Passing By: Thirty-seven words and eight entries

by Garrett Zecker


I teach a workshop with mainly seventeen and eighteen-year-old writers. I recently assigned a short task: write your name and age at the top of the page, then write a piece about yourself using only the exact number of words of your age. I completed the task along with them. While I had twice as many words to work with, when I listened to them share their work I realized that I had little more insight than they did. Below, I have reproduced my activity and interspersed each line with an excerpt from a journal entry. These dated excerpts interlineate an experience from the ensuing years since I was my student's age. 

I keep journals 

April 5, 2000 (18) – I made an appointment to see a counselor. I will tell him about the last time I saw a counselor and that none of it really helped. It was all about talking about how the world treats me...but it didn't stop the world. 

I record an imperfect life 

November 29, 2006 (25) – Every day it seems I am looking at the work I am doing, the work to come, the payoff and potential rewards, and I think how I am twenty-five and do not want to be stuck with some of this or have to settle. 

Days, joy and torment, all words 

January 19, 2010 (28) – The clinic was at a library – a nice one – and I waited inside. 

Imagine, a manual 

August 30, 2011 (30) – I cried on stage in front of hundreds of people. It was a pure sorrow. A sorrow arisen from the show being over and so much of my life having passed and at joy. The joy of having had something so wonderful and amazing I helped create. Something beautiful and true with so many amazing people. 

"How To Be A Man" 

June 17, 2013 (32) – I am scared. I am an impulse. I am darting back and forth in a cage like a tiger. I am dying and I have never been happy. How much time do I have left? I'm a terminal case. What is the struggle for? What? 

Words fail often as my heart 

August 6, 2013 (32) - I remain frustrated, feeling like I am doing all the work, and thinking how resentful I am in ways that go all the way back to the beginning. The apartment. The jealousy of my friends. No need fulfilled unless I take care of it. Money. My brain starts despairing, thinking of ways of being satiated... 

My audience my mirror 

November 9, 2016 (35) – It's Carl Sagan's birthday and I really miss my friend. 

Books buried beneath the earth 

14 November 2017 (36) - I've needed to simplify. A lot. And I am trying and trying not to mess everything up, even at the expense of things I really, really want and need. And then I also want my heart to be quiet and still. To not be so anxious and mean and irritated at absolutely every last thing.