Voices from the Past
By Christine Gunderson
I didn’t have a best friend when I was fourteen years old. I had many lovely friends, but not one soul-mate, Before Anyone Else kind of best friend.
Like all fourteen-year old girls, I had a lot going on inside my head and inside my heart. I had unrequited love and parental idiocy and the horrors of algebra to discuss. I needed an outlet.
So, I invented a best friend. Yes, I was one of those kids. Her name was Emily. I borrowed the name from the Emily of New Moon character created by L.M. Montgomery. I loved Emily. I could tell her anything and she was always there, available to listen, because she lived inside my bedroom in the empty pages of a diary.
I called it a journal, however. I couldn’t refer to it as a diary, because that sounded like a silly teenaged girl locked in her pink bedroom with a poster of the Soloflex Man on the wall writing trivial stories of crushes and heartache and dreams and ambitions and love. I was way too cool for that. So even though this is exactly what I was writing about in my diary, I called it a journal.
I started writing in this journal at fourteen and I continued to write it in, almost daily, certainly weekly, for the next twenty-two years. I stopped writing in my journal when I got married. I’m not sure why. Maybe my husband took the place of the best friend and confidant I’d found on paper all those years ago. Or maybe it’s because I had children shortly after, and just didn’t have time.
How does this relate to voice? Well, anytime I need to be reminded how a teenaged girl thinks and feels, I dig into an old trunk filled with my journals and travel back in time to eavesdrop on a conversation with myself.
I can visit myself at fourteen. Or sixteen or seventeen. I see the deep blue scratches and heavy pen marks and exclamation points of strong emotion everywhere in those journals. It reminds me that I felt everything deeply when I was a young adult.
I read the words I used to describe my mother, the best mother a girl could possibly have, and who I love deeply as an adult, but who I described at fourteen as “beyond irritating.”
I see evidence of insta-love everywhere. “Insta-love” for the non-writers among us, is a term used to describe a book where the heroine and hero fall in love too fast, with no real basis for their affection. But insta-love was a major feature of my journals. I was always falling into insta-love, with Matthew Broderick and Harrison Ford and the boy I saw at the mall but never spoke to. It wasn’t love of course. But it felt like love, and that’s the point.
Everything felt like deep love or all-consuming hate or lethal boredom or explosive excitement. Like all young adults, then and now, I felt everything. Everything.
I’m now many years removed from the fourteen-year-old girl who started those journals. I’m middle aged. The thing I feel most often these days is tired. Or mildly irritated. And so, when I write, I go back to those journals and visit myself again when I was seventeen. That girl was smart, sarcastic, curious, passionate, romantic and above all, she was in love with words and with books. When I write Young Adult books, I write them for her.