Mutations (Reflections on Life)

Lessons From My Younger Self: On Looking Back in Order To Move Forward

Photo Courtesy Of Wikimedia Commons

Photo Courtesy Of Wikimedia Commons

I recently found a box of my old notebooks, writing folders, and diaries. In it, I found entries and drafts of poems that I had written ranging from when I was as young as thirteen years old to when I was a sophomore in college. I’d come across scribbles of a first draft of a poem that I’d eventually ended up performing and marvel at how much the piece had ultimately changed. I’d shudder at the clever turn of a phrase or at the intensity of my own long-forgotten or purposefully tucked away emotion and think, “I wrote that? Wow.” or “Ughhhh, why in the world did I write that?” As I looked through them, I could feel the nostalgia running through my bloodstream. It wasn’t so much nostalgia for those times, as much as it was nostalgia for the girl I used to be: creative, innovative, bold.  I realized that I miss me.

Anyone who knows the current me may be a bit confused. Maybe they would still describe me as “creative, innovative, and bold.” But it’s not the same. I’m not who I used to be. For so many years, I’ve been on this path of “achievement”: school, school again, and soon my profession. And I’ve always been on this path, but it didn’t always take up as much of me. Or maybe it used to seem more compatible with my other interests.

I recently told a fellow writer friend of mine that I admired how open she was with the readers on her blog. I told her I was always wary of what and how much to share because of all the warnings I’ve heard about professionalism and how your social media presence can affect your career. But I never really thought about the impact that my career would have on my artistry, and in turn, my identity. I’ve written before about my difficulties balancing these different areas of my life, but this year I’ve resolved to actually do something about it.

Reading through my old diaries and notebooks also showed me change that I’m satisfied with. I saw the names of people who had taken up pages and pages in my diary, people to whom I haven’t spoken in years. Some of this distance happened by choice; some of it happened with time and circumstance. My mom has always told me that “people come into your life for a reason and for a season,” and I realized that she was right. Some people who used to be fixtures in my daily life were now names in an old record, and I was okay with that.

Not everything was different though. I saw names that I’d previously written about who are still fixtures in my life, some who had previously been more supporting characters and who over time had moved into more central roles. In a diary entry from when I was 15, I reflected on how much I loved The Diary of Anne Frank (which is still one of my all-time favorite books) and how much I could relate to many of Anne’s teenage sentiments. I quoted the following line from the book as a refrain that I had felt was applicable to my own life, “They keep telling me I should talk less, mind my own business, and be more modest, but I seem doomed to failure.”

“I thought that was just me,” I had written in response.

I laughed out loud as I read that line again recently.

“Some things never change,” I thought.

I also read an entry where I complained about me reaching out to people more than they reached out to me. To this day, I’m still trying to find the right balance between reaching and the respect and reciprocity that I expect and deserve.

This free-write from my teen-something self reflects the self-assuredness (with a little creative bravado thrown in) that I was beginning to develop at that point (can you tell that the theme was writing?):

I speed past on a shiny soliloquy

Thoughts transporting me through my day so fast that all you see is punctuation

There are no periods in my world

Just commas, colons, semi-colons, exclamation points, and question marks

Syllables for speed bumps

I don’t see the signs–I make them

Then ignore them

What are traffic laws to a New Yorker?

I write the rage on the road you walk on

Radiant, radical run-ons with no end in sight

My poetic license can never be suspended

I have the write of way every day–every block’s mine

I blow my horn at inaudible decibel levels 

So you never hear me coming

But the impact’s always lethal

So don’t get hit

Cause I don’t yield to pedestrians

Wowww. Aren’t you glad I’m not a teen anymore? I am.

Much of that girl that still resonates with me. She has grown, matured, gained some finesse. This year is about figuring out how to make that girl and the young professional woman forming in my mirror compatible. As I continue to find my way through this maze called adulthood, I hope to find a way to merge the things I miss with the things I must do.

