My friend had planned an escapade and somehow convinced me to go along. I would get permission to spend the night at her house. I spent much of my time at her house, anyway. I ate dinner over there, probably as much as I ate at my house. Check. After dinner, we would take our sleeping bags out to their backyard fort to sleep under the stars. Check. Then we would sneak out of her back fence, walk halfway to her boyfriend’s house, and meet him and his best friend at a predetermined location for my friend and her boyfriend to do whatever it is 8th grade lovers did in the 1980s.
We executed steps one and two flawlessly. I’m surprised I made it through dinner without tipping off her parents, though. I had on all black, because I figured I needed to be in ninja mode if I were sneaking out of houses and walking through town in the middle of the night. And I was jumpy. Her parents probably chalked it up to my being an 8th grader, as 8th graders are not known for their rational behavior.
Things got dicey once we got out to the backyard. We hauled our gear into the fort with no difficulty, but as we descended the fort’s ladder prior to leaving the yard, my friend’s dogs started nosing around us. At the time she had three basset hounds. Two were named Bonnie and Clyde, but I forget the name of the third. All three were related in some weird incestuous way my friend assured me was normal for dogs, but I remained skeptical. I suppose the dogs sensed our nervous energy, because they wouldn’t leave us alone. They wanted to play, nipping at us, yipping, and making it impossible to leave out the back gate.
We eventually got the dogs into a far recess of the yard and sauntered over to the gate with about as much cool as Baby saying, “I carried a watermelon” in Dirty Dancing. We dashed open the gate to make a break for it, but the dogs bounded through before we could shut it. Two stage whispering 8th grade girls and three yowling basset hounds took to the neighborhood streets that night. I’d never seen my friend’s dogs move more quickly than a jog, so watching them bolt through the streets like they had zombies at their tails mesmerized me.
The dogs separated into two different directions. My friend went after the duo, pausing long enough to shake me out of my reverie and shoo me after the other one. At that point in my life, I’d never had a pet – not a fish, not a hamster, nothing. I ran after that dog with no idea what I would do if I caught up with it. It turned out I would do nothing. In the time it took me to catch up with one dog, my friend had caught the other two, corralled them in her yard, and found me still running after the last dog. She collared it, and we rushed back to her yard, lamenting our long-past rendezvous time.
We eventually made it out of the back gate only to find my friend’s boyfriend and his friend standing on the other side of the fence waiting for us. About 30 feet away from my friend’s back gate was a median marking the entry to the neighborhood. We settled there, with my friend and her boyfriend on one side of the neighborhood sign, and his friend and me on the other. Despite my ninja gear and nerves, we spent the entire night in our neighborhood, never venturing beyond territory we explored every day.
Yet that was the riskiest thing I’d ever done. I was certain my mother would kill me if she found out. My mom did a lot of things, but one thing she didn’t do was play. I don’t know that I’ve ever told her this story. If I don’t post any more blogs, you’ll know what happened.
What I planned to do that night was stupid and deserving of my mother’s ire. What I did, however, really wasn’t that dangerous. I never left my neighborhood. I literally was never more than a few minutes walk from my house. I wasn’t alone. Even when my friend and I separated, I was always within shouting distance of a neighbor who knew me. It wasn’t that late. We probably left my friend’s backyard around 10p and returned around midnight.
I took risks, and I learned from them. But I did so in a relatively safe atmosphere. Certainly we risked detection and punishment, and we also risked violence (sexual, physical, and other) from the boys we met. I don’t mean to minimize this, but in our particular neighborhood, at that particular moment in history, with people we knew, the likelihood of a poor outcome was reasonably low.
Writing and reading can seem similarly risky, but done in the safe atmosphere of a journal and your own personal space, the danger is low. Be honest. Be curious. Don’t censor yourself. Your journaling and reading are for you.
Many of us understand the risks of writing. What if someone sees what I write? What if they don’t like it? What if they don’t like me? What if I offend them? What if I’m not good at writing? What if this is bad? Who am I to write on this subject? Who am I to consider publication? All of those fears from your internal critic can keep you from writing, but a journal isn’t a public forum. A journal is a private, safe, judgment-free space for you to write out your heart. To try out new styles. To test out new genres. To tackle unusual ideas. To dive into your soul. To find out who you really are.
Reading comes with its own risks. What does it say about me that I only read this genre? What will it say about me if I try out different genres? What about genres I’ve always been afraid to try? What if I fall behind on my necessary reading by pursuing pleasure reading? What if this is frivolous? What will I learn? How will that change me? Who will I become? Those fears also stem from your internal critic, but your personal reading time is your safe, judgment free space to reinforce neural pathways. To explore. To think. To wander. To dream. To learn. To grow.
If I could go back to 8th grade, I wouldn’t agree to traipse around town to meet up with some boys, but I also wouldn’t erase our adventures that night. They showed me parts of myself I didn’t know, and the risk was worth the reward. Likewise, you are worth risking confrontations with your inner critic to gain the benefits of transforming yourself through the safe spaces of journaling and reading.
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I am doing a 31-day series on reading and journaling as self care for educators. Each day of the series has bonus journal prompts. Click to join the LELA House family of educators committed to nourishing their reading, writing, and creative souls. You’ll receive a link to the journal prompts and gain early access to upcoming LELA House ideas, courses, and products. You only need to subscribe once. I will add a new worksheet each day to the access link.
Roshaunda D. Cade, Ph.D. is an educator, writer, and creator. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband and teenage children and enjoys reading, writing, dancing, and pushing her creative boundaries. You can follow her at roshaundacade.com, lela-house.com, and on Teachable, Medium, Youtube, Pinterest, and Instagram.