First Person Limited: Narrating My Life

Well, readers, I’m back — at least for now. It’s been a bumpy couple of weeks, but I’m looking forward to getting back on track and focusing my efforts on various writing projects, including dear Frankasaurus, here. It follows, then, that in this post, writing is what I want to… write about.

You know how you hear parents say things like, “I always knew she would grow up to love singing because we couldn’t get her to stop doing it when she was little,” or “We knew he’d grow up to be an athlete because he excelled at so many sports before he even got to middle school” and such? It’s easy to look at little kids and see the things they’re doing and say that they’ll have successful futures doing X work. All because they demonstrate that one characteristic or hobby that tips people off early on.

What isn’t apparent to the naked eye is what’s going on in the mind. I suppose there’s significant evidence that suggests that those thoughts manifest themselves somehow, that there’s some kind of creative outlet. People couldn’t see into my brain, so even though I was always writing, no one could see where it all was coming from or how it got started.

I narrate everything in my head.

(Please tell me that I’m not the only person who does this.)

My last couple of posts have been all about pouring my heart out, and this time I’m giving you a secret. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been narrating my whole life in my head. This is probably a pretty significant contributing factor in why I would sometimes do anything to get my mind to shut up. I’m always thinking. I have no off-switch.

Now, when I say I narrate everything, I don’t mean in third person because, well… that would be weird. Interesting, but weird. Although when I was in early elementary school, I can recall doing that from time to time.

If I had to guess, I’d say that my love of books is what drove this internal characteristic into being. I read constantly, voraciously, as a child. The only thing I ever got in trouble for at school was rushing through my work so that I could take my book out of my desk and get lost in it. Except then I’d stop paying attention. When I got to Jr. High, it got really bad. I’d sit in the back of my Life Sciences class and read during lectures. Then my teacher started coming back and taking my books away from me.

What a jerk.

Do you ever find yourself so absorbed in a book that you start to think and act like the characters? If you read a lot of fiction, you probably know what I’m talking about, although I suppose the same could be said of certain nonfiction volumes. I feel as though what probably happened was that I didn’t just temporarily go into character. I became a walking book.

I’m a first person limited narrator, obviously. Wouldn’t it be sweet to be omniscient? Eh, actually, probably not. There are a lot of things that I’m glad I don’t know. I don’t want to know, either. I think and suspect enough without having things confirmed for me. When those things are confirmed, it just gets really bad.

And so it seems that after a few years of this constant narration and thinking of my whole entire life in terms of a story (which, by the way, would certainly speak to how I developed a flair for dramatic flare-ups), I decided I would start emulating the people who wrote the books that I loved.

I know I was writing well before this, but I can distinctly remember getting my first journal in the summer of 1991. I was 8 years old and my Gram used to come over and take my sister and me to do stuff sometimes. On one of our many trips to the Dollar Store (a place my Gram loved), I found a blank journal.

A blank notebook of any kind is one of the most exciting things I can think of. I’m serious. There are so many possibilities. You can fill it with just about anything — stories, notes, knowledge, pictures, for example — and then you have it to look back on and refer to whenever you need it.

I had to have that journal.

I took it home and sat it by my bed. The next morning I woke up really early, telling myself that I was going to start my journal that day. It was an exciting time. Everyone else in my house was still asleep and the sun was just beginning to show through the window of my bedroom. I slipped out of bed and crept over to my desk to retrieve a pencil, then returned to my bed to write.

Like so many writers big and small, I had some trouble getting started. This wasn’t just a scrap of paper. This was an actual book with a picture on the front of its hard cover. This was serious business. The pressure was immense. I put the pencil to the paper and…

Started writing in third person, explaining with too many adjectives the sunrise I was witnessing outside my window and how I’d just woken up to it. It was weird to keep referring to myself as “she,” though, so I stopped after about two or three sentences and put wavy lines through all of my words.

