Writing Your Autobiography to Understand Your Inner World

note: I had written this originally for Introvert, Dear, but I don’t believe they plan to publish it. In any case, I felt it was still worthy of being out in the world.

When I declare myself an introvert, people are shocked. “You?!” In their interrobang, I hear but you’re so opinionated/loud/funny/good with customers. What they don’t know is that once I go home from work, I can barely speak, or move, or even think, from all of the overstimulation of the day. I have anxiety. I have depression. I have introversion.

And while I don’t think so much of those things as diseases or “bad,” I do spend many days wishing I was “normal”, or an extrovert. How great would it be if that coworker I’ve been talking to for weeks about books asked me to hang out, and I could say “Yes! I’d love to!” instead of “Yes, I’d love to, but I’m so ‘busy’ this week!” If I didn’t have to cancel established plans with established friends who I love, or didn’t have to be afraid of seeing people I know at the grocery store or the library. Thank god I moved across the country!I think often. Now there are much fewer people to run into!

Introversion is being on low battery no matter how much I charge up. It’s being happy during experiences, but being nervous and having self-esteem attacks before and after. It’s clinging on to my boyfriend so tight, that even I wonder how he can breathe. It’s being afraid to explore the endless possibilities in life that would be open to me if I could only unfurl and uncurl myself a little looser. It’s pushing my own boundaries so hard, I don’t have time or patience for those who ask me to push harder. It’s not speaking up for myself at work or school or in life. It’s taking a toll on my relationships with family. Taking a toll on my health. Taking a toll on me.

Recently i started journaling more heavily. I have been writing or journaling in some form or another since childhood – for twenty years I have been an examiner of the universe through writing. And recently, I have turned the examination lens inward.Who am I? Why am I? How can I change, how can I grow, and how can I stay true to my introverted needs while simultaneously letting the sun shine on my face?

For starters, I must continue to look inward every day. It might seem counterproductive for an introvert to look further inward, but here me out here. One of the questions I asked above was, Why am i? In order to figure out the answer to this question, I went back. Way back to 27 years ago, to be exact. I began journaling not just about the present, but about the past. I have been journaling my autobiography, and I really must insist that you do this too, if you have any inkling that it might work for you.

  1. Write down your date of birth, and then number the page with the ages you have lived through. 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on. Make sure to leave enough space to write a paragraph for each age.
  2. Obviously, the first few years of your life (and maybe others) won’t be available for recollection. That’s okay. Just write down “the facts.” For example, I know I was born blue, with a heart condition, and had to be moved to another hospital for life-saving surgery. My parents were very young. I was their first child. And so on. As you get into ages 5, 6, and beyond, you will find that the very act of writing jogs your memory. This space is just for bullet points, or the bare bones. You will remember even more eventually.
  3. Once you have your outline, go back to age one (though I guess you could start from anywhere, I personally think it best to go in chronological order). Now write your life not in bullet points or half sentences, but in full sentences, maybe paragraphs and paragraphs. Let it all out on the page.
  4. Repeat  this for every age. Take breaks. Split up the ages between days and weeks. Don’t burn yourself out. Also you will probably find yourself remembering new piece to the puzzle at random. This is great. Your brain is unblocking itself and allowing itself to open up, even if it is only to you.
  5. Eventually you will start to see a pattern about what excites you, what scares you, what has happened to you, and what has happened that was in your control. You must examine your own mistakes as well as the mistakes of others. It may not be pretty, but it will change the way you see certain things.
  6. Write about other things too. Just journal every day, no matter what about. It is really, really healthy and good.
  7. Once you are caught up to the age you are now (I still have not caught up and I’ve been doing this for months), make it your mission to keep your journal up to date with new happenings and examinations. You don’t want to have to play catch-up again when you are 100 (if you are blessed or cursed to live that long).

Through journaling this way I have learned so much about myself, my friends, and especially my family. It has encouraged me to think more deeply about people’s actions and words, as well as choose my own more carefully. And I have begun to form a plan to follow after I graduate with my Masters degree in May. A plan to live my best life, introversion be damned. I intend to achieve my dreams, or die trying. But don’t take this the wrong way – I don’t desire or expect to give up the introversion that has made me, me (nor do I think there is or should be a “cure”). I only desire to continue to use introversion to see inside myself and learn what I must do in order to thrive.

