On February 21, 1999, I began to keep a diary. I was 18 years old and a senior in high school. Since that time, I’ve kept a diary pretty consistently. Sometimes I only write a few times a month. Every so often I miss half a year. But for the most part, I have written down something or other at least a few times every week for the last 16 years of my life.
My diary is not, sadly, a collection of witty stories, or an investigation of deep and profound thoughts. Nor is it a scrupulous if mundane recitation of my daily tasks, meals, and appointments over the years.
It’s more of an ongoing venting of my more preoccupying emotions. I can summarize the entire 16 years of it here for you:
I’m bored, I’m worried, I’m worried, I’m humiliated, I’m worried, I’m worried, I’m anxious, I said something stupid, I’m worried, I’m worried, I’m worried, I said something really stupid, I did something even stupider, I’m humiliated, I’m worried, I’m worried, I’m worried, I’m humiliated…. ∞
Needless to say, it’s not very interesting reading. Taken all together, it does sketch out a general outline of whatever I was doing with myself over the years, and here and there, some color slips in between all the self-consciousness and fretting, but not so much that I am ever motivated to go back and read any of it.
However, this past weekend, I had the idea to look back a few Januarys ago and see what my new year’s resolutions had been, and I found something surprising: I had entirely forgotten who I was five years ago! I found myself laughing at who I’d been and what I’d been worried about, given what I now know about what was in store for (at that time) 29-year-old me. It was actually pretty entertaining and refreshing to read.
And so then I had the idea to go back to the very beginning of my diaries, all the way back to that February in 1999, and read them all. It took me awhile to find that first diary, so buried was it in the folders within folders of backups within backups of my Mac’s hard drive. It is titled, annoyingly, with my initials rather than anything like “diary” or something to do with the date. I used to like giving my diaries bizarre document names; the ones from my Chicago years are entitled (I’m fairly sure not ironically) “Wind Logs.”
The original diary is a password-protected Word doc since the worst thing I could possibly imagine in those years was my mother reading my diary, and somehow I still remember the password.
I eagerly dove into the first few months of entries, expecting to feel an outpouring of warm, nostalgic affection for the teenager I had been.
Instead, I was pretty immediately appalled.
When I think of myself over the years, I generally tend to think of myself as always having more or less my current personality, but with varying degrees of self-awareness and polish. When I think of myself as a senior in high school, for example, I remember myself as disaffected and awkward, sure, but also as witty and sarcastic. I remember feeling too big for my small town, bored and anxious to get out there in the world. I remember that I was conservative, naive, and even pretty reactionary, but I rather assume now that I never really meant any of that, that I was just faking it to fit in with the society around me, that the necessity of doing so was partly why I felt so depressed and insecure. I sometimes think that if I could go back in time and meet myself at 18, I’d be like a cool, understanding aunt. I’d take myself under my own wing, and deliver some hopeful message of “it gets better.”
But reading my first diary, I was entirely disabused of all these romantic ideas about my younger self. If I could go back in time, I would not want to make this girl feel better. I wouldn’t want to take her out for coffee and kvetching. I wouldn’t want to hold out to her a promise of her specialness, or of her eventual success in her life. I would, in fact, take enjoyment in taunting and thwarting her. I would want to teach her a thing or two. I would want to see her suffer.
Eighteen-year-old Elizabeth SUCKED. She was whiney and boring and unbelievably stupid. She was devoid of wit, humor, and perspective. She had no empathy. She had nothing whatsoever to say for herself. Despite having absolutely nothing to be proud of, she was nonetheless pretentious and preening and arrogant. Her writing over the first few years of diaries laboriously apes the style of whoever she was reading at the time (and three guesses who she was reading in 1999? That’s right, Sylvia Fucking Plath), so the prose itself is stultifying, unoriginal, and painfully self-conscious.
How could I possibly have been so awful? I don’t remember being that awful!
Still, as I read along, I did find a couple of things that made me laugh.
Some lol-worthy selections from this first year:
Mom took my car away today and it was the BIGGEST inconvenience.
“My” car was my mother’s red Acura Integra which she straight up gave me for free for my exclusive use when I turned 17 because she thought it was safer than my father’s used Toyota Avalon, which she then began driving herself (Dad also had a work truck). My parents paid for the insurance, gas, and maintenance for said Acura. It was in no sense “mine.” I have no idea what I did to cause her to remove my access to it for one day (the horror!), but based on the surrounding content, I can only assume I was an ungrateful entitled little shit about something.
I’m getting really snippy and I’ve been trying to be a nicer person lately and have been doing well and don’t want to wreck it just because I watched a damn movie, but you know how those damn movies affect me.
This is presented without any context whatsoever. What damn movie? Why would watching a movie thwart my efforts at being a nicer person? How did those damn movies affect me? Who is the “you” being addressed here? The world will never know.
On my senior prom (I went with my best friend and her recently ex-boyfriend):
Prom makes people MEAN. I think it’s the formal wear, it promotes a very “every man for himself” attitude.