Right below it, I started again, but this time in first person. I found that the words flowed a lot easier that way. In fact, I still prefer writing in first person to third any day (I have two NaNo novels in progress — one first and one third. The first person one, in my mind, anyway, is the better of the two).

Journaling gave me a way to write about my life as though it were a story, which somehow made me feel like it was all more exciting than it actually was. Part way through that book, though, I stopped. Now that I think about it, that was probably my first case of “mid-story blues.” What made me stop most of all, though, was that there was no lock on that book. Anyone could read it — even my little sister who could absolutely NOT be trusted with any of my secrets, least of all any mention of any boy. If she read a boy’s name, she would automatically tell my parents. They would all think I had a crush on this boy, and they would all tease me until I wanted to bury my head in my green turtle sandbox.

I must have been a really weird and [slightly] depressing kid. Anxiety is a killer.

So I asked for a diary. One with a lock. On Christmas morning that year, I opened one up, so excited and eager to begin writing. There was only one problem: the key was missing. It was useless! In a temper tantrum characteristic of my dad’s side of the family, I got mad and tossed the diary aside, complaining about what a jerk Santa was for bringing me something worthless.

White kid problems, I know. I’m thankfully not that ungrateful anymore.

In any case, a couple days later, my mom took me to JCPenney’s, her place of employment at the time, with the receipt that Santa had just happened to leave her (I remember thinking that he left adults some really crappy presents). We exchanged it for a diary with a key.

And, oh the secrets that I wrote! I’ve re-read this diary so many times as I’ve grown up. I always find it funny because I was taking it so seriously.

“I’m not allowed to tell anyone, but my mom is going to have a baby! I told my best friend Michelle.” [Note: that former fetus known as my brother graduated from high school on Monday.]
“Jason P. is soooo cute!”
“When Stephanie and Kim and I are at recess we watch the boys playing sports. It’s like a shopping mall full of cute boys.”
“Today Drew and me talked about what is the best Nintendo game.”
“I heard a new song today. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. I like it.”

That last one kills me. I was so onto the grunge scene when I was in 3rd grade. Hello, trend-spotter!  Also, the further away that gets, the older I feel because I can remember when that was BRAND new. I remember it most because I wrote about it in my diary. Kurt Cobain has been dead for SEVENTEEN YEARS.

A few years later, I returned to the journal format. I didn’t like how I was limited in space per day in the diary, as it turns out (who, me? write a lot?). Last year I shared that journal (which I also took seriously) with a few friends and a very trusted former student. They all got quite the kick out of it. Especially when I got to 7th grade and signed my entry by saying, “Oh my Josh, I’m not Joshin’, I’m a total Joshaholic!”

7th grade was a weird time. I hadn’t yet fully realized that I wasn’t like everyone else, but I just kept trying to be. Everything was PROFOUNDLY dramatic. Such is the nature of teenage girls. And girls in general. If you know a female who isn’t really dramatic at least sometimes, you probably don’t really know her at all. Or she’s a robot. But I digress.

I kept journals throughout most of high school and college. Sometimes I think about setting fire to them because I don’t want to remember some of the stuff I wrote. Other times I know that it’s important because that’s who I was. Who I was became who I am. There’s always something to learn from history.

Going the digital route made it a lot easier, too, but it changed the content dramatically. I got a live journal right after I graduated from high school. I stopped updating shortly after arriving at college, and picked it up again in my sophomore year. For six or seven years, then, I wrote in that thing almost every day. Sometimes multiple times. I like that I can relive college memories, but the problem was that it made it way too easy to whine about everything (a problem I still have with social media, but I’m sure you’ve noticed that) and too difficult to write about the things that were really important to me because anyone could read them. My last update was on my 25th birthday. Then I took to blogging as I know it now, but even that is always changing and evolving.

