One day I found myself buying someone else's secrets.
I was exploring The Bargain Box in Upstate New York, in a lull between finishing a college tour and waiting for the Amtrak train to return back to New York City. In my hands, I grasped a weathered notebook with doodles on the front cover; below it, the name "Grace Stuart"* had been penciled in.
I thought it was odd that someone would donate this diary (complete with full name, home address, and school) to a stranger. The idea of the diary was magical and compelling; it was as if I had stumbled upon a historic document about a suburban teenager from who-knows-when. If you've ever kept one, you'd probably agree that a diary is one of a teenager's most sacred possessions. There are so few things that we teenagers can truly claim ownership to, spaces where we can cultivate our own styles. A diary is a great place to do so.
When I got home, in a Harriet the Spy moment, I signed onto Facebook to see if I could find Grace. Based on dates in the diary, I knew she must be just a few years older than me. The same girl who once loved writing silly stories and singing in her church choir and hated some kid in her class named William that she had detailed in her diary was now in front of me on the screen.
I feel like there was a reason I, Emma Orlow, found the diary. Not to expose its contents, but rather, to think more carefully about its meaning. And so ever since I found Grace's diary I've been thinking a lot about paper trails. I started my blog, The Emma Edition, in middle school. Unlike Grace's diary, my blog is in a public forum, and functions as a virtual journal through which I can see a progression and development of my aesthetic and writing, as well as express my opinions on style, culture, and New York. I guess it's indicative of growing up in the Age of the Internet, but without my form of a diary being open online, I don't know if I would've obtained the same opportunities to write for magazines and websites that I have. I often think about the fact that this world that I've created myself is so intertwined with being online, that what would happen if the Internet suddenly had a permanent blackout? I imagine an ominous black hole, sucking away my blog posts, all the photos I've shared on Tumblr, my witty banter on Twitter, my online shopping wishlists, the playlists I've made on 8tracks, leaving me with nothing but a piece of paper of the Internet's resignation in the place of my laptop screen. What tangible representation of myself would I then have to share with my generation and those that follow? It might sound silly to conjecture, but I have a feeling that many of you are also just as dependent on your relationship with a computer. That's why Grace's diary has made me increasingly more interested in spending time on my sketchbook -- which in some ways is becoming a way to mix of all of my Internet facets.
Grace graduates college the same year that I will enter college. Although we have virtually nothing in common (I am not particularly sporty, nor am I religious, and prefer an all-day "Ugly Betty" marathon to horseback riding), I feel a connection between us. I almost now want to donate one of my diaries to a local thrift store, hoping that it, too, will fall into the lap of a younger girl, bestowing profound meaning upon her. Almost...
*Note: the name of the diarist has been replaced for the purpose of this essay to protect their identity.