First Best Austrian Friend and I once debated the greatest capacities of human nature. He said “love” and “tolerance” and I countered with “generosity” and “respect”. Love – or at least romantic love – I told him, was really a self-centered emotion at its core, not to mention the fact that it has been made trite through overuse. And tolerance was a downright arrogant attitude. “I tolerate you. I tolerate that your existence occurs simultaneously with my own.” Should one be grateful for being tolerated? That might be a good first step, but it is entirely insufficient to truly dismantling prejudice. No, people could do better than that.
I believe in kindness. I believe in giving what you can with no expectation of payback. And I believe that if someone reads this and thinks it is a bunch of sentimental crap and that the world doesn’t work this way, then he/she will have reasons and experiences to back that idea up and they are right. That’s where respect comes in. It doesn’t mean I will change my own views one iota.
I thought I was always this way – that it was in my nature – and that my upbringing and all the luck I have had in life simply reinforced my natural inclinations. I thought I would get glimpses of this essential nature as I read through my childhood journals.
On March 21st 1978 (at the ripe old age of 16) I wrote about a silly argument I had had with my boyfriend “C” at a party. (It should be noted here that I had since completely erased this boyfriend from my memory.)
Here’s March 22nd :
C. called me and apologized & I did too. We’re all made up. J
He was in a bad mood because he had just found out that his dad told his mom that after the divorce, (which coincidentally is on C’s birthday), he didn’t want any ties with that house. That is so shitty. C. & his dad are, or were, really close too. It hurt C. so much that he started to cry. The whole thing gets me sick. His family (except for the brother) is so shitty. It depresses me . . . .
I wanted to write a nostalgic Christmas post, so I scoured my old childhood diaries for entries dated December 24th or 25th. Here is a typical example:
So . . . not so nostalgic. What am I going to do now? Technically there is still 1 hour and 19 minutes left of Christmas (9 hours and 19 minutes, no, make that 18 minutes, if you are on American time.) So I can still get a meaningful message out to my blogworld friends just under the wire . . .
I decided to write about last night’s Christmas Eve celebration. Our family unit plus mother-in-law plus our three refugee sons. My husband and I had decided that we would keep to all our usual traditions – the wreath, the visit to dear neighbors, the incense, the tree, the toasts, the music, the candles, the presents, the feast . . .
I worried in advance if it would all be weird. There would be 8 of us:
2 devout Muslims,
1 slightly less devout Muslim, and
All together, all ostensibly celebrating the birth of Christ.
It wasn’t weird – it was wonderful. Our boys came with presents wrapped in Santa-themed paper. Their only problem in singing along to “Silent Night” was that the German version was playing (“Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht . . . “) and they only knew the English version. During dinner, we clearly identified the pork, beef, chicken and fish dishes so that everyone could observe their own religious (and culinary) traditions. As the heathen in the crowd, I have no such traditions, but, nevertheless, I religiously avoided eating the chicken. The best part of the evening was being able to hug them all – both at the tree and then when saying goodbye. Up to then, it had all been only smiles and polite handshakes.
For the past half year I have been worried about . . . (to steal from both Kate and Joan) – where is the world heading and why are we sitting in this handbasket? Yesterday made me feel better about all these questions again. Concentrate on those around you. Notice their goodness and be good to them in return.
I just finished my youthful Journal #3 – my “sweet sixteen” one. Another blast from the past. It was obnoxious and revelatory in equal parts.
Despite my hopes that my earlier relationship fickleness and politically incorrect language would be gone – only the second of those two was (essentially) fulfilled. There were more names of classmates – lots of names! – that I had to look up in old yearbooks to identify, despite the fact that these people (well, actually “kids” back then) were obviously very important to me at particular moments of that time. Of the ones I remembered, it turns out that the sequence and length of these “relationships” was different to the memories I had – different to the way I have told my stories over the years. And I’m not talking about boys here – I am talking about my girlfriends. My bff’s as they call them now.
Before reading Journal #3, I would have told you this:
I wasn’t part of a clique. I simply had a manageable number of friends for organizing weekend activities. There were 12 of us in all.
