Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cringeworthy

The oldest of my diaries were in a box in my parents' basement until last week, so now that I have access, I dug out volume 12 yesterday afternoon. I wanted to refresh my memory about how exactly the next chapter of my long history with Steve unfolded, and as I read and copied excerpts from April-May 1996, I was cracking up. Oh, the teenage angst.

After we put the boys to bed, Steve wanted to hear what I'd been laughing about when he got home, so  I read aloud the relevant parts. And they were hysterical--truly. Almost immediately, I was both laughing and crying uncontrollably. It was a shade different from simply "laughing so hard you have tears streaming down your face," and I wasn't exactly sure what was going on.

The diaries are funny on two levels: first, because I was so melodramatic. I was a very precocious child, the 14-going-on-30 type, and you can tell by the way I wrote that I was a reader. You can also tell that I read a mix of books with mature vocabulary, and magazines like YM and Seventeen that used words like "crushing" and "I dig him." OY. And second, because of the irony. It is hilarious because I know how the story ends, because 30-year-old me is reading it out loud to 30-year-old Steve, and our children are sleeping upstairs.

And yet on another level, they're painfully funny, with emphasis on the "painful." However ridiculous my words sound with a decade and a half of perspective, I was serious as a heart attack when I wrote them. I really did think that "the stakes are so high." I really did think that my life was pathetic because here I was in eighth grade and didn't have a boyfriend and probably I'd be single forever. It's silly in hindsight, but the emotions were deeply felt at the time.

As Steve and I lay in bed talking about it later, I thought about my tearful laughter. I realized that it's like, if I laugh hard enough, if I am first to ridicule her, then when you all laugh, you are laughing *with* me instead of *at* her (me). Part of me wants to share all these priceless gems with you, because they really are so stinking hilarious. Yet part of me does feel a little embarrassed putting 14-year-old me out there to be publicly humiliated. I laugh--but there are some tears mixed into the laughter, because I remember that awkward girl with her very real hurts. I kind of want to hug her and tell her it will all be OK.

So I wonder if it really is fair to hang her out and laugh at her, in part because while it would be extremely funny to my 20-and-up readers, it might hit a little too close to home for my younger teenage friends. You can laugh at someone else's teenage angst when your own is equally past and equally laughable (if not equally well preserved)...but can you laugh at someone else's teenage angst when you're in the midst of your own, and your own isn't funny yet? Is it insulting, instead of funny, to watch others laugh at a girl who lived sixteen years ago but was a whole lot like you are now? And, am I really able to simultaneously show compassion and patience toward teen girls while mocking the teen girl I once was?

I'm still mulling over these things (and would love your comments, especially any of you younger readers). Meanwhile, I am thankful to have this record of my life, cringe-inducing though it may be. It helps me see, in black and white, just how very far I have come and how much work God has done in me. And I hope it will give me better empathy and understanding for young girls in my life, whether my own daughters someday or other girls I have the privilege of loving and walking alongside. And also, in the end, it really is great for a laugh.


*The title of this post is a nod to Sarah Brown's Cringe, a book as well as a public reading series. From her website
Once a month, brave souls come forward and read aloud from their teenage diaries, journals, notes, letters, poems, abandoned rock operas, and other general representations of the crushing misery of their humiliating adolescence. It’s better and cheaper than therapy.

5 comments:

Faith said...

I think it's great that you were able to read your journals to your husband. I'll probably share my journals with my girls as they are getting to about the age that I was when I started journaling.
I don't know that I would ever want to put large portions of my journal out for the whole world. Journals are so private, personally I don't think I'd be comfortable sharing except for a small excerpt as means of making a larger point.

Anonymous said...

I'm really glad you posted this. I read your original entry and I did think that there was a lot of eye-rolling and you were being pretty hard on your teenage self. We're so much wiser now, it's true, but those were real feelings and real struggles you had back then. And that person was already halfway to being who you are today -- not a bad start. So my answer is yes: Give her a little more respect!

(And remember, no doubt when we're 60 we're going to look back with wonder and chagrin at some of our 30-year-old thoughts and writing.)

I'm tickled to death that you are doing this series. Love stories are so fun, and I can already tell that you and Steve have a good one!
--LL

Ali said...

I think so much is in the way you approach the telling. If you write things from the perspective of laughing at yourself, others will likely laugh along. If you write from the perspective of looking at how far God has brought you and what a wondrous work He has done, it will be more of a focus on Him and less on the angst of your youth.

That said, as much as I'd love to hear the story in it's entirety, it would feel a bit invasive to read too much of your journal. Even with permission. Perhaps you can find a way to share the story without revealing much of the personal past writings.

Zoanna said...

I've come across some of my 14-year-old self, too, in old diaries, and have done that laugh-till-you-cry-but-some-of-the-crying-is-painful type of thing. When I thought about putting some of it on my blog, I resisted. I felt a sting of mockery. You're right, the pain was real and intense and didn't seem melodramatic at all. Like my mom always told her friends who mocked teenage romance,"It might be pupply love, but it's real to the pups." I appreciated that she didn't condescend. I think maybe let it simmer a little more on the back burner. It's a tough call. I think it's easier to hear someone make fun of the person they are now--self-deprecation is hilarious and refreshing. Not everyone can pull it off in a funny way, but when they can, it's priceless.

Amy said...

thanks for the thoughtful comments, everyone.

who is LL? I am racking my brain! email me? please? :)