Reducing my life to pages in a binder

Jessica Barnett


It is an odd thing to see a large chunk of one’s life summed up in the pages of a three-ring binder.

The first time, it was a black binder. I held it up in front of a class of about 20 students at Calhoun Community College in Decatur, Ala. I described it as a book I had written under a pseudonym and planned to self-publish.

My classmates barely paid attention. They were more interested in the snake someone was going to feed in their speech. This was fine with me, because the more important part was everything that never made it into that speech.

Where that classroom saw a black binder with an index card stuck to the front, I saw months of late nights in front of a computer screen. I saw aching ears from the hours spent in a room with loud music that I was too absorbed in my work to hear. I saw the research, planning and conversations with friends over which direction to take my characters next.

I saw a large part of my life, nervously put on display for four rows of blank faces and a professor who was too busy jotting down notes to make sure I was making eye contact with my audience.

No one knew the sacrifice and hard work that went into that binder, and yet, it still managed to make an impression.

I don’t remember her face or name. What I remember instead is her coming up to me after class and thanking me. She asked to read my work. She admitted that she abandoned her own writing project. Seeing me stand before a classroom of strangers and act so confident in my own work that I was willing to pay to publish it myself made her re-consider.

Years later, I find myself sitting in a much similar position. Three years of my life will be reduced to the inside of a three-ring binder, nervously put on display for a grade.

This time, the binder is white.

I will see the late nights struggling to find something to write. I will see the sighs of frustration when things went wrong and elation when things finally went right. I will see the aching ears, the tears, the laughter and the stress.

There are some differences between now and then, of course, but at the end of it all, I will still have a three-ring binder that contains a large chunk of my life and an even larger chunk that could never make the cut.

A lot of people will never look beyond the cover. They will never care about the effort that went into making those pages.

But if I’m lucky, there will be that one person who flips through its pages and uses my hard work as motivation to continue their own.

Maybe I’ll be working on a real book by then.