student!

Thus began a year or so of writing down my day-to-day thoughts.

Recently I skimmed through the original nameless book and those that followed, reminiscing about the past eleven years, marveling about how much things have changed, realizing how much they’ve stayed the same, and gaining some insight about the early days of what are now some of my most deeply ingrained habits.

The majority of the first book was written during my time in New York. The writing has an innocent, optimistic feel to it despite much of the content surrounding struggles with roommate dynamics and missing home. At the beginning, I make myself a promise:
I hereby resolve that I will not write in here every day. It wouldn’t last until the end of the two months I have left here, and I’m not very good about forcing myself to write regularly like this–it’s one of those extra things I do when there’s no other pressing issue–school, for example….
This first volume contains mementos from New York, such as several leaves collected on my many walks through Central Park. As the leaves became dried and flat between the pages of the book, so did the once-vibrant colors. Other mementos include comic strips I cut out of Willamette Week when it was sent from home–strips that don’t run in Portland anymore like “This Modern World” by Tom Tomorrow (Bill Clinton: “I let an intern play with my wee-wee!”) or “The City” by Derf.

The writing contains mementos too, like quoted lines from shows I saw in New York, like the clever drag play The Mystery of Irma Vep (“Virginity is like the balloon in the carnival of life…it’s gone with the first prick.”), and references to my internship at the non-profit wing of a well-known media company. An early art critique: (“The more I see abstract art, the more I want to inflict violence upon abstract artists–but this abstract sculpture garden was different.”) Finally, a warning based on personal experience one long Sunday afternoon: “Note to self: never try to cross Central Park during the NYC Marathon.”

A Tibetan painting of Buddha and a mandala is on the cover of the next book, which I bought at a Met exhibit while still in New York and started using a few weeks after my return. During this time, I received my first negative work review:
Already I was kinda crabby today, then I got an email from H. (from [my internship]) which contained a copy of the evaluation letter she had already faxed to my school. At first, I was totally flabbergasted, so shocked that I was numb. Then, I felt like crying. And angry. Now, I just need to have a talk to [my professor] about the fact that there are two sides to that letter. Either way, it just brought me back to reality about my internship, and really about New York. I was uncomfortable there. Some crazy part of me thought I mildly enjoyed my internship, and New York wasn’t so bad–in the past week. Duh me!
Occasionally it crosses my mind whether this bad evaluation letter may have been retaliation for the internship review I turned in before leaving, or the result of my wacky west coast, Birkenstock-wearing self just not meshing well in an east coast corporate culture. Regardless, it still hurts to think about this letter. I think it paved the way for my total dread surrounding written reviews, and my wondering whether people secretly hate me became even more pervasive.

A group of ladybugs grace the cover of the third book. It still has blank pages in it, gaps of several years between entries, and features my early efforts at becoming a bike commuter:
Next weekend I think I’m going to bike to school, to see how it’s done. Maybe if it stays warm in September I’ll be able to make the trip a few times. I know I can do it, it’s just a matter of doing it. Well, ‘cept I imagine I’ll be walking most of [Riverside] cemetery–the BIG HILL…
Turns out that the bike I was using at the time was pretty great for a newbie to go up the big hill, although that hill wears me out to this day. Occasionally commuting to school like that was just the beginning of what has become a beautiful adult relationship with the bicycle. This book also documents the day I moved into my house (this Sunday is a milestone anniversary!), my first experiences as a research assistant for a textbook, a swatch of fabric from my Into the Woods costume, references to my “allergies” that ended up actually being a toxic mold in our theater building, and much, much more.

That last book isn’t full though, even though it was started in July 1999. The regular entries end with September 5, 2001, and then are sporadic: one entry each in 2002, 2003, and 2007. During times of inner turmoil through the years I realized that I should restart my habit, but other things usually got in the way. Writing things down, making lists, creating on-the-fly haikus, and collecting extremely flat mementos are both helpful in the moment and looking back. It is with this in mind that I have started filling up the rest of that book–an attempt to get back in the habit of documenting and working out inner struggles, and providing insight for my older self. And possibly my future biographer. : )

Have you ever looked back at your old writing and uncovered new insights?


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