When I first began writing a journal, it was after reading Anne Frank’s diary for the first time.
I was a chubby WASP from New England, but Anne’s story moved me. I was fully aware of the idea of a journal telling a story, of it being an influential, powerful narrative that describes not just the writer but also the age in which it was written.
But, you know, I was also pre-menstrual and awful at school so most of this was just stuff I felt rather than understanding in an academic way, or at least, in a way I could express.
The end result is my collection of self-written books. Each one full of bad prose, worse poetry, and this kind of affected, needy voice of someone desperate to be understood -- and worse still -- liked by all of posterity. They are nightmarish. In my living will which I will go off and handle shortly, I will request that they be read allowed to my children as a warning against ego and then burned.
For all their pomposity (and sadly, lack of pompitus), I wasn’t even particularly meticulous in the records I kept. I was the opposite of diligent. I mean, there has always been a book of some sort kicking around that I’ve been known to keep my thoughts in, but I didn’t do it daily. There were days, months, years, when I didn’t make the time to sit down and moon over whatever boy I was currently mooning over nor record my favorite songs in the top twenty. The world is not worse off for this.
When I did keep them, I never called them diaries, but, like Paul Rudd before me, I called them journals. Eventually I began buying the books myself, being particular to the point of obsession about what the book in question had to look and feel like, but I didn’t start buying them on my own for many years. I didn’t have to.
I prefer blank, smaller, lined, spiral-bound books. But when you are a kid, these non-whimsical objects are not often the books people give you as gifts -- and most of my journals were gifts. This is because none of my extended family knew me really well. They knew I liked to read and that I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, so writing to them must have seemed a logical progression. Hilariously, it took me much, much, longer (and also a Bachelor’s in a totally unrelated field) to reach the same conclusion.
“DREAM” commanded a puffy vinyl diary I opened one year. “Cool,” I muttered as I flipped through the pages, divided into a chunks, each assigned a different color of the rainbow. Nothing had ever been less so. Worse still, a journal blatantly titled “DIARY”. As if that weren’t enough to wound my burgeoning aesthetic sensibilities, this one had a lock, which struck me as a concession to paranoia, and inspiring if misattributed quotes on every other page. Stuff like “Being is the measure of doing a task.” -- Ghandi.*
They were all like that. I even got one or two of that ilk in high school when I’d started buying my own. The covers of some of them were designed to look like “real books,” with covers featuring imitations of those of famous novels or plays. This was confusing, and set, in my mind, an impossible standard. This is also why I didn’t immediately put a hit out on my mom when she called to confess that she had accidentally donated one of these confusing looking books from my high school days to a local library drive.
After the initial panic and horror about somebody reading one of my journals, I calmed somewhat. I calmed down even more when I next got home to visit and could see where the mistake was. The cover was a copy of William’s Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. On the spine, my furious teenaged hand had scrawled “JOURNAL” to clarify that I was not, you know, the master of the English language but, rather, an angry teenaged girl. I opened it up and the first page was an entry from the summer of 2000. I was delighted to see that rather than revealing the musings of my very soul, I was chattering in a weird British way. And mainly about Sting. “I’m really into Sting now -- not new Sting, just old Sting -- he’s funky!”
Much Ado About Nothing, indeed. Seriously, though. Funky. It was 2000. That is not that long ago! For a second after I started reading, I honestly paused to wonder if maybe I was doing something where I was pretending I was from another time. Sting? Really? Then I remembered how I’d obsessed over the Police for a while and I had been working at a dentist’s office so I’m sure I heard "Fields of Gold" more than once, so maybe that was it. The journal was genuine; I was just a committed little weirdo.
My mom got the journal back the day after she dropped it off. She’s a librarian herself, and someone she knew spotted it in the box she had left and called her right away. In the initial stomach-lurching moment of hearing the truth, I pictured the gaggle of librarians who probably passed around my journal on their break and laughed over it while one of the oldest members of their party would stop and say, “Rebecca Stokes, yes, I remember her -- she never once returned a library book! NOT EVEN ONCE.” I know in reality this didn’t happen, because everyone’s been so decent and respectful about the whole thing. (Plus, I am pretty sure all the librarians who knew about my fines are dead. From old age. Not murder. No, sirree.) The woman who found the journal called my mom immediately, letting her know she just saw the spine before making the call. My mom told me she read “just far enough to figure out which kid it belonged to” and then stopped.
I want to be mortified, because their reverence of my youthful dreams and musings is so kind -- especially because there isn’t a whole lot going on content wise. Sure, I talk about boys I like, but I divide up my feelings for them in the same way I divide up the pros and cons for each college I was thinking I was going to. (I got it wrong with predictions for both boyfriends and my continued schooling, thus finally putting to rest the question about my psychic abilities.) The stuff I wrote about wasn’t important, nor did it pay a lot of attention to the outside world.
I wasn’t navel gazing so much as I was knee-cap gazing before quickly growing bored with even my own knees and then falling asleep. I mean, hell, even in my teacher-mandated journal in second grade I paused in the magnum opus dedicated to chronicling my bout of chicken pox to mention that we had gone to war with Iraq. This news was accompanied with a poor drawing of an ambulance. Say what you will about me in my oblivious teenaged years, but my baby-self was on point, a veritable Will MacAvoy (LOOK OUT, MANDY). If my journal were the last existing record of the 2000-2001, future historians would note that nothing happened anywhere, and then be quietly baffled by an apparent resurgence in Sting’s popularity.
It was nice to have my thoughts from thirteen years ago treated with such respect. Especially when, as an adult, I feel that I have to fight pretty hard for respect as a working writer on an almost daily basis. I guess I could go the other way with it and just become extremely resentful that people were more deferential to a book wherein I doodled my plans for a prom dress and copied down some lyrics by the 70s lite rock band America than most folks are about the writing I do on a daily basis. My parents get what I do and are into it, but they still need me to send them links -- the same with their friends. They have a distrust of new media and, while I can’t fault them for it, it makes fully communicating what I do difficult.
But why go that way with it? I’ll choose to believe that time colors everything, and that, as transitory as the blogging life is, maybe folks will find my notes on these sorts of articles years from now and swear up and down that they haven’t read them because they don’t want to mar my “historical process” since, of course, I will be a noted member of the creative canon. I’ll nod sagely, knowing full well that most of those notes include things like “buy tampons” and “I should write a Game of Thrones kind of series -- but for cats.”
The only other wish I’d have for the next time I bump into one of my diaries after a long gap is that I don’t cringe so much when I read it. I mean I’m sure there will be things that make me want to slap myself silly, but -- god willing -- there will be NO FEMINIST POETRY IN THE VOICE OF LADY GODIVA OR DRAFTS FOR INVITATIONS TO SLUMBER PARTIES AT MY HOUSE IN THEM. Oh, Stokes, you old try-hard.
Do you journal? Do you ever go back and reread them? What’s the most embarrassing stuff hiding out in there? I found a whole page in mine dedicated to why I thought Dustin Hoffman had a hot body. MY GOD, I AM STRANGE.
*Gandhi never said this, and thank god, because it DOESN’T MEAN ANYTHING. Also I had it as the signature on my email at my last job for a while, which entertained me and no one else greatly.