Sabrina Kenny ’26 and Alexander Uzobuife ’26
Breakthroughs: Writing About Writing
My Mind in a Moleskin
I watched the rain fall past my window and onto the empty street. Nobody was walking their dogs, no children were running with their friends to school, and there was no one in my apartment—it was just me and my computer with mostly black screens and muted microphones. Mine included.
When school was dismissed on March 13th, 2020, I was filled with a small sense of joy knowing I wouldn’t have to endure the social anxiety of big classes and hundreds of judgy teenagers. I was not, however, prepared for the intense loneliness that came with complete social isolation. In my room, my thoughts were locked in my mind with no one to hear or listen to them. Then, my eyes fell to the empty notebook on my nightstand, collecting dust under a collection of trinkets. I took a deep breath and put pen to paper.
I had always enjoyed writing, and this wasn’t the first time I kept a journal. A bright pink, fuzzy diary was kept underneath my bed throughout elementary school. Inside was all the juicy gossip of second grade: what I ate for lunch, what we did in class that day, and my crush on the boy with freckles. I’d pour my seven-year-old heart into the light pink pages, and when I finished, I’d turn the key and lock it away. Writing was a secret I could keep with myself. As I got older I became embarrassed by the concept of owning a diary. I wrote less and less often, and the notebook became a funny memento of a younger me, rather than a place where I could be myself.
There were various attempts at writing short stories or poetry while I was in middle school. I’d always been an artistic person, and writing was just another medium for being creative. A blank document was the canvas, each letter a brushstroke. Except, I would always get caught up in the hypothetical “they” who would read it. Who in their right mind would enjoy this? I would read what I wrote over and over from the perspective of others. Would my friends think it was cheesy and lame? If this story were on a bookshelf, would the reader want to keep going?
When I started taking more advanced English classes and writing real papers, I would always get stuck writing. It would take me ages to complete assignments because all I could do was picture my teacher reading the words as they fell onto the paper and hating what they saw. Peer editing days were my nightmare. Anytime I saw a comment on my GoogleDoc suggesting an edit, my heart would fall to my stomach. My anxiety would take over, and I would be unable to separate someone’s opinions on my piece from my own identity. If people didn’t like this short story, then maybe they didn’t like me and my ideas.
On that rainy lonely day, I decided things would be different. I placed the navy blue, leather notebook on my lap and created a set of rules on the very first page:
- You need to always finish your thought, even if it doesn’t make any sense: no takebacks and no erasing.
- Only write when you feel like it. Whether that means once a week or three times a day, don’t force an unrealistic routine on yourself.
- Don’t take it too seriously.
I made these rules because I knew I needed to set boundaries for myself if I ever wanted to keep up with journaling. After years of intense anxiety whenever I had to write something, I knew better than to expect perfection from myself.
I kept it up for months. I would write while I was waiting for a Zoom class to start, or at 3 am after I hadn’t spoken to anyone that day. I would write when I had a really good day or if I had a really bad day. If there was something I wanted to say but in the moment couldn’t get it out, I would write it for myself. I made lists of books I wanted to read and the music I’d been listening to. Mediocre poetry paired with shitty drawings decorated the pages of the notebook. The journal became a physical extension of my brain.
When school started again in the fall and I began my junior year, I was more confident in my writing than ever before. The first assignment of the semester was to write about an experience we had over the summer. I already wrote about all the notable things that had happened to me in those three months, so I knew immediately what my essay would be about. Rereading my words from the moment I watched the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain brought back all the sensations I was experiencing at the time. It transported me back to the chilly air and the loud quietness, and I could recall details I would not remember otherwise. Since I had essentially already written the first draft in my notebook, writing the essay went much more smoothly than ever in the past. When it came time to submit the paper, the doubt and dread I once felt subsided, and I was happy with what I wrote.
This new interaction with writing helped me in so many ways. It allowed me to process my thoughts and find ways I could improve the situation or get rid of the anxious feelings. In doing so, I learned how to verbalize my emotions, making it easier to share them with others. While I don’t often reach for the notebook anymore, it serves as a reminder that if I need to talk through something, it’s always there to listen. I give some credit to this experience for helping me overcome the depression and anxiety I had suffered through for years, as well as the increase in my confidence in writing. Allowing yourself the space to be authentically you without the fear of judgment from others is so important; I wish it was something I learned sooner. I think everyone should channel their inner seven-year-old with a fuzzy pink diary every once in a while.