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A Bookseller’s Disappointment

If you’ve been in one Barnes and Noble, you’ve been in them all. The layout may change, but their displays are preplanned by corporate and so therefore the stores end up displaying the same books in relatively the same place for better or worse. It is my understanding that publishers pay for these spots, sometimes, and other times, the company just thinks the book meshes well with the display*. The one display that (hopefully) is not predetermined is the Best Seller display. Rather than go by the “Times,” the display is based on BN’s own sales throughout the previous week.

At the end of  2016, towards the election, the displays turned political for obvious reasons. What piqued my interest about it was that most of the books displayed were somewhat-to-definitely pro-Trump, while definitely anti-Hillary. As the company touted its pro-diverse, pro-democracy on Barnes and Noble Inside, the employee news hub, they lament that the “election was causing poor sales,” because “people want to stay inside and save their money in these troubling times.”

As a person, I wanted nothing to do with these books. They were making a joke out of a very trying time in the lives of so many Americans. None of the books were objective, and it seemed as if more and more Conservatives walked through our doors every day, either by coincidence or design. I sold gun magazines, Michael Savage books, and Guilty as Sin. There was not a single time I rang up Stronger Together, but Make America Great Again and Crisis of Character were often top sellers. There was even a graphic novel version of Clinton Cash.  I actually rung up more than one person who told me, a salesperson they did not know from Eve, that I did not deserve to make a living wage, because I didn’t have a real job.

After the election was over, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders’ books were off the charts popular in our store. Our customers, it turns out, were not only made up of old conservative men and elderly women, but the pre-election sales and post-election sales touted shockingly different values. BN Inside published a lachrymose letter from our CEO, stating that we would move forward positively despite the setback the election caused, and hopefully we could settle now into a better sales climate.  Now, Barnes and Noble promotional emails suggest that we buy What Happened, Hillary Clinton’s memoir about her election experience.

Yes, Barnes and Noble is a store. Yes, they have sales to drive, and quite frankly, they are a sinking ship with too many holes and not enough plugs. But I feel this is taking advantage of people so blatantly, almost outright stating that all they want is our money. As a bookseller, I understand the need for a store to have sales, but as a customer, I feel betrayed and lied to and like just another number. Just like I felt as an employee. But that’s a post for a different day.

*I cringe at the use of “display” so many times, but it is actually called a “display” and there was no other way to word it that would convey what I meant.

are you a mother fucker?

Music often moves me to tears, as do books, movies, memories, all of it. I am a sentimental bitch. I am (and I recognize this is not something to be entirely proud of) eternally reaching out toward’s Gatsby’s green light, coveting moments that did not exist, except in my own sentimentality. I have always been sensitive, always bearing the burden of emotions both micro and macro. It is something I have come to accept as my cross to bear – what is often perceived as weakness is actually a huge strength called empathy, and the desire to make a change. I truly believe the more we stand up, the less we can get knocked down. Little people can make a big difference, there is strength in numbers, and things can change.

Kesha’s strength in what has had to have been the hardest moments in her own life, moments that seemed like they would never end, moments of despair that no doubt have inspired in her a dark alleyway of thoughts – she has come through, still fighting, only harder. She has come through and turned darkness into the most beautiful light of color, a Rainbow.

Buffy Summers once said, “I may be dead, but I’m still pretty,” after rising back from the grave to  defeat those who called themselves the victors prematurely. Kesha is her own slayer, telling the world it ain’t over… and I am so proud.

the autobiography project

It might seem silly when I tell you to “write your autobiography.” You’re not famous, you don’t feel worthy, you don’t think anyone would care, or just plain simply, you don’t think you need to or even want to for yourself. But you should! One day your memories won’t be so sharp. They’re already starting to fade. As it is, we make up so much of our memories anyway. It’s better to get the ones you remember out now rather than keep them inside until they shape-shift, warp, and disappear.

I keep a diary, but I’m not always “good” at it. It’s not organized. It’s not about my day or even about significant life events. There are redundant entries and lists and notes about lectures or events on reading and writing. Just a place really for me to dump my thoughts. But a few years back, when I had some free time on my hands after college, I decided to write it all out, chronologically, by age/grade, starting with birth.  I want to remember my life, both the agony and the ecstasy.  What started out as a few bullet points per year now has all of my memories racing at me at once. i can barely write down the outline before the next bullet is hitting, and as i write each sentence from the bullet point, things get clearer and clearer, until i am facing the past and moving forward wth my future at the same time. handwriting it is making it more personal, and now it will be in my diary forever. I also now have the opportunity to see patterns, and learn from the past, as well as see the direction I am heading in the future.

