In the weeks after I was sent home from college last Spring, I found myself staring into the mirror hanging on the ivory wall of my kid bedroom, searching for the answers to my childhood, my solitude, my future, my grief – compositions of my identity that could only be realized in an isolated retreat inward, a quarantine.
Amidst the existentialism of the last six months—conclusions drawn from which oscillate between evolutions and crises—while I’ve often felt lonely, I haven’t been alone. In fact, much of my cohort is navigating a similar path to self-discovery as a result of being forced to surrender our yearnings for the places we’ll go and, instead, return to the places we’re from. In this new reality, I along with many young writers are using the page as a tool for reconciliation.
One such young writer is Gabe Sherman, a peer who I met in an introductory creative writing course. As a person and a writer, Gabe is thoughtful and deeply sincere – when we were asked to write a piece of creative nonfiction, he wrote about his dad and the Blues. This Fall, Gabe is dedicated to writing – both for our college newspaper and as a music reviewer for The Arts Fuse. However, during this time Gabe is also reshaping his relationship with writing and its freedoms.
Over the phone, Gabe explained to me that although he began to think of himself as “someone who liked to write” when he left for college, in the years since he’s continued to struggle with what he’s identified as a “self-confidence issue” one which results in equating prestige and audience with good writing. Sometimes, he even disallows himself from being inspired by a novel, remembering “I could never think of that […] I’m not a writing prodigy.” At times, this cycle is responsible for convincing Gabe he’s not a writer, rather just someone who might like to write.
However, during the past six months – perhaps at his most vulnerable, navigating both a breakup and the death of a friend all from inside a house with his two parents, in a city wrecked by COVID-19 – Gabe has managed to write freely, independent from self-doubt and critique. On our call, he disclosed to me one of these moments:
“I was feeling shitty and did a very coming of age teen drama thing. I got my drawstring bag and notebook and sat under a tree and just wrote, three or four pages full. I let my brain go […] It felt like the greatest release of uninhibited thought that I had ever had […] It felt nice to write something where I really didn’t care about being true to anything besides the exact moment.”
It is this indulgence in the personal catharsis of writing during this time that most resonates with me. Gabe and I agree that, outside of escaping prisms of insecurity, reading literature that inspires you is likely the best primer for your own scribblings. At the beginning of quarantine, I read Sally Rooney for the first time, both of her novels, as well as a few of her short stories. Rooney’s world exists far from the fantastical – instead, it’s flush with real people (nuanced, autonomous, young, female characters, to be precise) who endure the feats and pains of their emotional worlds. This focus on the universal complexities of human feelings made me feel like I could be a writer – I too have the lived experience of being a young woman and have, at times – during this time – felt profound pain. There is quite a lot of catharsis in feeling like you can talk, and believing in what you have to say.
It turns out that Gabe and I had read the same novel, and that he too saw himself reflected in the text, the protagonist’s inner dialogue mirroring that of his own “overactive brain.” I asked Gabe if he too felt the urge to create after reading, to which he replied, “releasing something personal and creative would signify really believing in my writing, and that would be really cool.”