Who Are You, What Is This?

I used to chronicle my life compulsively via an online journal. In it, you’d find: complaints about high school and college, thoughts on books I was reading (in addition to the ones for school) and movies I was watching, photos with friends who deigned to give me the time of day, and inside jokes that I’ve long forgotten the origins of. This journal was semi-private in that we had to be “friends” first for you to read it and leave comments. The writer Sarah Manguso discusses her obsessive tendencies to document everything in her life in Ongoingness: The End of a Diary and how a certain event (in her case, motherhood) put a freeze on this compulsion. I feel like I used to be obsessive in this same way, but I can’t really pinpoint any one event as to why the compulsion stopped. Maybe it was because everything started moving too fast for me online, too fast to process. Maybe it was because everything and everyone became too scattered in the digital ether. Regardless, the obsession has not been the same. I still jot down notes to myself, mostly lines for future poems, but I don’t really journal much anymore. Manguso used to be scared that she would forget most of the events in her life and that motivated her compulsions, but I don’t have that same fear anymore. I know I’ll forget and that’s okay. Maybe that’s just getting older, that particular acceptance.

This month, my university hosted a reading with Sarah Manguso that I got to attend. Manguso is a writer who started out as a poet, branched out into lyrical and fragmented nonfiction, and is now writing novels. Her cross-genre work has been helpful in how I think about my thesis, which experiments with form and has a lyric essay at the heart of it. She discussed her frustrations in finding the appropriate mode that fits with the project she envisions, and I often find myself similarly frustrated. I got her to sign her newest book. One of the few things I find invigorating at the end of the world: being among writers and people who still believe in writing.

Even though my online journaling has been much more infrequent in recent years, I feel as if most of my writing has been a kind of journaling. Through it, I’ve been able to chart my changing tastes and moods, my affinities. My literary experiments reflect the current obsession I want to contain in a certain space during a certain time. This has definitely become even more apparent through my thesis writing, which relies on the epistolary and the confessional.

A project that I’ve shelved but may return to after graduation: a sequence of poems (or one long poem?) that is part erasure and part revising of old journal entries. This concept may end up proving more self-indulgent than useful in the end, but who knows. Of course, the “who knows” is always what makes it interesting.

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