I had four boyfriends in High School.
Back to the future, here is the now updated version:
I apparently had several experiences in which soon-to-be-new bff told me all the nasty things soon-to-be-former bff was saying about me behind my back. In some cases, I swallowed it all whole hog. It never occurred to me that new bff might have an agenda. I bounced around like a jai alai ball from (girlfriend) allegiance to allegiance with nearly the same ferocity as I did from (boyfriend) crush to crush, because . . .
There were more than four. But the majority of them strike me now as fairly fluid and short-lived affairs, regardless of how very seriously I took them at the time. Based on the fact that the word “jerk” gets used a lot after-the-fact, I suspect that I was willing to “go with” a fair number of Biffs.
The upshot of Journal #3 is that it told me a different story of my own young adulthood. It showed me that there was fluidity, velocity, bounce, and rebound in ALL of my relationships – with boys and girls alike. They had flux capacitators built into them. It turns out that half of them sped up to 88 miles per hour and were erased from time.
After finishing the last page and closing Journal #3, I found myself asking if this all said something about me.
Here’s hoping childhood Journal #2 represents the low point (– actually I should say “high point”) of my latest project. Covering approximately ¾’s of my time as a 15 year old, it continues the series of “Best Day of My Life!!” entries including the name of some boy I had to search for in an old yearbook to remember. These “relationships” had an average duration of three weeks, two of which I spent either worrying about “being used” or pining after some other, better (unattainable) option. (Do I need to point out the irony here?)
The obnoxiousness of this journal must have become apparent to me as I was writing it – although I never state that directly. All I know is that the notebook is only half-full and ends with a To Do list:
Journal #3 (underneath) begins on the same date upon returning from the store. Based on the handwriting, the content, the writing style and the absence of exclamation points and heart-shaped doodles, it seems I matured about two years during that walk to Drew’s.
I’ve only read the first few entries of Journal #3, but am already hopeful that I have successfully passed the Point of Peak Cringe. Keeping my fingers crossed.
I just finished childhood journal #1 and it wasn’t quite as bad as I expected. Spanning two years, from age 13 to 15½, it wasn’t really like a diary. It contained a lot of doodles, jokes, lists, pictures I drew, a few Bionic Man stickers from my boxes of Lucky Charms, my favorite family sayings (“Cease your over-manifestations of anti-social tendencies!” and “But the theoretical implications are alone staggering!”) and one rant about my mom making me do chores (“So unfair!”), immediately followed by this written on the opposite page:
On a more humbling note, my 54 year old’s memory of her 13 year old self turned out to be fairly true. It seems I never met a boy I couldn’t get a crush on. And I never had a crush that lasted for more than a few weeks (mostly because some new boy came along). The only saving grace is that – just like with my mom rant – I seemed capable of some self-reflection even at that time. A few weeks before my 14th birthday, I catalogued “The Guys in My Life* – *As of Valentine’s Day, 1976”. It’s a list of names (a lot of them unfamiliar to me now), each one followed by a short commentary: sort of, eh, mistake, chased but never caught, the first real one, the second real one, I give up!, the third real one, could be never was, and experience. This was followed by:
It’s kind of a miracle that I’ve stayed married for 27 years.
I did a lot of shifting around on the girlfriend and “best friend” fronts too. The journal starts with a euphoric declaration that K.S. was now my best friend. (“Best day of my life!!”). Four pages and two months later, we mutually decided that we were not best friends after all. (“But we’re still good friends.”) K.S. then moved away and quickly disappeared completely from my life.
Later, I mention the “cool crowd” and the “cheerleader crowd” in my High School, neither of which I belonged to. I hatched a plan to find every girl these two cliques had cut and invited them all over to my house for a party. According to my journal, “we were really rowdy and had a blast”. Of course, I made a list of all their names. And just like with the list of boys above, I can’t remember now who half of these girls were. But the other half? They stayed my friends throughout high school and, even now, over thirty-five years and several thousand miles later, there’s still a connection.
