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Friday, February 08, 2008

His Dork Materials

The last The Last Word in today's Day and Night in the Irish Independent

They say that everyone has at least one good book inside them, but did you know that your odds are greatly increased if you happened to keep diaries when you were younger? I’ve been thinking about – in fact, make that haunted by - this idea all week, having spent some time nosing through journalist Rae Earl’s My Fat Mad Teenage Diary.

Earl swears that the book is actually her diary from when she was an overweight, insecure, angry 17-year-old girl, and my instincts tell me that the material in it is too cringeworthy and painfully honest to be made up.
Flicking through the entries provoked several feelings in me. First was admiration for Earl’s bravery in making these missives of teen misery achingly public, followed by utter embarrassment - and some soul searching - as I realised I related a little too well to what this girl was feeling.

More than anything though, it plunged me into an intense flashback, transporting me back in time to the mid-1990s,when I too undertook to keep a record of my exciting and riveting teenage existence. I had forgotten about these diaries until a couple of years ago, when my parents were moving house and I unearthed the journals at the bottom of a closet.

Now, I know nostalgia is really “in” at the moment, but I don’t think enough time has passed to make me read these horror stories with anything other than pure, joyless mortification. I always think that those who can look back pleasurably on their teenage diaries - and, by extension, their teenage years - are like people who reminisce fondly about life in the Eastern Bloc before the Wall came down: if you’re really honest with yourself, you’ll admit the experience was a soul-crushing endurance test that stretched the power of the human spirit to its absolute limits.

I can only skim through my own teenage diaries one monotonous entry at a time, before I have to tuck it away safely in the freezer, kind of like how Joey had to deal with his copy of Stephen King’s The Shining in that episode of Friends. In fairness, the years I kept a diary were between the ages of 13 and 15, so my social life was limited to say the least. Open the journal at random and you’ll read all the gripping news about my trip to the library, or how my sister-in-law bought me an ice-pop, or what I learned in Geography class that day.

Of course, looking back now, these diaries are more interesting for what they don’t say rather than what they do. And in that regard, as much as I mock them, perhaps it’s a good thing to have a record of who and what you were – and weren’t - and perhaps who you were trying to be – and not to be – at that time.

I know I’d love to be able to go back to who I was then as the 26-year-old I am now, and take my 14-year-old self aside and tell him to just relax, and that everything will work out. Knowing me, I wouldn’t have listened anyway, and besides, it’s probably important to go through all those things that I’d like to have spared my younger self from. What’s that term that we all use to describe experiences that were less than perfect? Oh yes: “character building”, that’s the one.

And in case you’re wondering: no, I shan’t be hunting down a publisher for my own fat, mad teenage diaries that I’ve deigned to christen His Dork Materials. How could I ever look the 14-year-old me in the face again if I did?

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