I didn’t take my first nap until high school. Bizarre, I know! Who doesn’t love sleep? But my mentality was and, still is in some ways, that if I shut my eyes for a moment, I’d miss something the world had to offer me. In high school though, what with staying up into the wee hours of the night doing work, after school naps start to look pretty sweet. However back in kindergarten, when we had a designated naptime, I always sat wide awake reading. I distinctly remember that our classroom’s bookshelf had a copy of Amelia’s Notebook by Marissa Ross that I read over and over. The Amelia series was one of the best things American Girl ever put into production because it didn’t patronizingly tell you How to Be An American Girl (I still remember the American Girl cartoon puberty book that my friends would keep wedged in their bottom drawers, with these three girls on the cover wearing towels, who looked so awkward, as if they had never showered nakey before. It was if puberty was a giant secret that we were supposed to keep hidden from the rest of the world and that we had to figure out the Morse Code about our bodies that American Girl had sent us. Needless to say, like a lot of Writing For Young Girls, those books made us shift uncomfortably and giggle a lot). In contrast, all the Amelia books were made to look to look like a real composition notebooks. It was the extension of the fictional characters’ brain, spilling out her questions about the world through words and loads of cartoons and stickers onto every page. Amelia’s books dealt with everything from bullying to cafeteria food to wanting to be a writer. So, as my fellow classmates snored through nap time, I sat there thinking of what I would put in my own diary.
Flash-forward to a couple of weeks ago. I was in Upstate New York and with time to kill in the small suburb, I wandered into The Bargain Box, a local thrift store. On a bookshelf in the store, I came across a familiar weathered composition notebook, lodged in between chapter books. I gleefully grabbed it from the shelf, remembering all those times I’d read the Amelia series in school. Only upon closer inspection I found that it wasn’t actually a chapter book at all. On the cover it read, My Notebook (With Help From Amelia), and while it had the series’ signature doodles on the front cover, below that, the words “Grace Howard” had been filled in with real colored pencil.
I thought it was strange that someone would donate their secrets to a stranger, especially when it also had her name, home address and school inside. But I decided to buy it, to keep it safe from someone who would abuse the power of the diary, and also because I found it quite magical, like I had stumbled upon a historic document about suburban teenager from who-knows-when. I contemplated not sharing the diary I had found that day with anyone. If you’ve ever seen the cartoon Hey Arnold! or keep one yourself, you’d probably agree that a diary is one of the most sacred possessions that a tween/teen can have. At this age, there are so few things that we can truly claim ownership to, spaces where we can cultivate our own styles, and so a diary is a great place to hash it all out. I felt in some ways, sharing Grace’s diary in a public forum would denigrate the magic of her diary and be an invasion of her privacy. But there was a reason that I had stumbled upon it in The Bargain Box. I’d like to think that I was meant to keep it safe and pass on the magic to you all.
Just like Amelia herself, Grace complements her writing with loads of doodles. In the entry on the left, she explains the process of making self-portraits at her school, and then goes on to talk and draw about the girls in her church choir. She captions the picture on the right with: “[This was] when the people in the choir were supposed to take the candles up, did not.”
Ever since I found Grace’s diary I’ve been thinking a lot about paper trails. I often worry, since my chosen profession is heavily entwined with internet culture, what tangible things will I have to show for myself to the next generation? Like, what if one day the internet suddenly gets unplugged (yes, I realize there isn’t one big power outlet for the internet, but you get my point!)? If not the Internet, I have faith that we'll all find other projects and other outlets, just like we did pre-Internet, but so many people, like Molly Soda for instance, who've branded themselves from being "Internet Famous," what will happen to them? This is probably why collecting and sketchbooking, the acts of appropriating inspiration in tangible means, have become exceedingly important to me.
I should probably mention that diarist Grace, like myself, was tween in the early 2000’s. In this entry above Grace realizes the meaning of her diary, and realizes that it’s okay to start over: “I will always write with this purple pen. All the stuff before, forget about. The first page is from 2nd grade. Now I am in 5th grade. Just to tell you I am in the car so that is why there is so many mistakes…..Now we are in Lakeville and I am very bored. I wish we could do something fun like go bowling or hiking or maybe go to a friend’s house. I feel like making a story.” Grace then continues on to write a story about The Very Bad Girl named Pretty Petunia. The font is kind of small in the pictures I took, but it’s worth reading.
When I got home from my trip, I signed onto Facebook (okay, so this part of the story would definitely not have been as a easy, if at all possible, before the 21st Century). I know Grace must be just a couple years older than me from the dates on her entries, so I decided to type in her name. I hope this can be seen more as an action akin to Harriet the Spy, and less serial diary killer. Either way, I found her immediately.The girl who once loved making silly stories and singing in her church choir and hated some kid named William in her class, that girl was now growing up at college. It made me excited and also nostalgic, for the version of me that grew up just a few years after Grace did. I almost want to donate one of my diaries now, hoping that it, too, will fall into the lap of a younger girl bestowing some sort of meaning profound for her. Almost.
The original Snooki!
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