Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Excavating some old journals, I found these entries from Past Kirsten:

Wednesday, 6-22-94 (11 years old)

Today at Kidzart Camp we acted out the passageway of death in Greek Mythology.  I got really interested so I went to the library and checked out a book about all the Greek Gods, Goddesses and mortal heroes.  So far my favorites have all been goddesses or women.  Here are some of them: Artemis, Athena, Cassandra, Demeter, Hera (and two more I can't remember).  A lot of the goddesses + women were helpless, but these women were smart and often beat men.

Thursday, 5-11-95 (12 years old)

I have been writing every day for a week today.  Today was pretty regular.  I have also decided not to be so studious.  I am not saying that I'll never do my homework or anything like that.  I'll still try to get A's and good grades on tests but just to be more loose and not feel pressured to do schoolwork all the time.  I desperately want a pair of brown or forest green or white or dark blue corduroys.  I also need a bra that doesn't always show the straps.  Socks too!

Friday, 5-12-95

I can't wait until Monday because we get to go on our band trip.  The day we've been promised for so long is finally coming near.  I am going to bring my discman and have a seat by myself since I'm not much of a talker on road trips.  I have had a pretty good day.  Nicole is spending the night tonight.  In fact my day has been pretty exciting today.  More in other journals.  (Because I actually had six at the time.)

Friday, 12-22-95

Dear Signifa (I had now named the diary),

Only 3 more days till Christmas!  I know I'm being a bit materialist but I think everyone is in a small way.  Today I read a lot of Emily of New Moon.  It's a very sweet and good book.  We went to a friend's house which was sort of fun (being completely honest.)  I stayed up till 12:00 watching a movie about a dysfunctional family and I got a new book from Caroline, The Scarlet Letter.  I can already tell that I'm going to love it!  Each phrase drips with beautiful, rich words and it seems to be an inhuman struggle with pain and suffering which always appeals to me!  Ciao!
While visiting beautiful Doe Bay Resort on Orcas Island a month ago, I took a George Eliot biography from the leave-a-book, take-a-book shelf.  Now two days into an immersion and reconnection with one of my favorite novelists--especially from my formative years--I have enjoyed the portions I've devoured thus far regarding Eliot's youth.  Painfully gifted, exceedingly self-critical, and yet immensely motivated to win approval (and love), I think her story might ring a few bells of recognition for most of us adults that grew up as bookish, shy, and awkward children.  I know it certainly does for me!

I include most of of these old diary entries of mine simply because they make me laugh, but I was also surprised, on looking through some of my old journals and papers (being a prodigious diarist at the time) at how--alongside the predictably hilarious laments about acne and sixth grade crushes--I was clearly preoccupied with my school success and fledgling intellectual endeavors , holding myself to a rigid standard of excellence.  Of course this makes sense, as at the time I was a plain and oft-teased girl without the charms of bubblyness and prettiness that usually endear little girls to adults and peers.  I was too tall and had little to no interest in sports or other rowdy games.  Any extant picture from that time has been shoved into the deepest, darkest drawer of my old desk, so you'll just have to take my word for it: picture a stork with a pot belly, bowl cut, braces, and huge round glasses.  Banded together with the few friends I had (all of whom were also bookish, and remain close friends to this day), I found that the one thing I could do was schoolwork.  I loved to read (of course), and alongside this, I had an ambitious streak, and found that mastering schoolwork was the sole route available to me for distinguishing myself and winning praise.  Because, oh yes, like anyone, I loved praise.  I was not in it merely for the joy of learning.  It surprises me to find diary entries dating back to the 4th grade in which I recorded staying up until nearly midnight in order to study and complete assignments.  Fourth grade!  Apparently, I have been working on those procrastination and cramming skills for a very long time.