There are two words that when separate don’t harm another person but together create destruction that often remains unnoticed. Those two words are “Shut up.”
No weapon creates more silence than those two words do, and sadly, I know them all too well. As a child, that phrase was constantly shoved in my face by family members to silence the wild things that circulated in my mind. I would tell them ideas for television shows, a song I created, or even a simple emotion I wanted to communicate with them, and yet I was always told to “Shut up.” My reaction was always the same. I closed my lips and curved them into a frown and turned away before the tears in my face were visible to those around me. Nothing was worse for me than living in my thoughts and never sharing them with the people I love the most. This created a debilitating form of loneliness within myself. Why won’t anyone listen to me? I thought to myself. “I don’t know, but I’ll listen pal,” I responded to myself, but in an incredibly bad British accent. Although it made me look strange, using a British accent made me feel like I was talking to a stranger who was really excited to hear the things I wanted to say. Talking to myself helped me deal with my loneliness. I created a home within myself, but that didn’t last very long.
Throughout my childhood, I always felt inferior to my twin brother. If I got a B+ on my science test, he would score an A+. If I ran across the gym in 10 seconds, he ran it in 8. If I grew to 6 feet tall, he just had to grow to 6’2. Time and time again my brother beat me in everything. I was constantly belittled and told to act more like him, as if I were not my own person. When I told my parents that being compared to my twin was hurtful, their reaction was always the same. A quick roll of the eyes and a “Shut up” with a stern cold Nigerian accent. There it was once more. That feeling of loneliness came back with no mercy. There was no version of me with an incredibly bad British accent who I could communicate my feelings to. So with this, I decided that I would no longer communicate my feelings, but rather keep it inside in fear of what the other person may say. This would lead to a greater problem.
I was 17 when I developed my first real crush on a girl. Her name was Milena. In my mind, Milena was the greatest creation God could have ever blessed the world with. She had long luscious curly hair, pretty brown eyes, and skin as clear as a diamond. The only problem here is that I was never really capable of telling her how beautiful I thought she was or that I even had feelings for her out of fear that she may reject me, just like my family members did with my crazy ideas. Until on a cold December morning, when I spotted her in the most divine red dress, and every part of me just wanted to tell her how nice she looked. Instead of doing that, I ran upstairs into my first period class and just wrote down what I would say to her, but in poetry form: “In all the years I’ve lived and all the years I will live. I will never find a greater beauty that could equal her own.”
These were the first ever lines of poetry I ever wrote. While I continued to write this poem, it was as if with every line I created a new one would form in my mind. I ended up showing her the poem I made and she was flattered that I thought she was so beautiful. Although nothing further ever developed with Milena, I gained something more important. The ability to write poetry, and through that poetry I started to become a better communicator.
“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has words,” wrote Robert Frost. This quote resonated with me because it was the blueprint of how I made my poetry. After writing my first poem, I began writing poems any chance I got. Whether it was 8:00 a.m. or 2:00 a.m., dark or light outside, I was writing poetry. Although most of my poetry is focused on love, I have also written about the words I wish I could have said as a child if I were never told to “Shut up.”
Writing poetry and sharing it with other people became very therapeutic for me. Writing it gave my inner child the voice it wished it had, and sharing it increased my ability to communicate and connect with others. Whenever I found myself in a moment where communication was key, I would ask the person I desired to communicate with if I could write down how I felt. When they eventually said “yes,” I began writing it down in the form of a poem, which allowed me to properly communicate how I felt. The result always led to me having a more fluid and concise conversation with the other person. Although the process is long and taxing, it is absolutely worth it.
Whenever I feel an overwhelming amount of negative emotions, I tend to run away from everything and everyone and suffer alone. I never had someone I could confide in. I never had someone to call home. Now I have poetry. I confide in the words, the metaphors, and the similes that I write on paper.