BY ALYSSA OURSLER
The moments in my life that I classify as "Important with a capital I" always seem to be accompanied by a book--which perhaps should have been my first clue.
My first boyfriend was Jordan, significant for his first-ness, and I remember he only read nonfiction and, at the time, I only read fiction. That may seem insignificant but I also never cared what we did when we spent time together--classic pitiful I only wanna be with you. Which I guess reflected a lack of something in me, which he cited when he dumped me (via text message, if you’re curious, him also telling me I didn’t have feelings, me wishing he was right).
The whole thing just seems to me a symbol of the fact that I didn’t know who I was yet, or even who I wanted to be.
Look up that passage you wrote about airplanes, I write on an airplane, in the margins of an essay about dogs. There always seems to be an airplane too: a trip to Italy, I read Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Then, on a trip to Texas, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
I re-read this, yet again, after being on an airplane and reading a different essay about airplanes during a trip back east, like This Is Running for Your Life.
I think it really is a question of essence, I write again and again and again. I get high and walk along the beach and spend the whole time wondering if my thoughts then are any different than my thoughts sober.
I think the question is the answer.
Making my way home from Texas, I am sitting in the backseat of a car driven by an old man. Classical music plays as I try to read then, due to darkness, resort to writing on my phone instead.
I take in the dichotomy of string instruments and Siri's directions. I tap and type: The sharing economy is an odd one. I imagine the old man imagining me incessantly texting or tweeting or Tindering in the backseat as I write: Was that a business comment or a personal one?
Does it matter? I ask again and again and again.
I recently began to write in what’s technically labeled Sharpie, Permanent Marker, Ultra Fine Point, and actually wrote those words in that medium before writing about the process. I accept the marker’s slight bleed in the books I devour and find myself almost praying for pages of aligned poignant passages. I go to underline something and see it’s already been done by a past obsession’s shadow: Things aligning, falling into place, choose your cliche.
On the page I read before writing this, though, the author (David Foster Wallace, if you must know) had an abnormally long footnote in a smaller print and different alignment. So, the shadow became a passive aggressive strikethrough, and I shrugged off the symbolism almost as soon as it crossed my mind but wrote in Sharpie, Permanent Marker, Ultra Fine Point anyway: Things don’t always work out as you planned. Curve balls.
My pages are full--of grocery lists, to-do lists, concert tickets, quotes, scribbling, doodling. Glorified diary entries. Every bar’s a karaoke bar if you put your mind to it, I write: "Everything repeats, and we watch it," Chicken breast, cilantro, quinoa, "What a drag, this having to choose," Nap, crunches, timesheet.
"There is nothing permanent in this world, his sister wrote. He pushed his fist into his eye. Wrote: There is in me," I put my journal on the shelf next to Joan Didion, David Sedaris, and pretend it’s validation.
Joan has a compilation of essays entitled We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order to Live. We tell ourselves lies in order to live, I write.
I’ve thought a lot lately about writing as an inherently inward and narcissistic act--my thoughts, my interestingness, my hidden depths. Joan wrote that we spend our lives being told we are less interesting than everyone around us so I write: It is nighttime, and I am in Rome, pretending everyone around is far less interesting than me.
Some of the time, I write things because I think them. And some of the time, I write them because I’m trying to convince myself they’re true. Do I know, does it matter, which is which?
You don’t have to figure it out right now, I italicize. I repeat. I write.
Last night, I heard the story of a woman who simply inhabited another’s identity--or at least another’s husband, child, city, art--and all I could think was that her story is not unique. It’s just a more obvious example of what we all experience. We are all uninteresting--all just inheriting, inhabiting, rejecting, absorbing, imitating, filling roles, lying.
Indeed, the most unique thing about me is also the least unique thing about me: It’s the fact that I am my mother’s daughter and my father’s daughter. Perhaps I needed an airplane and a new time zone to accept just how strong those definitions are--to inhabit those qualities and still maintain some impression, craft some story, float a slightly more successful lie, that I’m something new.
The only true addition I can pinpoint is this: This compulsion to structure the books and questions and moments, this requirement of organizing my racing, wandering mind--are two very different words that both fit the bill, both express the motion that is my constant. I have to sort through the ideas, even as I can't tell if they're my own or someone else's and I have to claim them, scribble and tap furiously, make sure I don’t miss them.
I would be willing to bet, I could probably prove, that Joan has written the same thing, or at least something similar, but that doesn’t make this less mine or less true, I tell myself, I convince myself.
Because of this, I’ve come to realize, is as innate as the fact that I am my mother (practical, maybe cynical, accidentally yet consistently contrarian, smart, strong, feeling, sarcastic) and my father (restless, restless, passionate, stubborn, still restless). The combination of these three facts is the the only way I know myself.
Which is "Important with a capital I," you see, so I don’t have to think about it any more. I am my mother’s daughter and I am my father’s daughter and I simply need to write it down.
Alyssa Oursler is a freelance writer based in San Francisco but originally from the Middle of Nowhere, Maryland. She writes about tech, travel, gender and whatever else happens to get her excited. Her work has appeared in Thought Catalog, 7x7, The Bold Italic and others. She also runs the site "Tea in a Coffee Shop."