Reading itself, however, was an enduring joy.  I remember clearly the summer I spent obsessed with the Greek myths.  At my insistence, Dad took me to the local library, where I checked out a ponderous cloth-bound volume entitled A Dictionary to All Greek and Roman Mythologies.  I turned page after page of myths, laboriously cross-referencing the goddesses and heroes mentioned with the appendix in the back.  I encountered a lot of "Rapes" in this endeavor.  The Rape of Proserpine.  The Rape of Leta.  Huh, I thought at the time, but in all these pictures it just looks like someone's picking a woman up and carrying her around.  (I hadn't really figured out the illustrations or statuary depictions yet.)  I penned a little skit about being a messenger from the Underworld and wrote many small poems from the point of view of gods and goddesses.  In other words, I was in total adolescent nerd heaven.

I also remember how the early classics I read completely walloped me, especially the Brontes.  I loved Jane Eyre so much, I felt she might be a literary stand-in for myself.  I related especially to her feelings of mousiness, smallness, and inhibition.  At the same time, her radical bravery and demand for egalitarian love inspired me, and gave me hope that despite what I felt to be my unlovable exterior, my inner worth might someday be discovered.  I would surmise that any young person reading such a book at such an age might have similarly powerful feelings of identification with the young narrator.  Indeed, the novel is most enjoyable to read as a young person, in my opinion.  This set off a programme that continued through my early college years of "serious" fiction and poetry reading.  Interested only in what the Canon deemed the Classics, I scanned lists with titles such as "100 Best Books of the 20th Century" and "100 Greatest Novels," starred the books that looked interesting, and then read them one by one as my pleasure reading, or on summer holidays.  For a long time, I turned up my nose at contemporary, and most American literature, preferring instead to plod through a random selection of world literature greats.  Thank goodness, too!

Kathryn Hughes' biography of Eliot does bring to mind colors of my own girlhood and self-education in literature.  Eliot's self-education is a whole other marvel in erudition and intellectual rigor, so mine pales considerably in comparison, as does my intellect, of course.  A George Eliot is only born once or twice a century.  However, reacquainting myself with her august, looming presence over English literature, and over my own influences as a writer, I realize that in my childhood efforts, Eliot was just the sort of person I sought to copy.  More so than any writer, even writers whose works have moved me equally, and on a more adult footing, Eliot, the Brontes, and Austen were my original authorial heroines.  They were the first authors who affirmed for me that even someone obscure, plain (because I remained obsessed with this self-fashioning for many years), and even unpleasant could become "great" and be remembered for years to come.  And, I should mention, reading of the young Eliot, I am reminded of how arrogant and often priggish I could be as a girl--inflating my sense of self-importance in accordance with my belief that only great people could understand a soul such as my own.  That self is certainly the most painful to remember now that I have entered a well-adjusted adulthood and have long been reconciled to my own limits of intellect and influence.  As I said, there can only be one or two Eliots, and luckily, after about the age of 14, I cooled down a bit with my pumped up self-opinion and became a more pleasant, social, and (interestingly) less obsessive person.

Still, I have been interested in revisiting this long-buried childhood self because it was this same stubborn girl that chose writing as her metier at the age of six and insisted through the twenty-three intervening years that this was the thing--the thing I was destined to do.  I suppose, after all this time, that I am still invested in believing that girl.  I have to be.  This year I'm supposed to be doing the thing for real, for keeps.  I am starting to say it, more and more.  "I am a writer."  I have doubted myself many times, especially through my unfocused and pleasure-loving twenties, but here I am, alone, away from most of my friends and the urban center I've called home for six years.  I'm sitting here in my parents' house, sequestered with a book and journal and computer, and I am writing.  Painfully, and sometimes joyfully, I am doing the thing.  Ironic, isn't it, how our younger selves are so foolhardy and yet so full of fierce belief?  If I had given young me the (totally true) spiel about how hard it is to be published these days and how the state of publishing is perilous and how it's so hard to find time to write, she would have looked back at me, blinking behind those gigantic wireframes, and said So?  You just have to do it.  Her blind, arrogant, and foolish belief is, in many ways, exactly what I need.


