Amelia’s Notebooks (Except for Words and Pictures By Me)

One of the great failures of my young life was my inability to consistently keep a diary. Let us hope that this blog constitutes a break in that pattern.

As a young girl, I bought or begged for innumerable diaries—ones covered in sparkles, stamped with pictures of animals, elegant black and white affairs which came packaged with calligraphy sets or fountain pens. If my mother relented, I would happily skip home in her shadow, clutching my prize and airily dreaming of the literary marvels which would soon bloom amongst the stark black lines of my new journal.

Many writers have spoken of the maddening taunt of a blinking cursor or a blank page, but the swathe of white which immediately confronts a new diary owner once seemed to me the most intimidating spectacle in the world. The weight of expectation hung heavy around me every time I opened a diary, and I was often too afraid to even touch my fancy new pens.

To me, writing in a diary seemed monumental. All of the diaries I had read up to that point had featured historical figures or momentous events—people traversing the country in covered wagons or enduring the upheaval of a war-torn landscape. But my life was not the stuff of history books or epic novels or even made-for-TV movies. I couldn’t stand the thought of future archeologists unearthing the diary of a 21st century girl and immediately collapsing in boredom over its mundane contents. Talk about the definition of self-conscious!

But the wonderful thing about Amelia’s notebooks is that they validate journaling as a valuable pursuit, regardless of the relative banality of its contents. Marissa Moss writes from the perspective of a preteen girl—detailing the daily tragedies and triumphs of youth and its unselfconscious egotism. Amelia has complete confidence in the vitality of her writing and the consequence of her problems—whether they consist of moving to a new state, fighting with her best friend, or saving money to buy a ridiculously cool new pair of shoes. Moss does not patronize her creation or her readers with pat resolutions, but allows Amelia to work through her own problems in ways that prioritize realism over drama.

Amelia’s notebooks are filled with the protagonist’s scribbles and doodles and funny asides—taking the time to delve into the passing thoughts that others would easily discard—depicting her older sister’s bedroom as a layered archeological site or anthropomorphizing socks, rocks, lunchboxes, or stamps with the casual creativity of a child. As a little girl, I delighted in Amelia’s little notes and drawings which bordered every page—even the publication page was crammed with little witticisms! It read like a journal I could write—although I remained too hesitant (and not nearly diligent enough) to create my own.

I will be honest. I wrote the first part of this blog entry without a clear idea about its direction or ultimate purpose. Like this blog in general, I knew what I liked and what I loved to talk about, but I wasn’t sure how to translate it to the page or make it interesting for others. In fact, I have been sitting on this blog entry for months—it’s become disturbingly reminiscent of my old diary days actually.

But then I discovered a practical application for this idea—the concept of reclaiming childhood, of being shamelessly childish in the best possible way. At the moment I am studying abroad in eastern France—it sounds wonderful, as it should be. I am living in a town out of fairytale and being hosted by a woman with all of the hallmarks of a fairy godmother (apart from the incidentals like wings and a wand). I am immensely privileged to be where I am now. But despite all of this, I was a wreck before I left. I was terrified to leave my home and my family, but as I sat at the breakfast table on the morning of my flight, I stepped into Amelia’s world for a moment.

As I ate my cereal I imagined I was getting ready to leave for space camp and scribbling in my marbled notebook in the meantime. Panic became anticipation. Anxiety became excitement. The sadness I felt at the thought of leaving my parents became impatience to conquer this new peak of independence. Through the eyes of a child, what I had begun to see as a terrifying leap into adulthood became a grand adventure.

And it didn’t stop at security, or the gate, or upon arrival at Saint-Exupéry airport. More than 2 weeks into my life in France, I have yet to be struck by the gut-churning homesickness I have long anticipated. And I really do believe that I have Amelia to thank for that.

Reclaiming Childhood

Tonight, for the first time in years, I was genuinely giddy about reading a book.

From the desk of a literature major, this statement could be interpreted as a commentary on the sad state of the American education system (or perhaps an indication that I had a chosen the wrong course of study). But the reality is a bit more complicated.

Some days, I feel that adulthood (or at least my approximation of it) has sapped my enthusiasm for reading. Gone are the days of loitering at the scholastic book fair with my classmates until our teacher lost her patience. Climbing into bed in flannel pajamas to read Jane Eyre under the stark glow of my bedside lamp feels like a memory from a past life. Tucking my knees under my chin as I listened to my Dad read aloud from Moby Dick now sounds like I cribbed the memory from a quaint novel.

Reading has now become a dutiful nightly task. A chore in my ongoing quest for societal validation. I approach reading now as a parishioner might approach the lectern to recite a chosen verse—as a matter of duty rather than a personal pleasure.

As I scroll back through the last few years of my life, I struggle to pinpoint the moment this reversal occurred. I suspect it happened sometime around the age of 14, when I entered high school. I stopped reading for myself, and started reading to craft an image of myself in the minds of others. I perceived myself as an Austenian heroine—literary, witty, and, of course, noticeably superior to every one around me.

I read and spoke and reasoned for my classmates, my friends, my family—with little regard for my own enjoyment or my own interests. I was Pygmalion and Galatea, the sculptor and the sculpted. I strove to be impressive in all things. Or rather, I strove to impress, the substance irrelevant. Look, now! I am doing it again! And yet there is no one here to impress!

Yes, exactly. No one here to impress. I write entirely for myself now. There is no one looking over my shoulder. No wire-rimmed professor gnawing a pen over my prose.

And I’ll tell you (you, the amorphous you, who are you?) why. I finally return to the book that inspired this rumination. The one that made me giddy? You remember.

It was a children’s book. A book that holds no pretentions—that exists purely for the joy of reading. A joy that had become so elusive to me is now in my grasp (it wriggles, but I hold it steady). I am smiling—the pages flip by and I do not count them. I wish there were more, in fact.

This spurred a realization: I am not content to live a life made just for pictures or a social media highlight reel. I want to embrace my passions and interests, regardless of what everyone around me is doing. I don’t want to think in terms of résumé builders or keeping up with the Joneses. I want to recapture the mindset of childhood me. I will regain the flush of discovery, the unselfconscious enjoyment of books and movies made for delighting, not dissecting.

I will be shamelessly childish.