Going into this summer, I knew it wouldn’t be about writing, but I told myself it would be — as if saying it could make it true. Honestly, I had hardly written in the winter and spring of 2023. At first, it was because I was busy adjusting to my life in a foreign country. As winter faded into spring, it was because I was grieving the loss of my cousin to leukemia. I had wanted to write about Paris, but I instead found myself blaming Paris for my misery, though it was merely the setting. I had this big idea about how I could write an incredible poem in my cousin’s honor, but I couldn’t do it. I still want to write that poem, but I still haven’t found the right words.
In May, when I returned home from Paris and very quickly relocated to Boston for an internship, I remained creatively blocked. I tried to work on various projects — when I felt too unimaginative to write fiction, I turned to personal essays; when I realized I couldn’t yet construct the sort of narrative I had envisioned, I shifted my focus to poetry; when the cycle of typing and deleting prevailed, I gave up on writing in a conventional format and bought a notebook.
I promised myself that the notebook would strictly be used for making lists. Hoping that the details I collected would eventually amount to something, I opened to the first page and made a list of all of the romantic things I had recently experienced. Meeting up for coffee at 8:15 a.m. Holding hands in Brookline. Eating a toasted everything bagel with cream cheese. I was happy to be writing something positive.
I made a list of things in literature I frequently thought about. A line from the prologue of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. A minor character — a cricket — that had stuck with me from a children’s book. A black cat named Leopold.
When I was feeling isolated, deep in grief, or even just passively sad, I listed the happy days I had experienced. Barbecues where my dad grilled kalbi and hamburgers. Frolicking around Charles Village with my best friends. Summer days at my grandparents’ old house by the water.
When I needed to indulge my nostalgic tendencies, I wrote out all of the things from my childhood that made me emotional. Strawberry cream cheese. How my mom knew that I preferred the corner slice of Sicilian pizza. How we used to have a bird feeder before we had cats.
Some of the lists were stupid, ways to pass the time on the Boston T Subway. I made a list of potential Halloween costumes, emphasizing that I wanted to, at some point, be a part of an American Girl Doll group costume. When I was mad at a friend, I listed out every reason why. One time, I wrote out all of the shoes I wanted to add to my wardrobe. I recapped a weekend spent in New York City. Binoculars. “Scary time.” References to Coraline.
When I became increasingly prepared to tackle more difficult topics, I made a list of every memory that came to mind involving my cousin. Watching “Llamas with Hats.” A lemon tree in Thousand Oaks. A wooded path in Asharoken. The song “This Land Is Your Land.” Daycare on a cruise. Considering sneaking out the window (we didn’t). A midnight debate. Capture the flag. Checkers. How much we would weigh on the moon. So many more.
On the whole, it was a summer spent writing down the details I wanted to use in pieces I couldn’t seem to write. The week I returned to Baltimore, I managed a poem, a rhyme royal about my last weekend in Boston — and that’s where the notebook leaves off.
Madelyn Kye is a senior from Long Island, N.Y. majoring in Writing Seminars and International Studies. Her column discusses people and things that have entered and exited her life, often through the lens of growing up. She is the Voices Editor for The News-Letter.