Switching gears from fiction to memoir: writing to relate

When the only daughter of my big sister graduated from high school in June, I put a slideshow together to help her celebrate. Watching her grow up in pixels to lyrics of Hilary Duff’s “I Am,” I was inspired to pull out journals from that transformative period in my own life.

GX6750 Brother typewriterFor many days, I pored over my spiral notebooks—mostly handwritten, but with some entries created on my Brother daisywheel typewriter, typed and stapled to each page—and read about my senior year of high school through college graduation. What a journey! So much life packed into such a short time, divvied up by semesters and summers.

I was able to cull some life lessons about relationships with parents, roommates, friends, and boys that I was able to impart to her in about 3,000 words, with carefully selected sections from my freshman year of college to provide context. My experiences were fascinating to me, but I wasn’t sure if she would like reading about them.

Here was her response:

I SO appreciate your journals and advice. Some of your tidbits have really stuck with me, (especially about boys), and I am very, very grateful to have such wonderful and relatable advice. In all the “How to get through college” books, it always seems so distant and sterile, but yours is gritty and real and I love that. I’m looking forward to having a chance to really get into your journals, I’ve greatly enjoyed what I’ve read so far! If you ever come up with some more advice on college or life, I would love it.

Gritty and real? Yey! I was blown away by her words and so happy that my experiences from 20-25 years ago are still relevant to her today.

The rite of passage from child to adult has, for the Millennial Generation, remained basically unchanged—in spite of the Internet, Smartphones, and Facebook. Although, in “He’s Just Not That Into You,” Drew Barrymore’s rant about rejection resonates: “now you just have to go around checking all these different portals just to be rejected by seven different technologies. It’s exhausting.”

Throughout our teens and twenties, we still need to figure out who we are, what really matters to us (not just to our parents), how involved we’ll allow God to be in our lives, who our life mate will be, and where we fit into the world. Why am I here? What is my purpose? Questions we tend to stop asking ourselves as we grow older.

My niece helped me rethink the whole reason I started writing in the first place: to capture everything on paper so that when I was older and far removed from that time in life, I’d be able to relate to someone else going through it and maybe even help them. At the time, I thought I’d be helping my own kids, but having none (by choice, don’t worry), I’m thinking I may be on to something here. What a thrill to discover that all that journaling back then has helped someone I love right now.

This “aha” moment has been reinforced recently by several unplanned conversations with twenty-somethings at family gatherings—amazing young people struggling to find the love of their life or trying to establish their career. Searching, thinking, praying…

Next up for me: I’ve put aside novel number two and am focusing on transcribing my journals while taking notes to see what takes shape. Another work of fiction? Creative nonfiction? A memoir? I’ll also be started grad school in September, so finding writing time will be a bit more challenging.

Next up for my niece: Journal entries from my sophomore year.

Do you have journals capturing your transformation from child to adult? What nuggets of wisdom would you share with my niece?