Warning: Even by my self-indulgent standards, this one is going to be pretty navel-gazing.
Shortly after returning from France, I had the pleasure of unpacking my office, which had been a bedroom for the house-sitters. Before leaving last June, I’d dumped everything into boxes, as one does, and I thought that perhaps I’d be able to practice some discernment when unpacking. Instead of transferring two decades’ worth of handwritten diaries and notebooks back onto the shelves where they would sit, untouched, for another twenty years, I might summon up the force of will to…recycle…some of them…instead?
I’ve had one or two such purges in my lifetime, so it wasn’t out of the question. But this time, I simply didn’t have the mental energy to differentiate between useless nostalgia and useful notes. I felt like the sabbatical had left me less sure than ever of what matters to me creatively, or personally. So I didn’t trust myself; I might flip quickly through some coil-bound journals from 2002, decide they have no bearing whatsoever upon my current life, and toss them out, only to realize three hours/days/years later that I needed those notes for a brand new play.
My oldest notebooks, apart from a few elementary-school homework assignments that my mom guarded and eventually passed back to me, are diaries that can be carbon-dated to around 1988. Initially I used daytimers, which afforded me only a thin column of space to describe each day. But that was fine, because I was 14, and not much happens in a 14-year-old’s days. On September 4, 1988, all I wrote was:
Today Tony & Raymond & I assembled for the last sleepover before school starts. We spent an extremely large time trying to decide what to do, and then just went and did. We walked across this pipe far above the Mackenzie Ravine, and did various other neat and risky things.
The value of retaining information like this is questionable. On the one hand, I can pinpoint the date when I first crossed the pipe which would become the setting for my first short play (called “The Pipe”). On the other hand, that play is never going to be produced or published, so no one will be calling me in search of that inspirational inside scoop.
It’s all part of a closed loop, and none of it is terribly surprising. Did you know that teenage boys think (and write) about sex a lot? Would it shock you to learn they resent authority figures, and school, and anything that keeps them from goofing around all day? No matter how famous I ever become, it’s thin sauce for a bio-pic. But I keep it all close to hand, in case I feel the urge to remind myself of just how normal I used to be.
Actually, the “goofing around” part is the most depressing part of my past, because it reminds me so much of my present. On December 8, 1988, I wrote, “The comic hath begun! It’s gonna be awesome, radical, and generally cool!” I remember the comic I was so chuffed about—it was a group assignment for art class—and I remember my ambition to use it as a springboard into a whole series—nay, a career in writing comics. Yet, anyone who knows how my creative mind works will not be surprised to learn that my diaries never, ever mention this comic again. For Young Scott, “goofing around” met stuffing an inordinate number of creative eggs into a series of hastily crafted baskets, then leaving each of them behind to rot.
In high school, I branched out from diary-writing to other kinds of journals. It would still be nearly a decade before I discovered “freewriting” and began to fill journals at absurd, tree-murdering rates. But I have a compact blue notebook, started in 1991 and used for five more years. It’s filled with poetry, outlines for plays (some completed, even!), and inspiring Shakespearean quotes, including “Like as waves make towards the pebbled shore, / So do our minutes hasten to their end.” I was a cheery kid.
Elsewhere in that blue book (it actually has the word “Blue” carved onto the cover, because how else would I know which one to use?), I can see myself trying something different. Instead of trying to turn my hormone-addled emotions into rhyming couplets or tortured dialogue, I simply…wrote down my feelings:
May 25 pm: Feeling depressed about future. Don’t want to grow up, or do much at all. Lethargic & melancholy.
May 26 am: Happy about life in general, apart from a nagging feeling at the back of my mind telling me I have work to do.
May 26 pm: Tired, sore, satisfied. Rough road ahead, though, and I can feel the tremors from here.
May 27 am: Feel mildly lonely, as though everyone has something better to do than pay attention to me. Thus pensive, quiet, begrudging.
I go on like this for almost a month, and while the loquacious verbiage varies, the motifs are well-established from that excerpt. At 16, I was depressed, then happy, then lonesome and resentful—often all in the course of one day. And this would be comfortably easy to laugh off as more adolescent volatility—if it wasn’t for the fact that most of my current days feel basically the same.
Another motif: I wrote about “work” a lot:
June 13: Work is horrible, I’m pretty horrible myself, and the only good thing about life is the people around me.
June 14 am: Work! Nooo! People are fun to be around, but I would rather do nothing around them than work.
June 14 pm: I hate work and want it destroyed. Other than that, life is spiffy.
I assume that by “work” I meant “school,” but there is a prescience in my decision to use the word “work” instead. It’s like I knew I would someday be rereading these entries and comparing them cynically to my adult life. And that’s the most discomforting paradox about keeping these journals: I enjoy wallowing in nostalgia every now and then (beats “work,” right?), and yet I somehow feel beholden to my past self, who often wrote self-consciously, knowing he’d be scrutinized by his future iterations. Why else would he have used words like “lethargic” and “begrudging”?
So, that’s me at 16: trying to impress everyone, including myself. And it’s me at 42, still trying to figure out if anything is worth my time.