Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Thrilling Days Of Yesteryear

It's a long story how I ended up doing it, but I dragged my old journals out from the place I stashed them when we moved last summer and, for the first time in years, sat down and read them.  You can read me tweeting the experience here.

The first thing I did was look at what I was holding.  It was a spiral-bound notebook, purchased in January, 1984.  I used it to take notes for the class Modern American Fiction.  I know this because I have the course, the professor, the meeting time, and the building and room number scrawled on the inside front cover.  I also have my name and dorm room there, too.  On the outside back cover, I'd written the date, time, and topics for the final exam for the class.  These details, unimportant really in the scheme of my whole life, seemed to glow a bit.  This artifact from a time before home computers or cell phones or digital synthesizers or anyone outside Arkansas who knew who Bill Clinton was or anyone outside his family and friends  who knew who Barack Obama was; before front-wheel drive and automatic transmission became standard (you still had to pay extra for them on cars back then); before Ronald Reagan finished his first term as President - this thing had been.

In the late summer of 1984, I sat down, drew a line through all that information and printed "Journal, August 17, 1984 -" and left it open-ended until I had filled that particular notebook on April 17, 1986.  Which I duly noted.  I must have removed the pages on which I'd taken notes.  On the top right-hand of the very first page I wrote the date.  I started to write:
I find it increasingly imperative that I keep a record of thoughts, impressions, happenings, etc. so that in case I need reference for future activities, plans, etc. it will be here.  Also, to check out historical information in 40 years, this will be important.
I was off by a decade.

At first blush, what I discovered as I read these was an earnest young man, learning about the world, about himself, and trying to navigate among friendships, relationships, while having few of the requisite skills to do so.  I'll admit to being embarrassed by quite a bit in here, if only for its flagrant naivete.

Of course, there's more.  I'm ashamed of one particular instance of just plain ugliness toward another person.  If I had the chance, I'd not only apologize in person, but do whatever penance that person felt I deserved.  Just a couple short sentences, but so full of sheer disgusting . . . just ugh.

I remember spending much of that summer reading.  A whole lot of history.  Post-WWII-era history.  That's when I first read America In Our Time by Godfrey Hodgson.  When I started journaling I was reading Missle Envy by Helen Caldicott.  Just before that, I'd read Jonathan Schell's The Fate Of The Earth so the whole nuclear war thing was heavy on my mind.  That's reflected in a lot of what I wrote about the politics of the time.  The Republican National Convention, handing another term to Ronald Reagan, was about to start, and while we forget it now, the nuclear freeze movement was popular if not very effective.  To say I had my consciousness raised is probably accurate.

Most of what I feel, reading a couple weeks worth of entries, is compassion tinged with sorrow.  The person who wrote those was struggling in so many ways.  Writing a journal, for all the pretentiousness of my very first paragraph, was a lifeline with no one to catch it.  As I said to someone on Twitter, it's odd to hear my 18 year old self speaking to me and not able to speak back.  There's a lot I wish I could tell him.  There's a lot I wish I could do.  Of course, I can't.  Even if I could, as I admitted, my 18 year old self would take one look at me, shake his head, and go about not quite getting life right for quite a long time.

I did have a thought, before I actually sat and opened and read that journal, of doing some transcribing, thinking it might be fun.  The fact is, I just can't do that.  It isn't the things about me that would be revealed.  I've already been candid about the banality of what I wrote, the bathos of some things, and most of all the immaturity of the person one can read between the lines.  I'll also admit that I write about smoking pot and hashish.  Yes, I did.  What's horrible isn't having done that.  What's horrible is the guilt I expressed at having done so.  Some innocent fun - and it was, trust me - with friends, and I spend quite a bit of time in holier-than-thou mode afterward.

No, it isn't what is revealed about me.  The simple fact is, as this was never intended to be read by anyone but me, I name names of people and detail relationship matters that, honestly, I don't think are anyone's business.  Rather than embarrass anyone else, I'll let my previously brilliant idea die a quiet death from common-senseitis.

I am curious, though.  Anyone out there keep a diary or journal?  If so, have you ever gone back after years or decades and read what you wrote?  What was your reaction?

Virtual Tin Cup

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