Most of my journals were destroyed. They were never perfect enough to keep, always containing some flaw of character or quality that made them intolerable for me to revisit. One passage with a bit too much honesty soured the whole thing, its mold blackening surrounding pages. Into the garbage, then. Good riddance.
Now, predictably, I want these imperfect scribbles back. I have a parental view of my younger self’s tantrums, an exasperated “oh, it isn’t so bad as you think” attitude. But thirteen-, sixteen-, and twenty-year-old me didn’t think my older self would look back on us so fondly. I want to see what you had to say, I think. I want to remember what you felt. No matter how many times you wrote about a girl or some misdeed. No matter. I have written enough frustrated entries by now—embarrassing, revealing, self-pitying, pathetic, pen-scratched-through-the-page entries—to know that they are all worth keeping, all a part of a growing ecosystem of thought, feeling, and being—Me. My older self will always cherish the trials of the younger, even the silly ones, the self-inflicted ones. Besides, those wretched entries are usually not so wretched a few years after the fact. Usually.
I’m nearly done filling up a fat, leather-bound notebook that my friend David gave me on my twenty-seventh birthday. My first complete journal. It was almost thrown out the window several times. Once, because I began an early entry with a vomitous, “Oh journal, so much to say…” Another time because I noticed that a third of the way in I had switched from cursive to print, then back to cursive two-thirds in, and even if I hadn’t, my script was still wildly, inexplicably different over the years, sometimes on a day-to-day basis. And dozens of other times because of some passing reference to an aspect of my life or character that I’d rather disappeared with the past. Chaff in the wind. But these entries remain. Unvarnished testimonies.
In September of 2017, I put to words a declaration: “And rather than detesting my feelings, I might cherish them. I am a piece of humanity, my very own piece of it, a shining gem on a vast beach of gems.” This was the first day of my life where I realized it was possible to love myself. That month I wrote a piece for the post calvin called “A Goodness,” a hazy, sun-washed piece full of love for friends and family. But this realization of goodness, small as a mustard seed, hadn’t the strength or wisdom to reach full bloom yet. Old patterns proceeded on with the lasting strength of an ancient epic. In an October entry, feeling “in a funk again,” I described my brain as “sitting in a pool of dirty water and starting to prune.” Then I wrote a piece called “All the World a Burden,” perhaps the most vulnerable description of depression I’ve put to words, which ends with a blistering “Fuck me.”
One Sunday in April of 2019, a few paragraphs after journaling, desperately, “You need to show yourself that you care about yourself,” a volcanic anxiety erupted. “Punch a fucking wall and let the glass stick,” I wrote, accompanied by words scratched out ten pages deep. Repetitions of “What do you want? What do you want?” scattered about. Forming complete sentences was too difficult, so I gave up, writing instead the broken thoughts that came my way. “Every day, every day new…Hot too hot water on tender morning skin,” the first words of what would become “Old Sunlight Wet Pavement,” a piece about mornings before teaching. From the stilted prose emerged not self-hate but a prayer of love for the students I taught.
These bits and pieces form a picture of my person at particular times in history that would otherwise be lost. The whole mess of it a grand, fickle testament.
My old journals likely had similar outbursts, moments of desolation. What caused them? What soothed you? The only difference between then and now is the amount of forgiveness I offer to myself— a grace of age. I’m glad to keep growing up. Each year I learn a little more, shed some of that excess skin, move a little more freely. What seemed to my younger self like absolute horrors—obscurity, financial insecurity, singleness—are now persistent realities, at first to my dismay, but increasingly to my liberation.
One example of liberation appeared in an entry from early February of this year. “That dreadful uncertainty that I am not a writer persists,” I wrote. “But wait! I am not a writer. I always forget that freedom.” Strange encouragement, but it worked. Since then I’ve written more frequently and at greater length with each effort than at any point in my life. For whom? Why? Somehow, removing the title of “writer” from what I was attempting to do made writing chiefly a practice of honesty. I’m not writing but seeking. Not explaining but noticing. Not like Dickinson, Emerson, or Robinson, but like Will. And none of this, younger Will, has anything to do with greatness. It’s just a matter of living and sharing what you’ve lived. That’s the kind of beauty that aches.
Will Montei is currently in pursuit of a Masters in Teaching at Seattle Pacific University. He has been writing for the post calvin since it began in 2013.