I’m going to tell you something I haven’t told a whole lot of people. If I have told, I’ve told after two-and-a-half glasses of wine at 2:13 in the morning, after the majority of people have left the party and it’s just us, sitting there, swapping secrets. Or maybe I’ve admitted it to you in a way that sounds like I’m telling a joke that’s only a punchline—I say it in a way that tells you it’s okay to laugh, it’s okay to make fun. I know it’s silly and ridiculous and self-indulgent and juvenile, and I’ve given you permission to see me that way.
But now, I have zero glasses of wine in me, and I’m not joking, and I’m not telling you this to make me seem cooler than my past-self. I am telling you this because we’re friends, and I trust you. You’re going to think it’s silly and ridiculous and self-indulgent and juvenile, but I can’t just not talk about it anymore.
The thing is: between the ages of eleven and thirteen, I wrote a shit ton of self-insert fanfiction. Self-insert fanfiction is what happens when a writer inserts herself into her fanfiction. She writes about herself and her favorite character falling in love, getting married, having children, and eventually recording an album together (that last one may be very specific to me and my experience). I am not going to tell you who I wrote about, because that is more personal than I’m willing to go in this already very personal piece of writing. But let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that Sarah at that age wanted to marry a blonde man from Harry Potter and a brown haired man from Gilmore Girls.
And still does, really. But that’s beside the point. Sort of. I guess.
Like, just so we’re clear, I wouldn’t NOT marry Draco Malfoy or Jess Mariano if either of them showed up at my house tomorrow and offered to whisk me away to Hogwarts or Stars Hollow, and if either of them is reading this, they shouldn‘t feel deterred.
ANYWAY. Now that you know facts that have eaten away at the guiltiest center of my brain for the past ten years, I’m going to tell you what it all means to me and who I am right now: a recent college graduate who’s home for a couple of months before moving to an entirely different state and re-discovered her old notebooks shoved into a corner under her bed last night.
I have never been a good, consistent journaler. I narrativize my life, to be sure: my best friends know to expect long, unwieldy texts from me after a long and stressful day. I tweet constantly, and lay every asinine thought I have in a day out into a clean stream for anyone on the internet to see. I go to therapy and dialogue my problems with my therapist. If I’m feeling particularly sad or frustrated or stuck, I WILL write a journal-esque entry and bury it deep, deep in my Google docs with a title like “american gov notes 1/23/19.” But it’s not every day, and it never has been.
Except it clearly used to be. Over the past day, I’ve read about 200 pages of self-insert fanfiction that I wrote over three years, every night, as a pre-bedtime ritual. I don’t explicitly air grievances about my day to day middle schooler life in the writing, but it’s there subtextually. I can see how the things I was feeling and seeing and going through were represented in these sappy, saccharine preteen perceptions of romance, adult friendship, and fiscal responsibility. This is what reading that writing now taught me about who I was and what I thought as a kid:
I wanted to be a writer and I wanted to be 5’4”. I wanted to marry a writer, a musician, or a dark wizard.
There are mentions of hot pink velour Juicy Couture tracksuits in more than one place. I also talk about crimping my hair at one point, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t know what that meant.
Madonna, for some reason, shows up in the Gilmore Girls one. Taylor Lautner is also there. There is reference to now-D-list Hollywood couple Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt, who I’m pretty sure aren’t a couple anymore? But maybe they are? Who knows. It’s 2019. The Hills is coming back. All bets are off.
The height of romance is sleeping in separate beds until your wedding night, even when you’re living together. It is also yelling at each other until someone laughs. It’s ALSO constantly telling your partner how in love you are with them, and how beautiful they are—this last part has absolutely no connection to the fact that I was definitely reading Twilight as I was writing these.
22 is the perfect age to get married. All I wanted from my wedding day was a hair and makeup team, a romantic first dance, and “to get more attention than I ever had” (this is the only direct quote you’re getting today).
Housewarming parties occur the day you move into a new apartment, and they consist of you and all your friends splatter painting a bare white bedroom wall. To get a plane ticket, you have to call the airport, and that’s it. Apartment 110 is on the third floor of a building. When you publish a novel, your income comes from royalty checks sent to you directly from bookstores. Madonna takes you shopping in Hollywood to get a dress for your husband’s movie premiere (seriously, I’ve never even really been a big fan of Madonna. Why is she there? Had I just watched A League of Their Own? Did I discover Like a Prayer that year? This is the one thing I can’t explain away).
I am constantly justifying how I can afford the things I have in these fictional worlds, constantly feeding myself more money to allow myself to follow my passions. The biggest luxury is having my own subscription to Entertainment Weekly. The best gift someone could give me for my first year wedding anniversary is Beatles Rock Band.
Between the gag-inducing romantic scenes and possibly very out of character declarations of love from these famously withholding fictional guys, there is such a deep affection for the worlds of the things I’m writing myself into. I notice that the narratives, if outlandish, always follow the rules of the worlds. I notice that I would erase and rewrite dialogue from non-me, non-love-interest characters over and over until it sounded like it could conceivably come out of a character of that world’s mouth, which shows me something about where I’ve ended up.
I’m telling you all of this because it was really valuable for me, ten years later, to look back on the stuff I produced and see what has changed. What has been brought into perspective. What hasn’t (obviously, I’ve yet to have a great romance, so some of the sweet boy stuff I wrote for 12-year-old me still sounds pretty good).
I’ve been having a really difficult time remembering who I am in this weird post-grad, pre-first-post-grad-job time. To quote the seminal Cotton-Eyed Joe, revisiting middle school Sarah’s inner life has reminded me where I come from and where I can go. It’s reminded me that it’s okay for priorities to change over time—that it’s okay for me to change over time as I learn and experience new things. To be sure, I would be mortified if anyone ever read these novel-length piles of angst and fear and desire, but maybe I’ll feel that way in ten years about the things I write today.
I hope that I’m always able to look at the things I’m writing in the context in which I was writing them. I hope that, even if I’m really embarrassed about something I used to be proud of, that I can always see what it was that led me to be proud of it.
I hope that I will experience a million new, wonderful things that will give me a million reasons to be embarrassed about the people I used to be. I think that’s all we can hope for.