My first true version of myself was in words. I have vivid memories of when I was three and four years old, sitting on the floor in front of my dad’s recliner chair. I would narrate stories I had concocted on the stove of my mind while he penned my words to the page. My platforms were a piece of printer paper, the back of an envelope, a blank page of an old leather bound calendar that I begged him to give to me. I discovered the simultaneous comfort yet lurking solitude that only writing gives, even before I had learned to write words for myself. 

After my dad had finished writing what I asked, I would take the paper eagerly to my room. I would sit on the floor with it, draw illustrations, or bring it to my mom to read later that night. The “books” I wrote gave me something that was irrevocably mine; woven by my own words that only I could string together. As I went through elementary school, words and writing became my closest ally; my chosen weapon; my irresistible addiction. 

As soon as I learned how to write, I left notes for my parents everywhere—on the pages of catalogs with clothes I wanted to buy, on the kitchen counter when I was going outside, on their pillows when I was angry about something that had transpired but didn’t have the guts to argue about it verbally. In school when we wrote stories, mine were always the longest, because nothing empowered me more than the thought of the multitude of words at my fingertips, with which I could make anything or everything happen, or nothing at all. I was painfully shy and quiet, but I was loud with my words. 

My words can be sharp and pinning; they can be breezy and nonchalant; they can be warm cushions to a conflicted mind. I write what I wish I had said in real life. My journal, the name of which I ferociously defend every time my mom calls it a “diary,” is full of winning comebacks I couldn’t think of in time. Of eloquent explanations I couldn’t piece together verbally. Of descriptions of a past I sometimes long to return to.

Indeed, I have been the most me I’ve ever been in words. And I’ve only just begun to realize how fortunate I am that my words are believed with such little question. In 1772, Phillis Wheatley was put on trial to prove the authorship of her poetry, because Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock and other prominent men in colonial America did not believe a black woman could produce such high quality literature. And with this thought, I wonder not only about the plunder of enslaved people themselves, but about the loss of art and writing that came as a result of that plunder. I wonder about all of the poems and stories in the minds of the enslaved that went unwritten.

When my African American Literature professor wrote out the ‘canon’ of black writers and intellectual eras, Phillis Wheatley was the earliest writer she wrote down. But Wheatley certainly wasn’t the first enslaved person to dream of writing. Even before I knew how to form letters with an oversized pencil on large-ruled paper in kindergarden, I itched to be able to write. To express my thoughts in a more permanent and concrete fashion. 

Writing is one of the principal forms of human expression, and among all of the other tragedies that come with enslavement, perhaps another one to add on is the shackling of the mind. Being prohibited from expressing your thoughts in an art form that can be appreciated by others as a representation of your innermost self. Expression brings a kind of relief; a decompression from heavy thoughts. Writing is my treasure, as it should be, because the key to the lock on the treasure chest of artistic expression was not always made available to people like me. 

It is writing that gives me worlds unimagined—not the worlds thought up by someone else like those in books, but worlds of my own that are unique to me. Only I can make this distinct permutation of words. This is the root of the tragedy of people being unable to write—there was a chance they could travel to the invented worlds of others through oral storytelling, but the majority of stories slaves heard were either from worlds in Africa they could never return to, or from the white world they could never enter. My own writing is an escape all my own, and I intend to keep crafting stories and unearthing gems with my words as long as the mines of my mind are fully functional.

And yet sometimes, I wonder who I am writing for. Maybe it makes me slightly unheroic, but I’m not, at least consciously, writing for those before me who couldn’t write. I feel motivated but not obligated to put my thoughts to paper when I feel inspired.  Am I writing in hopes that unaware white audience will read what I have to say and experience a subtle yet gradual change in attitude? Am I writing so others who identify with what I’m saying feel a sense of validation?

I understand how writing could be a chore to some, which is partly why I don’t want to write out of feeling of obligation to predecessors or my race. For me, the pieces I am most proud of have come when I am writing for me; when that childhood joy returns of seeing my own words penned to a page. Not because anyone told me I should write them, but because if I don’t get them out, the strings of words will be trapped inside my head like lightning trapped in a bottle. Because the day that writing becomes something that I do out of necessity but not out of joy, I will have thrown away the essence of the gem of artistic expression that my predecessors pined after, but could only see sparkling for them within their wildest dreams. 

Victoria Priester is a Trinity first-year. Her column, "on the run from mediocrity," runs on alternate Fridays.