“My hair was long then. Long like the sighs of Loving Trees soaking in the still air before rain. I could hear their voices with the anticipation of thunder.”

Hello and welcome to my first novel! Well, the first line of my first novel. Actually, the first line of the first novel I tried to write. I was 14 when I scribbled this line into a notebook margin, and it eventually ended up in the notes section on my phone, a place where prose goes to die.

I titled this prose graveyard “Shower Thoughts," though few of the lines collected there actually came to me in the shower. They fall, seemingly from nowhere, into my head. They dribble down into my hand where I can either write them down or feebly clutch them for a moment before they disintegrate back into vapor, waiting to condense once again into someone else’s brain. I rarely used these lines in any actual writing. I just wrote them down so no one else could have them.

I have kept “Shower Thoughts” since middle school. A kind of diary, it chronicles my thoughts and feelings throughout my teens. As I scroll back through, I am reminded of moments both momentous and insignificant. I can see through the emotional kaleidoscope of my 15-year-old eyes as I waited for something important to happen to me, like all the young adult novels said it would. It captures in amber my perspective at one particular moment in my life.

As a junior, I find myself sitting anxiously at one of life’s many thresholds. With childhood behind and adulthood ahead, I lie in wait, in between. I feel achingly far away from this young person who wrote and imagined all the time. I am not pursuing the dreams she had for me: I am not majoring in English, I am not yet a published author, and I won’t be studying abroad in the U.K. (where I won’t be falling in love with a beautiful Scotsman who wears cable knit sweaters and is in touch with his feelings). Despite all of this, I want to make sure I am somehow still me.

This column will be about that shifting of self and how one can reconcile who they were at an unformed 15 with who they are at 21, fighting for a place at the adults’ table. I will be rifling through my prose graveyard and exhuming bodies, breathing life back into the moments that birthed them and asking how they feel about where I am now with my life.

The line that opened this column was meant to be the first line of my first novel. I was fixated on the idea of being a child but writing for adults, amazing everyone with a beyond-my-years maturity and complexity of thought. Once it became a bestseller, Anne Hathaway and Leonardo DiCaprio would star in the film adaptation. I had the whole thing sketched out in my head, but getting it onto paper proved more difficult. Not that I tried very hard. I was fairly certain that, when I decided to write it, the whole book would just pour out, standing there shocked and gawking like Adam moments after his creation. I trusted my future self to make this dream come true for the both of us.

Freshman year, I did so to a certain extent. I wrote a book, 250 pages in six weeks. I took a class on children’s literature and our final project was to write and illustrate a children’s storybook. I decided this was my chance to fulfill my dream, so I swapped the storybook for a children’s novel. There would be no bowing to laziness or boredom if I had the threat of an academic deadline on my horizon. So, I wrote a plan. I wrote character descriptions and plot outlines, and did extensive research.  When I set to actually writing, the pace was grueling. It was regimented and difficult, and some days the words just refused to come. To top it off, I was 19 and writing for 11 and 12 year olds, something I would have considered an unthinkable embarrassment at 14.

Writing a book, it turns out, is really hard (Who knew?).  My romantic delusions obscured the inconvenient reality that inevitably manages to seep in once we get to a certain age. The line with which I opened this column always evokes in me an all-consuming idealism. I can once again feel how it felt to have those words fall from the sky and into my churning mind. I can practically feel the weight of the imagined novel in my hands, knowing I would one day make this dream come true.

The reality was far worse and far better than how I had pictured it, both in the accomplishment and in its promise for the future. I accomplished something I had dreamt about since I was eight years old, proving that I am unstoppable if I choose to be. However, the experience also begged me to question in what other ways I am romanticizing my ideas of the future. I imagine going to law school and eventually becoming a living version of a character from “The West Wing."

In theory, I know that path won’t be easy. I’m sure I will look back at my college years and chuckle at the idealism of my undergraduate kaleidoscope. Choosing to major in public policy instead of English is not the first time my ambitions will change. However, I hope I always manage to find things to look forward to in the most abstract of ways. And as I go, I will work to reconcile these different parts of myself—my past, present and future—and keep them all in balance. Make sure they learn from one another. And, eventually, get Anne and Leo to star in an adaptation of the book I trust my future self to write one day.

 

Kendall Hecker can be reached at kfhecker@umich.edu.

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