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By Stephanie Saline
“Don’t knock masturbation,” Woody Allen has said; “it’s sex with someone I love.” While not quite as taboo as fiddling one’s bits, writing to oneself can be just as naughty and restorative.
As I sit typing this on a Sunday morning at my favorite café (the best sugar donuts in town, arrive around 10:30), I am seated next to a woman who is writing to herself. She is writing in an unlined journal with the precise, dramatic script of an artist. I sneek a peek at her page, and see that she’s writing about photography. Or more specifically: her musings, curiosities, and investigations about photography. I see the line, in beautifully handwritten in black ink: how open is your lens?
I started keeping a journal when I was thirteen. The first one was a purple spiral-bound Mead notebook. I wrote on the cover, in ballpoint pen: Stupid thoughts written here. Oh, my younger self… if I could only convey to you, nearly thirty years later, both the accuracy and the error in that epitaph.
Now firmly rooted in the land of adulthood, I believe that every kid — and adult, for that matter — needs a place to write their stupid thoughts, and their brilliant ones. I realize this may be hopelessly out of step with the times, a relic of history where people kept private record of the evolution of their opinions, ideas, and ruminations.
I also know that not everyone loves words as much as I do. Some of us come in really stitched into our bodies, and moving them around in space is what gives us grounding and our place in the world. Nor is everyone as reflective and brooding as I am. I get it. I’ve had to learn that when most people ask ‘How are you?’ They aren’t looking for an honest and original response. In part, it was other people’s short attention spans for my earnest and often not concise self-expression that drove me to write to myself. I was the only one with the patience to listen.
When I sit down to write to myself, I think of it as sitting down with the world’s best listener. I get to tell my side of the story, and dump everything that’s been rattling around in my mind out onto the table.
When de-cluttering a home, the experts tell us to throw open the cupboards and closets and touch every object in them. Is it useful? Is it beautiful? Does it spark joy? I do the same thing when I write to myself. I flip open the lid of my brain, and investigate the narrative that I’m spinning. Is it useful? Is it beautiful? Does it spark joy?
Wait — did you know that you’re the narrator of your life?
That everything that has happened to you — every injustice, every victory, every disappointment, every boon — is part of one big story that you are making up?
It’s in the writing to ourselves where we can begin to see this story. Where we can meet the narrator in our lives. And where we can begin to re-work the raw materials we’ve been given into something that pleases us.
When I say this to people who are new to the idea, they often tell me that a blank page is intimidating. Where do you start? What do you have to say? Isn’t this writing to oneself frivolous and self-indulgent?
Start there. Those questions are actually the guards at the gate to your inner world. Just because they’re there doesn’t mean you need to turn back. It just means that’s where you are — eye to eye with the guards. You can write about that. Write a story about a time in your life when you didn’t know where to start. Write a dialogue with one of those guards, where you muster your courage and all the curiosity you can, look the guard in the eye, and strike up a conversation. Ask him a question, then listen for the reply. Heck, write a list of frivolous and self-indulgent things you’d think would be fun to do.
There are adventures to be had when we make time to sit down with ourselves with a pen and a piece of paper and allow ourselves to mess around, ask questions, and make stuff up. Don’t knock writing to yourself — it may be the best conversation you have all day.
A teacher and advertising writer based in Buffalo, New York, Stephanie Saline spent one decade on adventures in Japan, Seattle, and Montana, and another decade building a popular copywriting business. She is the creator of Writing Your Way Home, a workshop where people write and live their Hero-on-a-Quest story. Find out more about her work at www.stellaorange.com. Facebook | Instagram