We did these exercises in high school where we wrote ourselves a letter, most likely highlighting our goals for the future. Then the teacher collected them and maybe one year later (or five), we received them in the mail. At the time of writing, it seemed silly to write out your goals, completely convinced there’s no way you’re going to forget what’s important. But you do. The elapsed time prompts other interests and priorities. Opening that letter means grasping a piece of the past; tangible evidence of the person you were back then.
That’s how I feel with revisiting my old journals; I’m uncovering buried treasure.
I was reading through my college journals recently and came across several pages where I did some brainstorming for a new poem.
I don’t think the idea was to keep it this simplistic, but it was a starting point.
Down the left side of the page I wrote my name, leaving a few lines in between each letter. And then I wrote down as many words or phrases as I could that started with each letter. These weren’t random words, though. The idea was to find words that could be used to define myself. Here’s what’s recorded in the journal. And the question marks were part of the journal.
L→ likable, listener, loving, loved, learner
I → intelligent, insane, independent, intense, interesting
N → nice, not too messy, nifty, not attention seeker
D → dependable, disciplined, disciple, desperate?, driven, daring?, disastrous?, depressed
S → secretive, shy, silly, sarcastic, sweet, sincere, serious, “skyscraperish”, studious, sassy? sale hunter, savvy?
A → anxious, adult, artistic, authentic, arachnophobic?
Y → youthful, yawns a lot, yearn, yellow-bellied
I was grateful to see “intelligent” made the list. As well as “likable” and “loving”. “Listener” was likely still seen as a negative since I was so focused on my lack of verbal contributions.
Two words stand out for their awesomeness: yellow-bellied and skyscraperish. I wasn’t big into Westerns, but it’s cool to see some of the lingo wasn’t lost. And what an amazing, humorous way to exaggerate my height! It cracks me up every time I think about it.
So that exercise was initially titled “dictionary of me” but then I changed it to “synonyms of me.”
On the facing page I did additional brainstorming, while also choosing one word or phrase for each letter of my full name. The “m” in my middle name was left blank. I had three options on the page, but apparently I couldn’t make a decision: meticulous, moody, metaphoric.
I’m falling in love with metaphoric more and more.
The following six pages were filled with random notes and reminders of upcoming assignments, but afterward there was an entry debating whether or not to attend a poetry reading. I was fighting a cold, so I wasn’t feeling 100% myself. I wanted to go, but I wasn’t sure if it would mean simply being there and listening or if I’d feel up to sharing. That 30-40 minute drive seemed like a long way to go to simply to observe.
About halfway down that page, I apparently returned to the journal later in the day since I noticed a new time stamp in the margins. It was decided. I was going to the open mic night.
I had one new poem I had just completed in my poetry writing course, “Always Said.” I was excited to share that, quite proud of how it turned out. But I also wanted something else; it wasn’t enough to just go armed with a single, short poem.
On the next page of the journal I found a completed poem with just a few crossed out words and cramped additions. I suppose that collection of words and references written on previous pages bounced around my head enough times to trigger something. I don’t know what happened, though, to make the connection because it’s such a big leap from abstract words to more concrete images. No matter. That brainstorming certainly helped me develop something really cool.
So “Allusions of Myself” was born in the cafeteria. Likely as I ate dinner, before going to the poetry reading. (I shared this poem earlier on the blog, so you can compare this initial draft with the final version.)
I want to be like Edison
Developing daily techniques,
Filling pages with new comparisons.
I dream of Walden,
Being among nature,
Writing and preserving my thoughts in notebooks.
Picasso taught me that beauty isn’t always skin deep.
Whitman showed me how to embrace myself,
How to celebrate life and notice all things around me.
I have developed a love for foreign lands through Dr. Seuss,
Discovering new passions through imagination and reading.
I try to model the inner strength from Job,
Who, after encountering every possible disappointment, still remained faithful.
As for my clumsiness, I aspire to fall gracefully
Like volleyball players.
The Walt Whitman reference was inspired from another course I was taking, a survey of American literature. Walden is, of course, its own reference to Henry David Thoreau.
At the top of the page, I initially wrote “Allusions of the Self.” Thankfully it didn’t take long to realize that needed to change, because it was partially scratched out to read “Allusions of Myself.”
The journal went with me that night. Not just because it was where my latest poem was written, but I’m forever taking notes, even when I’m not in classes. I made sure to write down the names of each person who shared that night. I listed the poem titles of what was recited (those titles that were clearly announced and those I had to guess at what I heard). In the margins were tidbits of what authors shared about how poems were created, the experiences they had that inspired the writing, along with phrases and descriptions they used that jumped out at me.
I wanted to soak it all in. I was intrigued with how people got their ideas.
That evening I was the 20th person to share, and then three others followed.
In my journal: I’m glad I came. It’s like I’m part of a little club.