I’ve been journaling most of my life–even when I didn’t know there was a name for what I was doing. It was my way of making myself relevant in a household where children did as they were told without discussion. My siblings and I abided by the rules and kept the “why(s)” to ourselves. Discordant body language or words of disagreement could send us to our rooms, cause the forfeiture of dessert, or the loss of playtime.
My first experience with personal writing came after being disciplined for the infraction of another one of the rules–we had to eat everything on our plates whether we liked it or not. My wrinkled nose and an unfavorable critique of my mother’s UN-caramelized (steamed) onions that looked distinctively like worms, left me sitting at the dining room table until each slimy ring had been consumed. I tried every way I could think of to eat the offending vegetable and gagged as soon as the fork passed my teeth. Finally, I came up with a plan–I discretely wrapped loops of the onion around several fingers and quickly stuffed them into my grimy white socks in one fell swoop. I shuddered as I flattened them the best I could under my anklets.
I was jubilant as the last onion ring had been put to rest. The dishes were washed, dried, and put away–a perk of my solitary time at the table trying to make the awful onions disappear. Going straight to my room, I scraped the smelly ankle bracelet into one sock wiped my leg dry with the other. I folded them into each other and threw them into the back of my closet.
I grabbed my notebook, and instead of doing my homework, I began to write. I made up several different titles for my forthcoming rant: I Hate Onions; How to Make Onions Disappear; and, How to Make A Steamed Onion Bracelet. For the next half hour, I wrote about the detestable vegetable. After listing as many cons as I could come up with, I expanded my writing to include how unfair it was to force me to consume something that made me sick just to think about. And, why, I wondered, didn’t I have a say about food I actually liked to eat. Was refusing to eat a yucky vegetable a crime, or just a rule of life that one must eat vile tasting food to be allowed to enjoy dessert?
That was the beginning of my conversations with myself. I began writing my thoughts, my anger, my happy and unhappy moments in my notebook. I had a place to voice my opinions, and even as young as I was, I noticed when my opinions changed slightly to support my in-the-moment thoughts. When I had no pressing emotional issue occupying my preadolescent mind, I thought a lot about my day-to-day existence such as finally making it to the end of the monkey bars on my first attempt. Although I thought it was a major school ground achievement, I also wondered how many of the boys got a glimpse of my underwear as I swung from one rung to another. I stuck a pair of shorts in my bookbag to put on at recess–a direct result of those conversations with myself.
I made lists of things and people that I liked and those that I didn’t. I was so brutally honest in my assessments I forced myself to find something good to say, as well. That took the most time and was, oddly, the most satisfying.
My notebook was half-filled when my mother noticed the odor coming from my room. I was at school when she decided to do a deep cleaning of my closet where the smell was concentrated. By that time, there were several pairs of wadded socks filled with enough dried veggies to make a small soup: those detestable onions, the mealy Lima beans, and the shredded florets of cauliflower.
When I arrived home that day the food-filled socks were sitting in a bowl on my bed. My notebook lay next to the bowl. My insides went cold. Not only were my actions exposed, but my notebook with all my innermost thoughts had been read by my mother. I waited for her to come into my room. I listened for stomping feet or a slamming door, but the house was quiet. I picked up my notebook to find a brown Naugahyde journal with a brass lock and key underneath. A note was attached with a piece of tape.
Do not put food in your socks again.
You must try a bite of any food you think you don’t like, but you don’t have to eat it all.
My roast does not taste like shoe leather.
I’m glad you conquered the monkey bars, but I’m even happier that you took your shorts to school.
You write well, keep it up and use the dictionary.
That night we had roast beef, corn, and mashed potatoes. I cleaned my plate.
Today, I journal as often as I can. It’s a tool I use to make sense of an idea or simply understand the life that circles me. Journaling is the writers’ way of turning an intangible thought into . . . onions. You can feel the same dry crinkly robe that covers the purple, yellow, and white orbs of the same family, but each is so diverse in scent, texture, and taste. As I peel each layer away, I find something different or something similar. An onion is more than a vegetable to be chopped, cooked, or even, stashed in a sock. It can make you cry; it can add an interesting, intense flavor, and a sharp earthy aroma; or it can make you gag.
The onions in your life have stories to tell. Focus, concentrate–try to find them.