Morto for me: excruciating encounters with my teenage self in an old diary

Black Panther sympathies in white suburban Ireland, affinities with Tupac and Jim Morrison, and painful attempts to woo girls with overwrought letters: when it comes to re-reading my adolescent diaries, there’s nowhere to hide

Thu, Jul 24, 2014, 01:01

The idea to rediscover this younger version of myself came after seeing the documentary Mortified Nation. It’s about a stage show in the US where people read out humiliating extracts from their adolescent musings in front of an audience.

Watching it is a cringe-inducing experience. “I just put down my Anne Frank diary – I can really relate to her struggle,” is one standout line. But it also makes for a hilarious, even touching portrayal of the hormone-induced insanity teenagers go through. It may have been hard to believe at the time, but it turns out we were all grappling with similar feelings.

That doesn’t make revisiting it any easier. The night I saw Mortified Nation, I decided against attending a play by an old friend purely because he had invited most of our year at school. Apart from the few I’ve remained close with, I will cross the street in dread if I spot someone who even resembles a former classmate. After watching Mortified Nation, however, I wonder whether it’s just my old self I’ve been trying to avoid all this time.

Sure enough, after digging out an old box at the back of a wardrobe, I find my answer. My first diary opens, quite immodestly, with what I must have thought was a fitting quote. It’s from the prison letters of George Jackson, a Black Panther. Apart from conveniently overlooking the fact that I was a white teenager in suburban Ireland, this is the first signpost towards a horror show of teenage angst and insecurity.

“When you read this, you will know me,” I begin. What sort of readership I had in mind here is unclear but the contents read like an ill-conceived autobiography, divided into chapters and written in the tone of someone on their death bed. Apparently I had a fear of dying prematurely without leaving something meaningful behind, although it’s hard to think of a worst testament of my character than this. I’m beginning my final year of school, having recently turned 18, and seem much further away from adulthood than I remember being.

Yet there’s so much change packed into that one year that, even while writing it, I was going back over the pages in wonder at the transformation taking place. At one point I’m despairing over not fitting in; at another I’m declaring it the happiest times of my life. I go from praying every night to reasoning that, actually, this religious stuff doesn’t quite add up. Nietzsche quotes begin appearing. Jim Morrison and Tupac are revered as intellectual giants. “I almost sound pretentious,” I remark.

 

A well-meaning teenager

Somewhere beneath the growing pains, there is a well-meaning teenager grateful for what he has in life. Mostly, however, the pages are brimming with awkward moments I had either blocked out or rewritten in my own head. These are recounted in such excruciating detail that it’s difficult to take in: the self-righteousness, the drama, the lack of perspective, the floundering for an identity. The whole point of returning to this journal was to glean something worthwhile from my teenage self. Instead I’m taken aback at how clueless I was.

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