As a tribute to Girls Write Now‘s publication today, I’ve written something in the style of the other essays in the book. Something I’d like to talk about with my past self. I wouldn’t call it advice, per se, because I’m not sure what advice I’d give. But it did force me to think. Thank you to Tin House for sharing this book with me, and for giving me the chance for this self-reflection.
Title: Girls Write Now: Two decades of true stories from young female voices
Genre: Essay Collections
Pub date: October 16, 2018
Read if you like: female voices, honesty, and vulnerability.
I was in fourth grade when I first realized I had something inside me that was wired differently than my peers. We spent a good part of that year studying poetry and our final cumulative project was a poetry journal. It was a pretty big deal. At least, it was to nine-year-old me. It was meant to be a combination of poems we had written and the poems of others that we had analyzed. Our final product would be bound.
Looking back on that time, I don’t know when I decided it would be my magnum opus. I never discussed it with my teacher or my friends from class. But all of a sudden, I was pushing myself to write more, to read more, to analyze more. I was not just going to include a sampling of my own poetry, I was going to write a poem in every single one of the forms we had learned about that year. I was even going to write a sonnet. And I was sure as hell not going to shy away from analyzing poems that some might consider “too complex” for a nine year old. I had inherited my love of words from my grandmother, and with that came love for several of her favorite poems as well. I included a myriad of works in my poetry journal, everything from the more obvious “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost to the more obscure “Lincoln, Man of the People” by Edwin Markham. And you can bet I wrote that sonnet.
It was around this time that I stopped sleeping through the night. My stomach twisted and turned when I got in bed and thoughts of all of the things I had left to do the next day kept me awake for hours. It took me longer and longer to push those feelings aside and fall asleep and was nearly impossible for me to stay asleep for the entire night. I started keeping a notebook next to my bed to scribble down panicked ideas I had in the night but they were completely illegible to me the next day.
So I threw myself into writing and creating. In the end, I turned in a poetry journal that was over 50 pages long, with at least 15 poems I had written myself and another 20 that I had analyzed. It wasn’t until after the deadline that it became clear to my mom that this was significantly more than what the assignment had asked for – I think the guidelines said something like 5-10 original poems and 5-10 analyses. She wasn’t in the habit of checking my assignments – I was a reliable kid and I got the things done that needed to get done. So she’d trusted me when I told her what I was supposed to do. She watched me agonize over this project, over it not having and not being enough. And that had all been self-imposed.
It would be many, many more years before my anxiety was officially diagnosed and even longer before I started treating it with medication. I wasn’t great at expressing what was going on inside of my body – for a long time, I didn’t know that it was different than what others were experiencing. And my symptoms intensified over time. My nights of sleep grew shorter and shorter – my insomnia dominating my life more thoroughly with every year. Later, I was affected by panic attacks brought on by both stressful situations and by nothing at all. It took over a decade of my life to identify and begin to manage my anxiety. But, I think if I had to put a finger on when I first saw that side of myself emerge, it would be that fourth grade poetry journal.
SYNOPSIS: (AS TOLD BY THE BACK OF THE BOOK)
Girls Write Now: Two Decades of True Stories from Young Female Voices offers a brave and timely portrait of teenage-girl life in the United States over the past twenty years. They’re working part-time jobs to make ends meet, deciding to wear a hijab to school, sharing a first kiss, coming out to their parents, confronting violence and bullying, and immigrating to a new country while holding onto their heritage. Through it all, these young writers tackle issues of race, gender, poverty, sex, education, politics, family, and friendship. Together their narratives capture indelible snapshots of the past and lay bare hopes, insecurities, and wisdom for the future.
Interwoven is advice from great women writers—Roxane Gay, Francine Prose, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Zadie Smith, Quiara Alegria Hudes, Janet Mock, Gloria Steinem, Lena Dunham, Mia Alvar, and Alice Walker—offering guidance to a young reader about where she’s been and where she might go. Inspiring and informative, Girls Write Now belongs in every school, library and home, adding much-needed and long-overdue perspectives on what it is to be young in America.