Skip to content

Rita Bullwinkel, Age 8

Recipient of a scholarship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and a grant from the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, Rita Bullwinkel is a writer whose work has appeared in publications such as VICE, NOON, Gigantic, Joyland, and The Conium Review. Presented here is a journal excerpt written primarily in an invented code.

* * *


— Rita Bullwinkel, Age 8

Rita Bullwinkel

“These pages are from my 3rd grade school notebook. Most of the pages are in code. I was eight, and could barely write proficiently, and my spelling was atrocious, but I remember wanting to make codes and write in codes so that I could write whatever I wanted and no one would know what I was saying. I am not sure exactly why I didn’t want anyone to know what I was writing. I think it was because I wanted to write about my feelings and my feelings were embarrassing. I only wrote in codes for a couple days, right at the beginning of the school year, and then my teacher made me stop because she couldn’t quickly correct my spelling. I never went back to writing codes or inventing lexicons. My mother thinks I wanted to write in code because I saw code writing on TV. I do not remember ever watching a TV show about code writing. I learned cursive later in the year, which is how I still write. In my adult life, more than once, someone has seen my handwriting and asked which Catholic elementary school I attended. The entire American Catholic eduction system must have been working from the same cursive handwriting booklet because it is true—I too have since been able to successfully identify people who share that same, rigid, slanted scrawl. These pages predate my cursive script so the handwriting looks totally foreign to me. It is also strange that in the one bit of English on the page marked 9/24/97 I wrote that ‘there is a legend that if there are a lot of ants it is going to be a wet winter’ and that ‘I hope that legend is true.’ What was this legend of the ant-ridden wet winter? Where did I hear it? Why did I want rain? I haven’t a clue.”