I worry that I sound cheesy when I write. I used to, when I was little and told everyone who asked that I would be an author when I grew up. Not a “writer,” but an “author” specifically; of novels, I suppose. I wrote, then, elaborate stories about girls my age (seven or eight or nine or so), undercover princesses who lived in tree houses and whose best friends were their pet horses and dogs. I wrote fancy sentences with big words that even now, if I had them in front of me, I might be too embarrassed to copy down. Those sentences are funny and adorable, I’m sure. I was also serious when I wrote them; and, somehow, I can’t quite detach from my nine-year-old soul.
I received my first journal when I was seven years old, from my mother. Funny, because I think I assumed then that everyone kept a journal. My mother doesn’t even journal, and never has, but I’ve kept a journal ever since I received that first one, almost fifteen years ago. It has always felt important, necessary. It took me five years to fill up that first journal; it is full of entries that begin, “Dear Journal, I am SO sorry that it’s taken me this long to open you back up again” or “I can’t believe I haven’t written in here in SO long.” Still, writing in that journal was religion to me; despite the gaps of absence, it was something I always came back to. It was my venting ground: through many periods of my life, in fact, it only documenting the bad that went on. Well, in times of ease and happiness, writing seems rarely to call on people (at least, I’ve often heard this from musicians and song writers, and I identify). Journaling was, in my most angst-filled times of transition, the perfect catharsis and something I treasured. That first journal remains a document of my growth from childhood up through high school. It is a container of memories encapsulated in melodramatic and too-wordy sentences: my reactions to everything from my first move to fights with my sister to the first time I fell in love. Light brown leather with the hint of glitter I added at age ten with a Sakura Gelly Roll pen, it sits on my shelf wherever I go, waiting to be opened and remembered. If my house ever caught on fire, it is the only object I would grab before getting out.
I have always thought, in the back of my mind, that someday this would happen: I would be moving, or cleaning my attic, or something of that nature, and I would uncover my dusty journals, which I had somehow over the years forgotten. I would stop everything I was doing, sit amid the attic dust (propped against an old piece of furniture or a cardboard box) and read. For hours. I would read and smile and remember how important things seemed when I wrote them and how trivial they seemed looking back, or maybe I would realize how important they still seemed. I would remember the ghosts of my past, the people I’d lost touch with. I might cry, or laugh; I might not. I might understand, in that moment, if I had changed since the ink on those pages had dried.
See, the question that, lately, has been haunting me most (there usually is one that follows me for a while) is: do people actually change? Are people capable of change? Or do they always, fundamentally, stay the same? Are people put on this planet for some solitary, predetermined purpose? Or are they here to grow? Have I grown or learned at all? Am I the same person, fundamentally, who wrote fancy sentences about princesses when I was eight?
I have always wished, faced with difficult decisions (or even trivial ones, like: should I text that person who totally screwed me over a year ago but who I still think about all of the time? Is it some sort of sign that I think about them all of the time, or is that just human nature that I should and will overcome if I’m patient enough?), that there were some tell-all, case-by-case, guidebook to life. It would present a basic situation, then go into more depth with options a, b, c, etc. pertaining more specifically to the problem at hand, and then it would present the best solution. It would predict the likely reactions of the humans in your life, and it would weigh morality against happiness, the “right thing” based on several definitions of “right,” and then somehow, through all of that and with the advice presented, the difficult decision would seem crisp and simple. Obvious. (Yes, I know that I overthink things.)
Unfortunately, no such guidebook exists. There are many wise people in the world with beautiful wisdom to offer, but their advice is rarely specific. So, literature – the writing of our forefathers and contemporaries – is the closest thing we have. We can look to documents handed to us by the writers we admire – even old journal entries, sometimes – and observe what those people did, how they felt, and what decisions they chose to make. We get to watch lives play out, to live in others’ regret, or joy, or sadness, and learn from their quiet or crazy or awful or beautiful ways of dealing with what the universe chooses to thrown at them. I don’t know if people change, or grow, or learn from their mistakes. I do know, however, that I find solace in words I can relate to; that solace, I think – that flash of a sense of the universal – offers us everything.