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LJ Idol 9, Week 0: Introduction

It is halfway through the first quarter of my 8th grade year, and my family has just moved. My new school has “electives” for junior high. I have been placed in Creative Writing, which is a disappointment because I enjoy writing, and I’d really like to be able to take the class for a whole quarter.

The teacher explains to me that the class is working on writing an eight-page story. But she’s concerned that it’s unfair to ask me to do the same assignment, because the rest of the class has had all quarter, and I, of course, only have half that. So she gives me an alternate assignment: make a list of 25 things I like about myself. I make an easy start: I’ve always been one of the “smart kids,” and smartness is what I get praised for the most by pretty much everybody, so I’ve come to define myself by it. It goes on the top of the page.

Then I stare at the paper. And stare at it. And stare some more, becoming increasingly miserable until finally, I raise my hand, and the teacher comes over, and I say I’d really rather try writing the story, even though I don’t have as much time.

I write a story about animals in the woods, a favorite motif of mine. Not only do I finish the eight pages in half the time as everybody else, I write almost twice as much and have to pare down, because my starting definition of “page” includes both sides, and at some point, I realize nobody else is writing eight double-sided pages. I get an “A” on my story. I walk away happy--but not really. That “25 things I like about myself” is still hanging over my head.

Because, you see, I have always been terribly shy, and consequently have long since been labeled a “nerd,” and I’ve come to define myself by that, as well, and having to face the fact that I don’t like myself is perhaps even more painful than not being liked by others.

That eighth grade experience is now a distant but vivid memory. In some ways, I have come a long way. I can see the irony of being able to write that story in that amount of time yet not like myself enough to make that stupid list. I am able to recognize and give a name to the source of the dark, nasty thoughts that have haunted me throughout both adolescence and my adult life. I've even had periods where I felt pretty good, and didn’t have those thoughts so much. I’m still terribly shy, but manage to find ways to relate to people; I even work in retail, and many people wouldn’t even guess that I’m secretly terrified of them. (It helps that there’s a “script.”)

In other ways, I am still that sad 13-year-old who doesn't understand why she’s sad. Being able to recognize those dark thoughts and feelings as depression doesn’t make me not feel them. It doesn’t stop me from having days when I am convinced my friends secretly hate me. It doesn’t stop me from getting into cycles where I feel like a failure, stop trying because “there’s no point,” and then feel bad for being a failure and for not trying. It doesn’t stop me from saying to myself, “Wow, could you be any more of a downer in your introduction?” But this is who I am today. It might not be exactly who I am tomorrow, or next week. Each day is its own challenge.

As for that “stupid” list, I can’t number the times I’ve thought about whether I could write that list today, and even that I maybe ought to try, as an exercise in learning to love myself. Most of the time I put it from my mind, because I’m horribly afraid that I still couldn’t do it, and I don’t want to have to deal with that. But who knows? Maybe, if the topic is right, it’ll become an LJI entry of its own.


( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 10th, 2014 08:45 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed your writing. What is it about being an 8th grade girl that brings so much pain into focus? I've walked that road, too. I'm looking forward to reading more!
Mar. 11th, 2014 04:08 pm (UTC)
Eighth grade can be a terrible time. It's easy to assume that it was so painful because I was shy and nerdy and lonely, but somehow I think even a lot of the more popular girls secretly weren't having such a great time, either.

Edited at 2014-03-11 04:08 pm (UTC)
Mar. 11th, 2014 02:42 am (UTC)
Welcome back to Idol!

Contrary to your critique, I didn't think this introduction was a downer at all, and for the record, I'd much rather write an eight, or sixteen, page story than a twenty-five word list of any sort. *grin*

I look forward to reading you every week, and hope you have a nice long run this season.

Mar. 11th, 2014 04:03 pm (UTC)
Yeah, what my brain tries to tell me is often at odds with what other people think, and with reality, as well. And I don't even know what a list of twenty-five anythings has to do with creative writing. I think the teacher was at a loss what to do with me.

Thank you for your comments; I always appreciate them (even when I get too overwhelmed to reply).
Mar. 11th, 2014 05:07 pm (UTC)
"...and having to face the fact that I don’t like myself is perhaps even more painful than not being liked by others."

I feel this.
Mar. 13th, 2014 03:50 pm (UTC)
It's enough of a struggle as an adult. It was a very hard way to grow up.

Thanks for commenting. *hugs*
Mar. 11th, 2014 10:34 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure I could make a list of "25 things I like about myself" even now...
Mar. 13th, 2014 03:51 pm (UTC)
I feel pretty confident I could get five. If I worked really hard, and am having a good day, I could probably get ten.

Twenty-five things is a lot.
Mar. 12th, 2014 04:19 am (UTC)
I don't think I could compose a list. Though I have always liked my neck and the way my eyes look after I've been crying.

I enjoyed your introduction!
Mar. 13th, 2014 04:09 pm (UTC)
My eyes look horrible when I've been crying. It's really obvious, too; it's impossible for me to pretend I haven't been crying. For me, it's my hair; especially the way it looks in natural sunlight.

Thanks for commenting!
Mar. 12th, 2014 02:45 pm (UTC)
I could never write that stupid list, either. I really enjoyed this.
Mar. 13th, 2014 04:07 pm (UTC)
That's getting to be a consensus around here. (It sort of makes me feel better.) Thanks for commenting!
Mar. 12th, 2014 04:33 pm (UTC)
Really liked that entry.
Mar. 13th, 2014 04:04 pm (UTC)

Glad to see you back, btw.
Mar. 13th, 2014 04:05 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Good to be back! :-)
Mar. 13th, 2014 12:42 am (UTC)
I hate those kind of lists - and asking an eighth-grade girl to do that, really? :/
Mar. 13th, 2014 04:04 pm (UTC)
Yeah. I wasn't too thrilled with it from the get-go, but I was not a "question authority" sort of girl. I only had that teacher for that one class, for that three or four weeks, so I don't even really know if she was kind of a mediocre teacher or what.

Looking back, it seems like just a shorter story writing assignment would have been more appropriate. There wasn't really any actual writing instruction involved, anyway.
Mar. 13th, 2014 04:27 pm (UTC)
*hugs and hot tea*
Mar. 13th, 2014 07:30 pm (UTC)
Lists like that are so artificial, especially as a class assignment. I could see you second-guessing it endlessly. More importantly, you can write and like Tom Lehrer! :)

BTW, I pitched my audio interview from the 1990s to the PBS animated web series "Blank on Blank" but have gotten no response.
Mar. 13th, 2014 09:31 pm (UTC)
Very nice... look forward to more entries from you!!!
Mar. 13th, 2014 11:01 pm (UTC)
I would find the "25 things you like about yourself" daunting, especially at 13.

I think those kinds of assignments are probably harder for introverts than extroverts, too.

I'm not surprised you were able to finish the story, though-- double the story in half the time. Welcome back. :)
Mar. 14th, 2014 12:31 am (UTC)
Writing lists about personal qualities is really difficult, and almost cruel of a teacher to assign. I'm relieved that you lobbied to write the story instead.

Depression is so hard to live with. As you say, acknowledging it doesn't make one feel better. I hope you are able to find some respite though.

Lovely introduction. Thank you for sharing. I look forward to reading more from you.

Unrelated- Poisoning Pigeons in the Park is one of my favorite Tom Lehrer songs.
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )

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