On graduating from high school:
Today was my last day of high school. It doesn’t look weird in print; it doesn’t feel weird. I’m still waiting on my apologies.
I’m. Still. Waiting. On. My. Apologies.
I am going to give myself the benefit of the doubt with that one and assume I was trying to be funny.
Then, other than one entry about how much I hate absolutely everything in the whole wide world, I go silent for that entire summer, and the next entry is on August 24th, which I begin by announcing:
I find myself at college.
Despite being a classical voice major and whining repeatedly about having been placed in the least prestigious chorus due to my poor auditioning, I don’t actually get around to, you know, practicing until August 30th (such work ethic!):
I finally went over to the practice rooms today. But they’re so noisy!! Those annoying jazz students and horn players and loud instrumentalists! They ought to have separate rooms for vocalists. Plus, they don’t have tape players. I gave up pretty quickly.
So noisy, I failed to hear the tiny violin. The next day:
Then I went to First American and deposited my check, and on the way I decided to switch my major to Pre-Med and Psychology and become a psychiatrist.
Well, sure! Why not? You might think, this being my diary, that I would go into some detail about how a person who had never previously showed any interest whatsoever in science or medicine and who had spent the last three years working (“working”) on her singing would arrive at such a random and unexpected decision, but in fact, although I stick to the pre-med thing for about a year, there’s no further explanation anywhere about why I suddenly decided I wanted to do it.
I do, however, say this:
I feel like a murderer about this major change – I’m going to have to tell [my voice teacher] and it will be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life.
A MURDERER, y’all! SO HARD!!!!!
Here’s how I describe my first month at college:
I’ve been immersed in music the way an American in Paris would be immersed in French. Total immersion.
Oh SNAP! That is one damn fine simile right there, eurello! Forget about opera and psychiatry, the world of letters beckons!
I got a little carried away in a carrel at the library tonight. I was dancing wildly to my discman when I noticed the shadow of an irate grad student looming over me. I turned around and he said “Could you turn that down, Please?” Hideously embarrassed I did so; I don’t know how long he’d been watching.
Was very stimulated by my Pre-Med advising session today.
There are some hints in here of the person I would eventually grow up to be. One weekend in September, I accidentally managed to have my parents’ house to myself for a full day and night — the first time in my life I was ever fully alone. And I go into absolute rhapsodies that run to several pages about what a joyous revelation it was to be entirely alone, how I can’t wait to live by myself and be alone forever and ever and ever, how that probably has to be just about the best, most luxurious thing any person could ever hope to experience in life.
(Interestingly, the night before I had gotten drunk for the first time on Boone’s Farm with my roommates and their boyfriends. About that quintessential undergraduate experience, I had only this to say: “A’s boyfriend threw up all over our bathroom, which is so disgusting. I’m glad I’m going home tonight to have a nice calm clean weekend and can finally do my laundry, too.” Eighteen going on 45, me.)
On the first boy at college to ask me out (which happened on the first day I wore makeup to class):
As soon as I slap a little mud on my face, they’re coming out of the woodwork. What a bunch of jackasses.
Well. Can’t acually argue there.
I’m just sitting here in the yellow light listening to John Coltraine [sic] and mellowing. I’ve decided to pretend I’m in prison in order to help me bear the dormitory situation with greater fortitude.
You are truly an inspiration to us all!
To be fair, my roommates had all just called a meeting with me and the RA at which they blindsided me by telling me that they would prefer it if I moved out immediately because they didn’t like me. So, I mean, that was pretty harsh. Still…as a somewhat impartial reader all these years later? I’m kind of Team Roommates on this one.
A day in the life of an American college student:
Slept in and went to Acting for Singers to run my song w/ Y. Sounded really crappy. Practiced for about 45 minutes and my voice got really tired. Then I went to the art building to sit on my bench and eat a sausage biscuit and an orange juice. Then I went to solo class and we got Vivace explained to us. I really don’t like that blond girl. Then I went to get hypnotized after class and the guy didn’t show up, but someone there gave me 30 minutes credit for coming, so I didn’t mind too much, except that after that, I had no idea what to do w/ myself until 6:30, so I went to the library and fell asleep. I woke up around 3 and went to find someone to eat with, but couldn’t find anyone, so I went back to my dorm and ate cupcakes and played stupid computer games and wished I had friends.
For this rarified educational experience, my generation has gone into ruinous debt.
By November, however, I am finally beginning to catch on:
No matter what I do, no matter how hard I work – make straight A’s, loose all that weight, run even though I hate it, ask people all kinds of questions and allow them to talk about themselves as much as they want without interrupting, let them use my things, ignore insults, wear clothes that match and makeup and shave my damn legs – no matter what I do, nobody likes me. What is so wrong about me? Am I boring and annoying and not funny enough?
YES!! Yes, you have correctly identified the problem, Sherlock!
Bizarre assumptions about what other people look for in a friend aside (straight A’s?), we see here the first stirrings of self-awareness, and it isn’t even Christmas break yet!
I have hopes for this kid after all: she’s going to figure this shit out eventually.