When I was seven years old, I received a gift: my first journal.
1994 2, April Hi, mY NamE is BRiANNE
It had a white cover with thin, green-leafed, red-berried branches full of colorful birds, and even more colorful birds that I added from my copious sticker collection. I was obsessed with animals, as further evidenced by the pictures I had taped on the inside cover, cut out of National Geographic Kids magazines.
In addition to animals, I was obsessed with the kid actor Jonathan Taylor Thomas, AKA “JTT” — as evidenced by his picture also taped inside the cover, and his name popping up on about half of the journal’s pages.
I Love JTT BIg time.
In my bird journal I wrote about my family and friends. I wrote to vent my feelings, when I was sad or angry (e.g. “Mom doesn’t understand anything!”, e.g. a whole page of misspelled swear words), and when I was gushing with love (e.g. “I love my mom and dad!”, e.g. a whole page of “I <3 JTT”).
I wrote about other boys, not just JTT (I had a lot of crushes). I wrote about daily life at school and at home. I wrote about major life events too, like my parents splitting up, and moving with my mom and siblings to another state. By “wrote about” I mean a couple lines here and there, in between scribbles and random doodles.
I wrote a lot of really bad (or really good?) poems and songs.
The entries are not at all chronological. I seemed to have skipped back and forth through the pages a lot. Some entries are dated with month, day, year and exact time; some are not dated at all. They span from the time I started at age 7 to when I turned 13. Every year or so I went back to it, and on several occasions I explicitly commentated on my past writing — how much it sucked and how much I’d mercifully improved.
October 9th 1995 thank goodnis I do not write Like that any more. I did not evin now igsacly how to write My name. But if I stil wrowt Like that I wont atoll Be able to read it wan I grow up.
May 28, 1996 Dear Diary I am now 10 years old, it is 4:44 P.m. and I just finished readind some of my old writing and I didn't really Know how to write at the time.
April 7, 1999 Dear Diary, I cry inside when I read my old entrys. It is hard to imagine I was ever that young. My writing skills have improved! That is for sure! Tomorrow I will 13. 13! I can hardly believe it!
I looked back on my past self and assessed the quality of her work with critical eyes. Little weeds growing in my creativity garden. Judgment.
I find this particularly interesting because it foreshadows the struggles I would go through as a writer: to accept my imperfections and openly express myself.
Not long after turning 13, I began to develop serious hang ups around journaling. I got it stuck in my head that perhaps, one day, others might see and read my diary. No longer was I safe in my own private thoughts, free to write whatever I needed to write. Instead, every line had to be public-ready, polished and perfect. It was crippling. That self-censorship continued well into my twenties. I spoke to this personal challenge a bit more in a previous post, Beyond Perfectionism.
I’ve since thrown away all my old journals, all except the bird journal. It is a little treasure trove that makes me laugh over and love seven-year old me. Through it, through her, I recall what it’s like to just write whatever I want. Even if it’s a disgraceful mess to whomever reads it in the future (and even if that someone is me), to the self writing it in the moment, it’s simply Life.
As part of the “Spring Creating” deep dive into writing that I am currently doing, I decided to compile together my favorite entries from the journal, which snowballed into creating an entire PDF book, The Bird Journal: A Collection of Poems. (It is available for free download here.)
The Bird Journal opens with a Preface explaining a bit about the book (a revised–and I daresay more eloquent–edition of this blog post) and features 27 poems. I have included both an original version of each one, preserving as best as possible the (mis)spelling and formatting of my childhood writing, and a corresponding “translated” version so that it’s actually readable by grownups. (I laughed so hard compiling the content!!! I hope it’s as delightful to others as it is to me… It’s out there, anyway!)
Excerpt from The Bird Journal
So Am I The BrDS Or fLiYNg anD so im I The sun is sHining and so im I THe fLawrs or Bluming anD so im I. THe anamL's or NiYY'S anD so im I. THe winD is BLoweng anD so im I The sciy is BLOO anD so im I. The mawtin's or singing anD so im I. The riTHum is PLaYing anD so im I. THe rivrs or fowing anD so im I The WRoLD is KwiYiT anD so im I
So Am I (Translated) The birds are flying and so am I The sun is shining and so am I the flowers are blooming and so am I. The animals are [nice?] and so am I. The wind is blowing and so am I The sky is blue and so am I. The mountains are singing and so am I. The rhythm is playing and so am I. The rivers are flowing and so am I. The world is quiet and so am I