I write in the second person often. Annoyingly often. So often that I’m having a hard time putting my short stories into a collection because even I don’t want to read a story collection with that many second-person stories. So often that I write essays in the second person. When I write, second person seems the most natural point of view. Second person seems to mimic the act of writing itself. It doesn’t help me inhabit a character; it helps me inhabit me.
A few months ago, in an attempt to make my depression strange, visible to me, I started recording myself thinking out loud as I drove to and from work. I didn’t remember to do it too often. I’d save the recordings up for a few weeks before listening to them and typing them up. Sometimes they’d be garbage, and sometimes I tried to make something out of them. When it didn’t feel unfettered anymore, I stopped. I didn’t want to put on a show for myself, knowing I’d type the thoughts up later, that they’d turn into “writing.”
Today, in rearranging my recorded-and-transcribed thoughts about how to hate myself the correct amount, I realized how the first and second person work inside my own head. Spoiler: it’s not the way I thought they worked.
When I’m thinking about some specific way in which I am not good enough, I think in the second person: You are lazy. You are ugly. Don’t let anyone look at you. You don’t deserve a decent job.
When I’m thinking in a more essential way, about my authentic essence, something that is utterly untouched by how good or bad I am, I think in the first person: I hate my life. I hate my life. I hate my life. I hate my life. I hate my life. I hate my life. I hate my life.
I’m surprised as anyone to discover (or rediscover) that the first person is the closest, the truest point of view. For several years when I was a kid, I would only read books written in first person. I wouldn’t even allow myself a look at the description glued inside the back cover of library books—I’d pull them off the shelves and open to a random page to see which point of view they were written in. Third person? No matter how intriguing the title, back on the shelf!
Perhaps I’ve fetishized the second person, writing like I’m talking to myself, giving myself a narrative tic I don’t need instead of rooting down deeper into the only thing any of us really has—our own voice.
Jennifer Gravley makes her way in Columbia, Missouri. She is a writer of sentences, a watcher of bad television, and a reference and instruction librarian. Her work has recently appeared in Sou’wester, Pithead Chapel, and The Fourth River, among others.