I’ve kept a journal now for 11 years, one month and two days.
A few years ago I started typing it up due to some irrational fear that one day all my notebooks would be destroyed in a fire or otherwise lost. Can you believe that I’m only three years in and I’ve already typed up over 500,000 words? Given how solitary and one-dimensional I could be as a teenager, I’m surprised I found so much to write about.
Strangely, given my enthusiasm for sharing my writing with other people, it simply never occurred to me to blog my journal or do anything online. Although I suppose in a snobby sort of way I wondered why people felt they needed to share their thoughts with the world. There’s an episode of The Big Bang Theory where Raj reads his girlfriend Lucy’s blog, and when he talks to her about it she remarks that she didn’t really write it for anyone else, and that she thought it was only for her. I always thought there was something remarkably sad about this: what’s the point of expressing yourself on the internet when there’s no one there to see?
Here’s the thing: I’ve never been entirely sure what I’m doing with my life. I went to two of the best universities in the world, got married, and I have a beautiful house in the amazing town where I grew up, as well as a supportive family. But I always felt that something more needed to happen. I knew I was different from being extremely young: nobody else seemed to have imaginary worlds, let alone ones that had multiple monarchies stretching back over a thousand years. Nobody else even seemed to want to talk about exciting things like dinosaurs, the solar system or Henry VIII. For a while, though, this didn’t really matter. I was lucky enough to go to the kind of small, friendly primary school where people who were different were embraced rather than rejected, and I was actually one of the more popular kids in the school (even if I did sometimes lie about who was sitting next to me on the bus so that I could sit by myself and stare out the window). In years 5 and 6 in particular I had an amazing teacher who even incorporated some of my more unusual characteristics into the characters I’d play in the school pantomimes. We once did a performance in which I played a fairy queen, and my teacher allowed me to perform an improvised version of Elizabeth I’s speech to her troops at Tilbury.
But then I went to secondary school. I was the only person in my year who went to the big grammar school. Initially I was thrilled to be starting at a new place by myself, as I always loved the chance to be on my own and make my own way. But I ended up getting an education of a different sort. Although I made friends on my first day with my lovely best friend (with whom I still occasionally speak), the meanness and exclusion I received from the other girls wasn’t something I’d been prepared for. It also showed me how much I had underestimated my own need for social contact: it really hurt to be left out of so many things and to be ridiculed on a daily basis. They knew I was anxious about getting into trouble, so sometimes, if the teacher didn’t show up for the lesson, they’d barricade me into the classroom so I couldn’t escape and tell someone. I’d sit at the desk, sobbing, convinced that I’d be the one to get into trouble.
But then school started to get better. I succeeded in my A-Levels beyond anyone’s (and certainly my school’s) wildest expectations, and I finally had a community of people who valued me. With the help of some of my teachers, I discovered particular flairs for grammar, textual analysis and the memorising of random facts, each of which came up much more useful than you might think. University was another story…
So maybe the time has come for me to finally start sharing my journal with someone other than myself. In any case, it seems like an appropriately symbolic gesture: casting of the solitude that marked my earlier years in favour of a more open, optimistic present!