Friday, August 19, 2005

Fear and Self-Loathing in Fairfax County

Last night I was really, really in the mood to write something other than a book review, but didn't have any real ideas. I keep a notebook, aside from my regular journal, that's used solely for story ideas. A good number are writing exercises or prompts to get you going that I've come across in books or classes, while others are fledgling ideas for scenes or stories that I've come up with over time. While I don't always get a full story out it, using the notebook of ideas often gets me going down pathways I wouldn't normally venture through.

Sometimes I'll choose by flipping through the pages and pick whatever first catches my interested eye. Last night I decided to be more random. I tossed the notebook up in the air and let it fall open to a random page. I then closed my eyes, pointed, then opened my eyes to see what I picked. It said the following:

Pretend you have the ability to travel back in time. Travel into past years to meet an earlier version of yourself. How do you see your past self through your older, hopefully wiser eyes? Would you say anything to your past self? Would you do anything?

I chose to send myself back to interact with my high school self, and see where the writing took me. Things started out simple enough. I shadowed my 16 year old self as he (I?) left school, stopped off at Roy Rogers for some fries and a coke, and walked across the golf course as a short cut to get home. For awhile, it was pretty observational. I tried to remember as many physical details as I could, and had a lot of fun with that.

But things took a dark turn. When I made my today-self finally approach and interact with my past-self, I entered an area of hate and self-loathing I haven't felt in years. My fictional today-self took out these feelings pretty strongly on my past-self. Now I freely admit to not having the highest self-esteem, but it's better by far than it was in the tortured days of high school. Yes, Miss L gets on me all the time for not enjoying looking at myself in the mirror, but other than that I feel pretty well adjusted. But something about venturing into those past days brought up all those old feelings that overwhelmed me so much.

I read the piece again this morning before work, thinking maybe I was just caught up in the flow of writing and it wasn't as powerful as I thought it was. But it still hit me, it still disturbed me. I actually had trouble reading it, and I have a pretty high tolerance for disturbing books. On the rare occasions I tap into something that hits me this strongly, I know there's probably a good story in it. I just need to find the way to tie it together and communicate those feelings to a reader. It''ll be a tough path to walk, but hopefully worth the effort.



Catherine said...

That's a brave writing exercise. I still have a journal I kept my senior year of high school--but I never open it. Just can't do it.

Writing autobiographical stories is so hard to do--for me, at least. It's difficult not to feel overwhelmed by past situations and emotions. Plus, it can be hard to keep things in perspective and revise objectively. Some writers are really good at it, though. Good luck. :)

Hebdomeros said...

I think the objective/perspective part you mention is the hard part for me. The main character has turned into someone else now, which has made it easier. The younger self is essentially my younger self, but it takes a bad turn after that.

Thanks for the encouragment!