I was recently pawing through some old photos to locate an appropriate Throwback Thursday photo, when I came across this little scrap of paper, neatly dated 6/90 in my Grandma Carol's perfect handwriting. I was immediately transported back to being a little girl.
I spent a few weeks each summer with my grandparents in Arizona. My Grandma Carol and Papa Bill were and still are amazing grandparents: I spent my time with them doing all of my favorite activities: going to the library, swimming for hours on end, and writing stories while they worked in their office. I would type away on their Apple computer, telling stories and writing brief poems that they read, printed, and praised as if I'd created the most brilliant novel in history. I could lose myself for hours under their ceiling fan, reading and imagining whole new worlds. While I did not enjoy practicing my typing, they insisted that I did -- I had to do an hour of Mavis Beacon Typing Tutor a day (hello 90's throwback!) because they felt strongly that someone who loved to write as much as I did should learn how to type. As an adult who can type quickly and without looking at the screen, I am endlessly grateful.
While the stories I wrote were childish and had an odd fixation on being a twin (literally my lifelong obsession. I blame Sweet Valley.) the part I loved best was that my grandparents didn't make my dream of writing seem absurd. They took me seriously, having me autograph my stories after I wrote them and hanging on to these tiny slips of paper where I detailed my day. My grandfather was an avid journal-writer, and a meticulous note-keeper, and he inspired me to do the same.
Last year, over a dinner, I mentioned to my grandfather that I had disposed of nearly all my childhood journals, seeing them as foolish and not worth carrying around. My mild-mannered grandfather was horrified that I could have done that.
"Your words are precious, Amy," he said.
When I opened my Christmas present this year, there was a brand new journal, and a gruff warning from my grandfather to not throw this one away.
I've been writing since I was seven. I started in journals, before moving on to a blog (and still keeping journals). When I need to work something out in my brain, the best thing I can do is to write about it -- these days, it's usually in a blank Google doc or an email that doesn't get sent. Writing is my preferred method of expression, and the way I work to understand my brain, my feelings, and my heart.
In recent years, I haven't been writing as much. I stopped blogging three years ago because so many of the things I was thinking about felt so private and personal that putting it out seemed too vulnerable. Being a public educator means that the freedom of writing on the Internet is challenging, and while I never publish anything that would get me fired, it can lead to feeling quite exposed. Additionally, I teach at an amazing school where I am fortunate to have a number of opportunities to lead and be involved. I started my Master's degree and threw myself wholeheartedly into education. Teaching is the very best thing, but as any teacher will tell you, it can leave you with little to no mental energy to create. My evenings slowly filled with Netflix binges and attempts at yoga and anything that didn't require much from my brain or emotions.
In April of this year, I performed in Mortified in San Francisco and Oakland. The one middle school journal I saved was full of complete ridiculousness and I pulled together a piece and performed. And while I knew that my journal entries were hilarious, what I didn't expect was that I would remember a part of myself that I'd forgotten: the part of me that is creative and fun and enjoys making things and participating in a life beyond a classroom. I watched people laugh and shared a part of myself that I'd forgotten brought me immense joy.
For weeks after, I felt alive in a way I'd forgotten about. I told a friend that I felt like I'd cut off a part of myself and started using it again. While my writing has improved from the days of writing short bits about going swimming, I felt like seven-year-old me had come alive again: I was ready to write and dream and type and express.
What I realized in that experience was that my grandparents had given me the gift of taking myself seriously. There was no belittling or brushing aside or encouraging me to do something more practical. They nourished the things I loved and treated me as if those things mattered. As adults, we are so quick to tamp down one another's dreams -- and most importantly, our own. I think of so many parts of myself I have brushed aside for fear that they wouldn't be good enough, or that others would think I was ridiculous. People I love have often reminded me that it was likely I wouldn't succeed so to be patient or maybe lower my expectations or maybe not even do it at all.
I'm convinced that the very best gift we can give ourselves is taking ourselves seriously. While I don't need to autograph my own work the way I did for my grandparents, I can make space and write daily and put myself out there. My Mortified experience was incredible for a number of reasons but perhaps most of all was the way it reminded me of secret dreams and gifts. It made me remember who I am outside of the career I love.
The weeks since that performance have been about making space. I started taking stand up comedy classes and have fallen in love with this secret dream I've harbored since I was a little girl watching Saturday Night Live. I have written every day. I've made some bad art. I bought this site. Perhaps most importantly, I've said no to a lot of things that I normally would say yes to, in order to say yes to myself.
I'm making the room to take myself seriously.