By Abigail Bainbridge, Indiana University
The first time I saw her I was at The Scholastic Book Fair when I was in first grade. I’m not sure what drew me to her. Maybe it was her hard exterior, protecting the soft, delicate pages inside or perhaps it was just the way she sat on that shelf, but I knew I had to have her.
I counted up all the money my mom had given me to spend for the day and realized I had just enough! I was so excited I went in a rushed to buy her, stroking her strong, hard cover, deep blue and shining with newness. Nothing but possibility within her in.
When I got home for the day I sat down with her immediately. That day in school our teacher told us to write a short story and I had never been more ready. My family had just gone to Kalahari the weekend before and it was so much fun. A great place for a story. But what could happen there? Maybe my friends at school go? Or girl could take her talking horse? The possibilities were endless. What about a spy going on a secret mission? Yes! He can search for a supervillain hiding out in Kalahari! I would call it Mystery at Kalahari and I knew it would be my masterpiece.
I took out my pencil and started scribbling down all my ideas down on her pages. They just flowed out of me and into her. She and I were one and for the first time I felt like I had truly expressed myself, even if looking back it wasn’t my masterpiece, but I knew, together, we could get there.
When I turned in my piece we got an A! I was so excited, so proud of my writing and storytelling ability, and none of it would have been possible without her, my journal.
But then I put her away, leaving her alone for three whole years. Until I had another writing assignment. I thought about all the different things I could write about. New things I could try. But in the end I knew I needed to go back and finish my work, after all it had always been she and I against the world.
When I pulled her off her place on the shelf she didn’t look much different. Her cover had lost its shine, but she was still her. Still ready to help me with this newest assignment. This time I wasn’t going to just add on, I was going to change things! I got into the nitty-gritty. Erasing, taking notes in the margins, reworking details developing my story more and more. When I finally finished and turned my work in I knew how much my story and grown and when I got it back I had gotten another A. And, again, once I got my A, it was time to put my journal back on the shelf.
The next time I got her out my journal was coming out of a box, not a shelf. It was 7th grade. I had moved schools and houses. When I found out I had a writing assignment I knew exactly who I had to turn to… I just wasn’t sure where she was. After rifling through boxes in the attic that had made it through the move. When I pulled her out it was clear she was no longer new. Her cover had scratches, the corners were worn and the space in between the pages were filled with dust.
This time as I wrote something was different. The story was, truly coming together. Not just unconnected scenes and ideas disjointed and only linked to each other by necessity. This time my characters breathed, I could touch feel the dirt in my settings, my characters faced real and complex problems.
By the end my A earning piece was 20 pages long. And, as we sat around the kitchen table, my family listened to it all, hanging on every word.
I got my journal out a few more times after that. Once in high school, just playing around with a few narrative ideas, but nothing very serious. And of course I couldn’t move to college without her. But I hadn’t really had time to sit and build worlds out of words and ideas since 7th grade. In some ways, this made me incredibly sad. This thing I loved, a skill I had worked to develop, had ultimately been lost to time.
However, my love of writing had never really faded, it had simply been redirected into other parts of my life, like school and work. It’s even what encouraged me to take choose my future career path, English education. And I know that whenever I am ready to come back and pick her up again, my journal will be patiently waiting.