No matter how much I write, I think my favorite thing I ever wrote will always be my childhood diary, which spanned two books and eight years from ages six through fourteen.
My diary diary was given to me for Easter by my parents when I was six years old. It had a lock on the side and on the cover in metallic ink was a poem about dreams (which I still have memorized). I wrote in hot pink ink and talked to my diary like it was a real person ("Today is Easter and I got things to say to you, Diary").
A year later I added a spiral journal to the mix and for some reason that must have made sense at the time, alternated between writing in my journal and writing in my diary. Perhaps I'd forgotten the code to unlock my diary. These days, you can spin the dial into any combination and it'll pop open for you.
At some point I found it necessary to inscribe the inside cover of my journal with the declaration: "If I ever grow up to become a famous author, please look at this, and write a true story about my life. (If they still write books in the future.) This is true and in order. I hope you can ready sloppy handwriting." I also felt compelled to autograph it and document the exact date of my signature, including the fact that it was a Tuesday and that I was "10# (ten)."
My dreams are spelled out in pink and white within these pages. No, really. I made up and then filled out a questionnaire pretending to be an adult version of myself. My dream phone number was 624-2260, I would have a dog named Cookie II (presumably thinking ahead to when Cookie the Original passed on), and included among the many "countries" I would travel to were London, Paris, and the Hawaiian Islands.
Even though my entries rarely delved deeper than descriptions of mundane activities (eating chocolate chip ice cream after getting my ends trimmed, for example), reading the words of my much younger self transports me back to the sensations and a mindset that not even old photographs and home movies bring so clearly into focus.
Like my passion for movies and television, which bounces off the pages of my detailed recaps of Married with Children episodes.
Even seeing my "dream phone number" in print reminded me of my neurotic obsession with even numbers (if I bumped my arm on something I'd have to bump the other side to get re-balanced, and if I drew three M&Ms out of a bag I'd put one back or grab one more).
It's pretty cool to reexamine things in hindsight. I mean, how many people know exactly what they wore ("shoulder length parrot earrings") and did (watched Unsolved Mysteries and Married with Children) on their husband's 11th birthday, even though they were 13 years away and 28 days away from meeting each other?
I've relearned a lot about myself through my diary. For starters, I realize now that I watched too much TV and ate too much ice cream (nary a day goes by I didn't have a dish or two of mint chocolate chip or Moose Tracks). I also ate an alarming number of Sloppy Joe's. On March 30, 1994 I ate three in one sitting.
My diaries also remind me just what a weird kid I was. It's probably a good thing I had a diary as an outlet for all my confessions, like my desire to be 80 years old.
But unlike the opinion columns I wrote for my undergrad's newspaper, I'm not embarrassed by anything in those magical capsules of childhood. I was so awesomely egregious I can’t help but be amazed by myself. I mean, I had the gall to scoff at a classmate who was the first to wear flared jeans to school in the same paragraph I'd proudly described wearing "short white cowboy boots that have a multi-color western fringe with beads dangling off them."
I was so struck by how clearly my little voice and personality came through those pages that I used my old diaries as the basis for the heroine in my first novel. There's a popular saying: Write what you know. But a great plot is nothing without great characters so I say: Write who you know.