When I was a little girl, I used to keep a diary. It was given to me by a friend for my birthday, and it had a cute little lock with a few keys that I kept on a Sailor Moon key ring in my underwear drawer. And I used it for “Dear Diary, today I ate pizza and watched movies with my friends,” type entries until grade seven, when I suddenly had no friends to eat pizza or watch movies with.
I’ve written at length about being bullied. And I mean, being teased and tormented and followed home and pelted with rocks was bad, but what was the worst was having no one to talk to. Knowing that my sister would go on play dates and I’d walk the dog a different way than the day before because the kids who tormented me had found my usual dog-walking route, and they decided to follow me and throw rocks and jeer, chasing me home. Knowing that I’d be home with my parents again on a Saturday night, looking at a family movie and wishing that I could go out and have fun. It was depressing, because I had no one that cared about where I was and whether or not I was having fun. The friends I had all turned against me.
So, I started using the diary to write letters to fictional characters in books. Because to me, they were my friends.
“Dear Emily of New Moon,” my letter would start. “I’m a writer, too. Do you ever wonder what it would be like if we became famous? I hope one day that everyone will read my books and know my name.”
“Dear Emily, I wish you were real so that you could be my friend. No one seems to understand me. I don’t care about boys, Emily. I want to write poetry.”
“Dear Emily, writing you is fun but you never really do write back, do you?”
And later, it expanded. I wrote letters to celebrities. I wrote letters to other fictional characters. And they became the friends I wanted to talk to.
“Dear Anne of Green Gables,” I wrote when I was 13. “Why is it such a bad thing to have a crush on a boy? Why won’t he ever look at me except to laugh?”
“Dear Anne, I wish that I had a friend like Diana. You know, you’re really lucky, because you can tell Diana anything. When I told my best friend something, she told the rest of the school and they all thought I was seeing a psychiatrist because I was crazy.”
“Dear Anne, today the boys at school went in my cubby and took out a note my dad had written me. They spread it all over the classroom and everyone laughed. Why does that never happen to you in the books? Why don’t you ever write me back?”
Looking at it now, I realize that the letters were a way of processing feelings about being bullied, feelings about being lonely. A therapist today probably would have had a field day with them. But for me, they were cathartic. I was writing to people who I felt would innately understand me, and that brings me to my point.
Writing, for me, is less a hobby and more a need. I have written out feelings about everything in my life, from nannying for wonderful children to my thoughts on my breakup with my long-time partner. I’ve written out my hopes and dreams, outlined novels and five-year plans. And I managed to finally publish some of those writings in my book, Break for Beauty.
It’s odd, because most people who have read the book come to me afterwards and say, “I see someone who underwent a lot of pain to come out the other side stronger.”
I couldn’t have done that without being able to pour my feelings out in that diary, now burned, now just a distant memory.
I think I’m probably admitting that I was somewhat of a nerdy child with this entry. But it got me thinking. I write to tell my own stories, but I also write to tell other people’s. I’m working on a book right now of short stories about historical Toronto. It’s been interesting, delving into the people of the past. Wondering how they’d feel and think. How they’d even speak.
Sometimes, I outline letters in my head to authors, to characters, to actors. “Dear Victor Hugo,” I wrote on Twitter the other day. “You’re a little obsessed with sewers. Your understanding of the way germs are dispersed concerns me.”
But sometimes, it’s letters to myself. “Dear L,” I say. “You need to get your act together. You need to believe in yourself. And you need to stop writing letters to people who will never write them back. Write letters to people who matter. Write stories about people who have no other voice.”
So, I’m participating for the second time in The Real LJ Idol contest, a contest that led me to publish my first book and got me back into writing regularly. If you’re interested in the entries I’ve written, check me out at my Livejournal blog here. And if you want to vote for my entries, please check “milk_and_glass” in the weekly polls.
I’ve learned that when you’re a writer, you’re one from a young age, whether you admit it through writing short stories about your favourite show or you’re like me, writing letters to fictional people who will never exist.
Along with the many people in my life who have supported me, I do thank the authors of those stories for creating female characters that I could call my friends.
In a time that was difficult, scary and lonely, they most definitely saved my life.