In the 7th grade, my English teacher, Miss Brosdal — a gorgeous blonde toothpick who was filled with so much enthusiasm and energy that I aspired to be just like her when I grew up — asked everyone in my class to write a poem as the culminating project of our poetry unit. I was ecstatic; I was inspired. I wanted to write an insightful poem. I wanted to impress Miss Brosdal, I wanted to impress the boy in the class on whom I had a crush from that year up until my junior year of high school, and I wanted to impress myself. I knew that I wanted to be a writer, and I saw every assignment as an opportunity to prove to myself that I could do it.
I wrote a poem about New York City called “With Each Window.” It was a compilation of vignettes, scenes playing out through windows of buildings in the city. It was about that woman who walks into her office thinking about the fact that she still doesn’t have a boyfriend to go home to, has a headache from not sleeping the night before, takes three Advil, and then sits down at her desk with her head in her hands wondering if the work day will ever end. It was about that man who walks into his office, looks at his bookshelf, wonders why he hasn’t read half the books that are on it, makes a phone call, and then looks troubled. It was about the way that we see people and judge them based on their actions when we don’t know their backstories. It was about the way that sometimes we’re left to wonder what their backstories are, and the fact that we’ll never really know. It was about the fact that the city is a magnificent painting of mankind in general. It was about my love for New York City and for thinking and writing and reading. It was about everything; it was everything to me.
But sometimes, I worry that that poem was the peak of my writing career. Miss Brosdal was so impressed with it that she asked me to read it aloud to the class. I was too shy, so I asked her to read it for me. I remember feeling so completely embarrassed, but proud and insightful and intelligent at the same time. I felt like I had actually come to some sort of understanding about the world, and it was amazing.
I don’t think that we’re ever as uninhibited and unafraid as we are when we’re children. When I was thirteen, I was not unafraid, and I was not uninhibited, but I knew less about the world than I do now. I’ve since written a total of over 40 articles for three newspapers, a piece for a literary blog, countless essays and journal entries, and several poems and songs, but nothing seems to top that poem in my mind.
I have been trying to figure out why that is, and I can’t quite come to a sensible conclusion. Fitzgerald writes in The Beautiful and Damned that sometimes too much knowledge poisons talent. He writes that, sometimes, thinking too much and knowing too much diminishes one’s ability to write well, because good writing is focused and pointed. I think that he may have been onto something. When I was thirteen, I didn’t know as much as I do now– I didn’t think quite as much as I do now– and I could see these fantastic scenes of men and women in their offices going about their days; I had complete visions of what they were doing and thinking and feeling, even down to the uncertainty of it all. Now, there’s more to write about, so it feels like I have to try harder to drown out all of the background noise and focus on the topic at hand.
When I was thirteen, I believed that there was actually a chance that my crush would send me a rose on Valentine’s Day; I believed that I’d have a prom date and that prom night would be perfect and fairytale-like; I believed that people would treat me as well as I treated them. It’s not that I don’t believe in anything anymore; of course I do. But now I know better than to believe in fantasy, and maybe that’s the problem.