Still, even though I blog regularly, these posts aren’t quite so much about what’s going on in my life as they are about parts of a whole. These are essays, analytical and introspective pronouncements, not journal entries. Part of me really misses that daily recap, and I’ve recently toyed with the idea of starting yet another blog or a Tumblr (because I’m so hipster), or something where I can just keep a brief account of interesting things that happen in my life, thoughts that I have, and other things. Things that I won’t necessarily share with everyone (thank goodness privacy settings have come a long way). I can control who has access to such things now, not that I have a lot of secrets to keep. I do have a lot of thoughts that shouldn’t escape my head, though. That’s been happening to me way too often lately, and it’s not good when it does. I need a safe place to vent those things that exists out in cyberspace, but locked up. Then again, is anything ever locked up? Do I really want to trust my story out there somewhere? (There goes that excessive chain-of-questioning that I mentioned in the last post.)

So I’m really interested to know if anyone else’s inner monologue is nothing but narration. If it is, first of all, thank you for making me feel less like a freak, and also, do you think that contributed at all to your feelings about writing? If not, what inspired you to write in whatever ways you do? Let’s get some conversation going in the comments section, shall we?

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13 thoughts on “First Person Limited: Narrating My Life

  1. You are not alone! My brain talks to itself constantly. Or I talk to myself, in my head, without really being aware of what I’m doing? It can be garble, script-like, a first-person narrative or poetry. And I do think these thoughts have been contributed by, and contribute to, my writing. I have NEVER kept a written journal successfully and your post has made me very curious; why did I start a blog? Why do I enjoy it and plan to keep it when I dislike traditional journal writing so much? The answer: I’m not entirely sure! But I think it has something to do with developing a dialogue with other writers. I have never felt like I’ve needed to write in a journal, with myself as the primary reader, because my head is doing a fab job of it already. They only hard-copy writing I do is the creative sort, whereas this space is more of a direct tap to my mind-waves. In order for me to engage with others, there’s a little bit of context for my creative seeds.

    I hope that wasn’t too long! Great post :)

    • No too long at all, and thank you for commenting! So glad to know I’m not the only person doing this :) … I wondered if maybe it was a characteristic of writers or if I just lost it a long time ago, haha. You bring up an interesting point about disliking journal writing so much but enjoying blog writing. To me the two are quite linked, but I know many bloggers who aren’t and never were journal writers. In many ways the styles are the same, but in many ways they’re different. That’s definitely something I hadn’t really considered.

      Great comments!

  2. I woke up this morning to find I new blog posted on freanksheepfoot. She had posted about narrating her life in her head. Do I do that, too, I asked myself. Not really, I thought, my interior monologue is more of a conversation between myself and… myself. Although, if I had to be honest with myself, sometimes I do have that conversation between myself and other–real and imaginary–people, I added. I wondered if this use of dialogue is why I’d tended to favor the script format in my writing….

    Ok, I don’t think I can keep that prose style up for much longer. But I wanted to say something about the journal thing. I used to try to keep a journal all the time when I was younger because everybody told me that serious writers keep journals. But I never could do it for more than, like, two days in a row. Even my LiveJournal was only about 30% personal stuff. The rest was either memes or blogs. I don’t see a similarity between the two formats, at least in my writing style, anyway. For me, blogs are informal essays that I can be creative with–I can go from totally serious to absolutely absurd (see yesterday’s blog). When I write about personal stuff, it sounds like eloquent whining. I still keep several journals around, but they’re mostly used to write down story ideas, or do character sketches, or make Top Five Records to Listen to While Baking Oatmeal Cookies lists.

    • Haha, I got a kick out of that first paragraph. :)

      I think that the two are somewhat linked, but I think it’s mostly because for me, one led to the other. I totally agree with you about blogs being more creative (I think “informal essay” hits the nail on the head). My personal stuff is also mostly eloquent whining, but I write it anyway because I think it’s important to take the good with the bad. It’s just another form of [over]analyzation to me. I do prefer blogs to journals, I just miss having that record to remind me of what happened — reading my old LJ from college gave me some really good memories (like the “Your Mom” pumpkin — I read about that maybe a month ago and then got super excited when you said you’d found the picture. Which leads me to my next point about fascination with how we aren’t the only creators of our stories anymore thanks to Web 2.0….).

