Thursday, May 18, 2017


On Writing

Viviana Salas

When I look back on old diaries and journals and even school essays, I cringe. My face contorts into itself with every sentence I read.


Well, think of it this way. It’s like when you look back at pictures of yourself from middle school and get a feeling of humiliation and shame.

Why did I do that?

Was that actually me?

I can’t believe that’s what I looked like.

It brings back memories of who you were and what you did in your first awkward teen years. We tend to reflect on our past selves and compare to who we are now, thus bringing about that stomach churning feeling of embarrassment and regret.

Of course, this is not about middle school pictures. This is about writing. In this case, my middle school to freshman year writing. Even more specifically, my diary. And there it is, that feeling of shame. I can’t believe that I actually had a diary. And it wasn’t even composed of daily entries. I only ever wrote in it whenever I had an encounter with a boy I liked at the time.
(I hope that you are cringing with me because this is not pleasant to write. I can only imagine how much more unpleasant it is to read. So let me take this moment to apologize for any further discomfort I may cause you to feel on my behalf, so I say now: I am sorry.)

In this “diary,” I would write unpredictably. There could be months before I’d have another entry. But every single one was filled with that tone of girlish hope and infatuation. They would be happenings that I look back on now and know that they meant nothing near what I thought they did. A simple brushing of hands that I thought was “like a spark” was actually just friction from the bus seats. The way we worked together for a game of swim class water polo was actually just team-work tactics.

(Oh I swear that with all this cringing, I’m going to have heavy wrinkles at an early age.)

Over time, I got bored with keeping that diary; I stopped writing. Well, I’m lying. I wasn’t bored exactly. I more so had nothing to write as I no longer had any contact with him after my freshman year of high school. I stopped making entries but kept the diary. In fact, I still have it to date, hidden in a drawer beneath layers of clothes.

You may be wondering why I still have that diary if it causes me so much shame. The reason is because I want to be able to look back at it one day and laugh. Laugh at my past self and the things I did and thought. I used to think that I was keeping it for a sense of nostalgia, but I realized that was not the case when I read Joan Didion’s “On Keeping a Notebook.”

Didion referred to a notebook of her own, not a diary (she actually emphasizes her distaste for diaries), but I felt that it still applied. She says, “See enough and write it down, I tell myself, and then some morning when the world seems drained of wonder, what I am supposed to do, which is write-on that bankrupt morning I will simply open my notebook and there it will all be, a forgotten account with accumulated interest, paid passage back to the world out there…”
“...when the world seems drained of wonder…”

That’s bad times to come. It is for those bad times that I still have my diary. I know that there will be a time in my life, not now but possibly later on, when I will need a laugh. I feel that my diary will get me that laugh that I will so badly need, even if it is a laugh of self-embarrassment.
What causes me to be humiliated by the journal? I am not completely sure myself. I suppose it could be because I wrote about a boy I had an annoyingly obsessed crush on. It could just be because I sounded like I had an annoyingly obsessed crush. It could be a combination of both. Needless to say, I have learned from that whole diary-keeping experience to not write like that ever again.

That diary experience taught me the importance of tone and word choice. It taught me that certain words will give off a vibe, and vibes affect people. But with that particularly infatuated vibe, it would not have affected readers how it affected me at the time. At the time that I wrote it, I thought that it sounded like true love. Now that I look back at what I remember writing, I know that if anyone had read it, they would have contorted their face in the way that we do when we smell something bad, as I am now.

Why did I write it in such a naive way?

Why did I have to sound so childlike and unknowing?

Just why?

Any other time I’d felt like writing anything remotely romantic after that I decided to base it off of books I’d read before, as a guide. And this didn’t just apply to romance; it applied to anything I wanted to be felt in my writing. This is why I’m always trying to look for the right words.

Infatuation, not love.
Humiliation, not embarrassment.

Happenings, not events.

It’s all about saying exactly what you mean, as Kurt Vonnegut advises. And by saying what you mean, the reader knows exactly how you feel and in turn, they feel it too.

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