The only truly disconcerting thing about Journal #1 was some of the words I used. It stunned me to read them and discover they were ever a part of my vocabulary. I can’t even bring myself to type them now. The least offensive one was “quier” (sic), which I am pretty sure just meant “strange” at the time and was not yet used to insult gay people (geez, I hope not!) Where did that budding capacity for self-reflection go when it came to my word choices? Were these words I tossed around outside the confines of my journal? Was I so oblivious to their meanings? Or was I just trying them out or, even worse, trying to sound cool? If it was the last one, I can say definitively to my 13 year old self that it was the uncoolest thing about you.
When I started this blog almost two years ago (anonymously, unpublished except to Lyart, and on a different platform) I had a sort of amorphous idea about what I was doing.
First, I wanted to write.
I have always loved writing – the process itself – the way the words just came out and formed unexpected ideas in mysterious ways. I especially loved those moments when The Flow happened. Sitting with pen in hand, (or later with fingers poised over the typewriter, and then later the word processor, the PC, and finally the laptop keyboard), I would get to a place where firings from some indiscriminate part of my brain between the conscious and subconscious realms would streak their way from nerve to nerve, all the way down to my fingers who then seemed to move of their own accord as words, sentences, paragraphs almost magically appeared on paper or screen before my eyes. It was cathartic. It was magic. The words weren’t all that special in themselves; in fact, they were mostly unworthy of even banal consumption, much less critical acclaim. But they came from a surprising place whose existence had been unknown to me. They made me realize how much there must be in there, and then out there, to discover and explore. They turned me into a traveler.
Second, I wanted to write my stories – before they disappear into the Land of the Demented Forgotten. My original concept was to take impulses from my current life and use them as a springboard into some story or significant moment of my past. I wanted to reflect how life is not really linear, but rounded. We keep circling back, returning to places and things we know. We have routines and comforting habits and seasonal rituals . . . I stuck to that concept pretty well for quite a few months weeks. Then slowly but surely, this blog turned into something my sister accurately described as “memoirs in real time”. In other words, an online diary.
That wasn’t the plan.
All this introspection probably comes from the fact that I made great strides in getting my sister to start a blog of her own. I’ve been following her first experiments and her process of figuring out what she wants to do and how she wants to do it. Naturally it has made me think about my own blog’s evolution. Since I don’t really know where I am going at the moment, I feel the urge to return to my roots. And now I have found someone to help me. My younger self.
I suppose I had a lot of possessions when I left the States over 30 years ago. There was a huge stamp collection, for one thing, that finally got sold just a few years ago. There was probably some furniture and a stereo. Lots of books. Clothes that didn’t fit into the two suitcases I brought with me. And I’m sure a lot more. Over the years it mostly got tossed, or lost in a shuffle, or given away, or transported across the Atlantic in a giant canvas US Mail bag. Eventually, all that was left in the States was my ten-speed (“The Rejuvenator”) and the contents of one black footlocker in my sister’s guest room closet.
I figure I have been back to visit that footlocker between 20 and 25 times. Each time I opened it up and there they were: my childhood journals. (Not “diaries” mind you; diaries were lame and for prisses.) Each time I briefly contemplated taking them back with me when I left. And then I picked up one and opened it to a random page and read. Cringe. I picked up a different one and read a paragraph. Again, cringe. I tossed the notebook back in and shut the lid. Maybe next visit, I thought.
Well, this year, the notebooks finally got to accompany me on my flight back to Austria. I have set myself the task of reading all of them in order and know already that it is going to be a humbling experience. From the little snatches I have read so far (while figuring out what order they go in), I assume I will be reading a lot about the boys I grew up and went to school with. Lots and lots of boys’ names are in there, often two in a single entry. (And no, I didn’t have a lot of boyfriends during my school years, although, apparently, not
for lack of trying.) I also seem to use the words “depressed” and “rowdy” a lot. On the bright side, there are no smiley faces or hearts. I don’t dot the letters “I” or “j” with little flowers. I also don’t end every sentence with an exclamation point. Those are little things, but they will help.
Time will tell if this plan will become the masochistic exercise I expect or if one or two little gems might be gleaned out of the rough. Best case scenario – maybe I will be able to start a new recurring blog feature. So, watch for it!