Anne Frank, the Jewish teen diarist who documented her experiences hiding from the Nazis during World War II, would have turned 87 today. She has long been an inspiration to me. I believe I first learned of her story as a kid after watching the movie The Diary of Anne Frank, which starred Millie Perkins. I then purchased the book that inspired the film, and shortly thereafter I bought my very own first diary. I wrote as often as I could, mostly about the trivialities of my day: Randy S. got yelled at for hurling spitballs in class, and that ilk.
Later, when I got my Smith-Corona for Christmas of 1972 and learned to type, I found that I could more quickly capture my thoughts and emotions, which by now were gushing like torrents. I looked forward to that private period before bedtime, when I would sit in my room uninterrupted and bare my soul. (Today this is known as journaling and people get rich writing books and teaching seminars on how to do it.) I listened to my records as I wrote, and began each entry with a song lyric, like this one that expressed my adolescent confusion:
January 30, 1977
Wake up late without a smile
You run like a child
On the street, into the day
The people I meet
Have nothing to say
–“Soul of the Sea” by Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, 1976
Yes, I related to Anne. We both had dark hair and eyes. We were both yearning to be free. We both wrote as a form of escape and self-therapy. And we seemed to have the same character; from all I’ve read, she was outspoken, opinionated, moody, and high-spirited. In other words, quite a handful, just like me.
And we were soul mates. Anne’s diary entry from April 5, 1944, completely captures the dreams and doubts that consumed me as a 13-year-old. It’s as if I’d written every word of it myself.
I finally realized that I must do my schoolwork to keep from being ignorant, to get on in life, to become a journalist, because that’s what I want! I know I can write…but it remains to be seen whether I really have talent…
And if I don’t have the talent to write books or newspaper articles, I can always write for myself. But I want to achieve more than that. I can’t imagine living like Mother, Mrs. van Daan and all the women who go about their work and are then forgotten. I need to have something besides a husband and children to devote myself to! …
I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death! And that’s why I’m so grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop myself and to express all that’s inside me!
When I write I can shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived! But, and that’s a big question, will I ever be able to write something great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?
It’s the question she poses in that last line that I still ponder daily: will I ever be able to write something great? I know that’s an ego-driven preoccupation, but aren’t all writers egocentric in their need to be read, in their desire (in Anne’s words), to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people? Today, I still have the ghost of the writer’s self-doubt that plagued Anne. Every time I finish an article for this blog, the worries begin: What if I can’t write another one? What if I run out of ideas or my abilities dry up? This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It keeps me working and striving to improve. Bruce Springsteen has expressed these same sentiments time and again. “Have iron-clad confidence; but doubt — it keeps you awake and alert,” he once told a group of aspiring musicians.
My teenage diary was filled with expressions of happiness and pride over incidents ranging from special (Mr. S. told me to keep writing and I’ll be published by the time I’m 25! – March 10, 1976) to superficial (today I wore my green corduroy outfit; it always brings me luck! – December 15, 1973).
And more often than not, my pages were full of hopeless, ugly thoughts (I really don’t see that anything good will ever, ever happen to me in the future – February 3, 1977). Today, reading those rants of self pity, I feel foolish as I compare my silly problems to those of Anne Frank’s. The world was crumbling around her, and still she managed to embrace a glimmer of hope. On July 15, 1944, she wrote:
It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.
Anne continued to write in her diary until the day she and her family were seized from their hideout in Amsterdam and sent to the Nazi death camps: her father Otto to Auschwitz and she and her sister and mother to the Liebau camp and later to Bergen-Belsen, where she died of typhus a few months before British soldiers liberated the camp in April 1945.
Like Anne, I will continue to write till my stoney end.
© Dana Spiardi, June 12, 2015