Self-Mutilation (Creative Expressions)

Dying to Write: A Poem In Recognition of the Price of Speech

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I performed this piece called “Dying to Write” at an event last week. After the show one of the audience members told me how much she appreciated it and asked if it would be possible for her to read it somewhere, like on my blog. I have just recently started featuring my creative writing on my blog, and I have yet to post any of my poems, so I guess this one will be the first.

The piece was inspired by this article by Eliza Griswold which appeared in The New York Times Magazine a while back about women in Afghanistan who risk their lives to write poetry, particularly the story of one young girl who committed suicide. As a young woman, and given my own background in spoken word, I was particularly moved by the article and what it revealed to me about the value of both free speech and women’s rights. 

I was reluctant to post the poem because I’m usually wary about analyzing and interpreting global news items through my strictly “Westernized” and “Americanized” lens. So, with that in mind, I will say that this poem is my individual reaction and fictional re-conceptualization of one article. The poem is not based on tons of research, and I don’t claim to be an expert on Afghan women’s rights or foreign policy. It is simply my creative response to what I read. It is intended to be a tribute to women who risk a lot more than just vulnerability in order to express themselves. It is written in the style of The Diary of Anne Frank, one of my favorite books which also reminds me of the importance of young women’s voices.

Dying to Write


Dear Diary,

I have to be more careful.

Brother noticed an ink stain on my hands during dinner this evening.

Mama glared at me and then looked away.

Papa waited for an explanation.

I told him it was dirt.

Must find some of brother’s pencils.

 Paper is a mirror–the lid over my voicebox.


Dear Diary,

I saw him today when I went to hang the clothes out on the line.

Only Mama was home.

I pretended I was having trouble reaching so he could come to assist me.

He asked how old I was and I told him: “I am a peach plucked in March: ripe before my time.”

He smiled.

I did too, but I was not being coy.

It is true.

It is only a lid, not a seal.


Dear Diary,

I’m sorry I have not written in a couple of days.

Brother has been taking my pencils and using them for school.

By the time I find them, the points are all dull.

I hate dull points.

I want to write everything SHARP!

Like I feel it.

Only I’m not supposed to feel.

Whenever I remember that, I read this record, so I can forget it again.

In my voicebox, treasures are hidden. Some people are unworthy of treasure, and others can’t recognize its worth.


Dear Diary,

They tell me that I am to marry my cousin soon.

I want to tell them that I don’t love him, but the lid over my voicebox is not to be removed.

Nor does it matter

Papa already suspects that I’ve been getting too advanced.

He says my words are not like me

But he is wrong

My words are me.

They are the real me, the screws that loosen the lid on my voicebox.

Some want my treasure for themselves, but I keep it for me. And for you, diary.

I may shut my voicebox, but never my mind or my heart.


Dear Diary,

I saw him again today.

He must have heard that I am to be married because he did not smile at me.

He did not even look my way.                                        

My voicebox is silent. My heart is loud. Can’t he hear it?

Dear Diary,

You are missing.

Where are you?

I must collect my thoughts on scraps of paper to keep from going crazy with fear that you have been found.

Papa already says my words are not like me.

What happens when he finds out what I am really like?

My voicebox has been stolen, my treasures pillaged. Who will protect me from my voice?


Dear Diary,

You were on my bed when I returned this evening.

I know Papa has discovered you because I am not allowed to leave the house anymore, not even to hang the clothes on the line.

The wedding is fast approaching and then he will not have to worry about me anymore.

He need not worry.

I will protect me from my voice. I will protect them.


Dear Diary,

I saw him today.

I had to say goodbye.

I snuck out of the house while mama was napping.

He congratulated me on my coming wedding.

“You are a peach plucked in March: ripe before your time, and before I could pick you,” he whispered.

I have poked a hole in my voicebox to match the one in my heart. They are both leaking their contents onto this page.

I hope that I have finally put my pencil to a use that Papa will approve of.

 I will protect me from my voice. I will protect them. My silence will save us all.