  1. So much meat here, and so much to say. You leave me no choice but to go chronologically until a comment essay has been achieved.

    As I felt with my own diaries, I am struck by how much *you* there is here. This is less a glimpse into how endearingly immature you were than a look into a engaged, passionate, intelligent young mind, that, oh yes, just so happened to be bound by the inherent self-loathing and ineffectuality of adolescence. In that sense, the real hilarity comes more from interjections and shifts from the slow, deep musings that characterize the Kirsten Rue we know and love now, to…oh yeah! Socks too!

    (On a selfish note, the clarity and intelligence of your writing at 11 makes me feel very relieved about my book that’s targeted towards 11 and 12 year olds. I’ve been worried the prose is too high level, but nope! Not if you were writing like this!)

    Your reflections at the end of this post (okay, not going so chronologically) further enforce this feeling. It made me jump up and go, “Yes!” What is it, Ms. Rue, that speaks to us so loudly at such a young age? How is it so innately a part of our identities, and yet this thing we struggle to maintain? I had *no idea* you struggled with your identity as a writer in the least bit; to me it’s so obvious that you are not just a writer, but also a supremely talented one, and that you’ve just needed the opportunity and time to fully realize your goals. (So much so, I will admit with red cheeks, that I have included you in fantasies about to whom I would dole out large portions of money if I were ever rich. A Kirsten Rue Scholarship fund, so you could go forth without worry…or at least buy some good ice cream to spice up those long writing sessions. That’s how much I believe in Kirsten Rue!).

    That said, it makes me feel better, too, to know that you, a writer I respect so greatly, questions whether or not she even is a writer. You know, of course, that I struggle with this too, and yet as I find ways to make a living that excite me, and as I am continually distracted by the spoils of my own career successes, there are so many days when I look at the people who praise me for doing non-writing related things and want to scream, “But what about my writing? How do you view me as a writer?” Your own year very much parallels my first in Austin, though you seem to have embraced it more wholeheartedly. Despite years of trying this and that to set up a life that allow me to write, it’s only in the past four months that I’ve finally been able to say, “I’m a writer. That’s what I do. Now leave me alone.” And I can tell you, once you get there (especially for someone as talented as you), when you take all of that energy you applied to friends or work or all the many things that distract your attention and drain your time in good and bad ways alike, the opportunities *do* just open up. It’s a matter of transitioning away from intellectualizing what you need as a writer, to just freaking doing it, and proving your instincts right.

    One last thing on the Brontes. How is it that they wrote so long ago, and yet feel so relevant to our young, writerly lives now? When I read them, I am opened in a way even the best books rarely open me. I feel at once exposed, vulnerable, comforted and known. They feel more contemporary to me than most women I see portrayed in the media.

    I’ll stop here, though there’s much to say. Thanks for posting this. You’re such a wonderful person and I just cannot wait to read what you produce this year. WRITER.

  2. Oh, and another note. In my work as a tutor, I have found that a child's interest in Greek mythology is often predictive of the type of learner they are. Definitely highly prevalent in kids who are overachieving, but less for the sake of grade grubbing than being truly interested in learning and knowledge. There's just something there that speaks to the hungry young mind.

  3. O man I too *loved* (to an embarrassing degree (long but funny story for another time) Greek Mythology.

    Keep up the beautiful inspiring quest.

    To quote a good ol' fashion Greek philosopher Epicurus and to stick with the theme of Bravery...

    "You don't develop courage by being happy in your relationships everyday. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity."

    PS - I totally describe you to others as Kirsten Rue my friend who is a writer. :)

    PPS - I too, with much excitement, had forest green corduroys.

  4. Thank you, Leah and Liz, for these wonderful comments! You both inspire me and provide so much encouragement! Really grateful for your friendships. :-) Why do I have a feeling that we all would have been fast friends if we'd known each other as kiddos??

  5. by educating yourself, a student will be taught to be self-regulating. They will need to be independent, rely mainly on themselves and their own resources, or know where to go to find the answer.