      My list would be “Top Five Records to Listen to While BURNING Oatmeal Cookies.” :)

  3. Oh, you’re most definitely not a freak. Let me let you in on a secret. I wrote journals all the time as I narrated my life. I still do occasionally when I’m in the car by myself. I dont journal as much anymore, since I mostly just do the blog thing. But when I was in high school and college, I did all the time. And…..I sometimes journaled in the third person. I remember senior year of high school when I would write in my journal in the third person like it was the news, except they were “Prom Dates.” I even used quotes that came directly from “Brindle Camp.” It was quite lame in retrospect, but it seemed like the most important thing back then. It’s probably what got me through. Sometimes I go back one year ago to whatever day it is, and see what I wrote about then. Sometimes it still rings true and other times it’s more like “Wow, what WERE you thinking??” And sometimes I’m just….profound. I plan on hanging onto them because I still think some of these thoughts and/or feelings will prove useful in a future novel….probably not direct quotes though. :)

    • Oh my gosh — I do that one year ago thing too! I don’t always have to look at what I wrote because I have this weird tendency to remember, but I always thought it was super weird that I did that. Especially when people yell at me and tell me to stop living in the past, haha. I’ve enjoyed looking back at the LiveJournal from college though and seeing how I’ve grown and evolved (and in some cases, not changed at all). That’s what I love about writing. It’s such a progression that way. When I think about writing in the 3rd person in a journal how you described doing it, it actually sounds kind of awesome. Like writing your own memoir-in-action, but placing yourself out of context … or something like that. Hmm.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  4. I still have a box full of old diaries. Some with locks and some without. I cringe when I read them, even though there is an undertone of awesomeness to the embarrassment. Have you heard of… what’s it called? I think they just call it Mortified- it’s an event where people get up onstage and read something they wrote when they were kids. They were playing some clips from a show on the CBC and I almost drove off the road I was laughing/shaming so hard.

    May I also have a sticker and join the slightly anxious/depressed writergirl secret club? I HEART journals and notebooks. Currently rocking the plain spiral bound, but that box I mentioned is full of ballet shoe, unicorn and gold embossed covers. If I had a pretty notebook right now, I could write ‘i Heart notebooks’ in it.

    PS. I don’t narrate… I do dialogue. CONSTANTLY. Sometimes as myself (check that- a sexier, funnier, smarter version of myself) sometimes as a character. Other participants in dialogue not required. Sometimes as I get older I worry that I’m actually talking out loud while my housemate is home, so I have to yell downstairs and ask him if I was talking to myself. Mortified! :)

    • Haha, loved the “I Heart Notebooks” bit :) — You’re obviously invited to join the club! Oh my gosh, tell me you love office supplies too and I’ll be convinced that we really have the same brain, lol. I love notebooks and pens and things to keep it all together. I’ve been rocking the spiral-bounds lately too.

      I’ve never heard of that Mortified event, but I’m certainly going to try to look it up online now!

  5. Clearly, you are my sister from another mister. Haha.
    I went on a youtube search just last night- there are loads of mortified clips. Look for the ones posted by mortifiedmedia. The tale of Will Seymour and the Mortified players’ reading of a screenplay a guy wrote back in 1993 when he was 15 are my top two picks.
    I wish I would put some story in my ding dang notebook lately.
    Have a wonderful sunday, there.

  6. I have been devouring books since I was probably four years old and constantly narrate my life to myself, never aloud but I do talk to myself often – in public if I truly lose all self consciousness (which happens less than I’d like truth be told). I googled narrating my life inside my head and found this, a relief? Most certainly!

  7. Just happened across this post. I’ve been internally narrating since before I could remember. It’s been frustrating me lately. Oddly enough I search internal narration and this turned it. It’s good to know there’s some like-minded people out there, and I might not be completely crazy. Or at least I’m in good company!

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