I never want anyone to read my diaries. They showcase the good, the bad, and especially the ugly. They are all mine, but they are sacred to me, no matter how messy or muted my life is, I have a place to explore it, and I want to put it to good use. In addition, I freewrite, use journal prompts… etc. I spend hours exploring the internet looking at diaries and bullet journals and art journals and planners, and I will probably never share more than a page or two once every few years of mine. But that’s okay. I like my journal the way she is. Unpredictable, like me.

something i wrote a year ago today…

Being yourself is one of the most courageous ways to live. If you think it’s hard being yourself and there is no way you can do it, think about how much pressure you put on yourself every time you pretend to be something you’re not.

On the TVLand show Younger, Liza is a forty year old woman pretending to be twenty six so she can have her dream job, her dream boyfriend, and a “second chance” at life. Yet even though she now has the job, the man, and the life she dreamed of, she feels like a fraud. Not only does she have to lie every day to the outside world, but now she has friends and a lover she can only be so real with.

It is so hard to feel like a fraud. To feel like you are nothing, you’re ugly, you’re stupid, you’re just pretending to be something you’re not. For so many of us, myself included a lot of the time, looking in the mirror is a chore. Depression, anxiety, and Impostor Syndrome are real things. You don’t feel connected to yourself or the world around you. And even if you remember that the times you’ve been the happiest were the times you let go, accepted yourself, and lived harmoniously, you just can’t shake off the insecurities.

I think the first step is opening your eyes to realizing that everyone can be captured by these feelings and thoughts even if just for a moment. Even the most confident, gorgeous person in the world, someone who literally glows from within, can wake up and feel ugly sometimes. It’s so easy to throw yourself under the bus. It’s like when you see the same friend every day, and maybe their quirks become irksome – you inhabit your own body and mind 24/7 and you can irk yourself. But it’s important to remember:

No one else can ever be you. You are loved. You have something to offer this world. You can do this. You are beautiful, and smart, and kind, and most importantly, you are unique. A fingerprint that cannot be replicated.

Don’t let yourself get too down.

White Teeth; Zadie Smith

I just finished reading White Teeth for my class on Narrative Structure. Goodreads is full of mixed reviews. There are those who find it brilliant, and those who find it boring. I am the former. I underlined and circled and notated so much. I was reading four books at the time, (White Teeth, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, and Bird by Bird) but kept coming back to this one.

Here is my favorite passage:

“A neutral place. The chances of finding one these days are slim… The sheer quantity of shit that must be wiped off the slate if we are to start again as new. Race. Land. Ownership. Faith. Theft. Blood. And more blood. And more. And not only must the place be neutral, but the messenger who takes you to the place, and the messenger who sends the messenger. There are no people or places left like that in North London” (378).

I know that this place might be impossible to find. I know that might even be the point of this passage – that such neutrality is beyond our grasp. But I like to work towards the future I envision. I don’t know what I’m trying to say except for this book spoke to me, and made me think, and comforted me, and hurt me, and I know I am late to the Zadie Smith show, but I’m glad I tuned in.

As detailed in my last post, I have so much writing planned, and I am very particular. I want everything to flow a certain way and I have so much to say, but I am feeling self-conscious. I have people I want to write about, at least where their story overlaps my own; I’m feeling vulnerable. In the first essay collection, One Dark Thing, I detail times in my life of deep pain. There are pieces about friendship gone awry, my body, and even a piece about someone who got away. I have to dig deep and go to a really emotional place and let go of inhibition, but I am scared. What if it’s draining? What if people hate me after they read these pieces? (Everyone – not even necessarily the people who I’m writing about). Okay, well it’s one thing for strangers and acquaintances to hate me, but what if my close friends, my partner, my family judge me?

How do writers write without feeling insecure? How do they push through it? How do they write with such vulnerability knowing their mother is going to read the piece. How do I tell my family I might not even want them to read my work?

On a different note, I submitted a piece to a literary magazine in November and it is MAYBE getting published. They are still culling through the submissions, making sure the collection is cohesive, et cetera. It was a big step for me to finish the piece, and then edit it without prompting. It was a big step for me to submit it. I really, truly, definitely want this piece included in the collection but if it isn’t, I’m still proud of my work, and I will make it better and submit it elsewhere. The older I get the less time I have for my own bullshit. I want to be a writer. So while it’s lovely that I have all of these ideas, it’s even lovelier that I am sitting down and actually writing them and making plans to publish them. I am ready.