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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.


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.

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