While moving house recently, I came across the 20-odd diaries I have been carting from home to home for the past five years. They begin when I had just turned 14 and are composed of ludicrously microscopic handwriting, reminiscent of nothing so much as the tortured recollections of a serial killer hurriedly committed to scraps of toilet paper, and later sold to creeps on eBay. Obviously, this rediscovery meant a hot Friday night spent indoors poring over excruciatingly detailed accounts of my teenage life. What else can you expect from somebody so self-obsessed that I return time and time again to my own Facebook profile pictures, like a dog to its own vomit, trying to imagine how they appear to the outside world? It was comforting, sitting there surrounded by all my different selves- concrete, just barely legible proof that I have in fact experienced growth as a person, and am not quite as hysterical and self-important as I once was.
Admittedly, it was a struggle to get through the 14-15 era, when I appear to have taken the decision to start a diary merely to impersonate Holden Caulfield as amateurishly and transparently as possible. I’m not just talking here about the entirely fabricated and baseless world-weary cynicism, the jaded dismissal of the enjoyment of the Christmas season as false and dishonest, nor even the hard-hitting truths I laid down about how empty the inner lives of the good-looking girls in school must have been. I mean to tell you that I went so far as to pick up the linguistic habits, to the point that the word “phony” appears a good fifty times in a single diary. Quite something, for a fourteen year-old chubster in knee socks who had never encountered a single American human.
Things start to get a bit racier at 16, which I made sure to record by studiously cataloguing every drink, chemical and boy that passed my lips for two years. I also helpfully describe each outfit I wear in terms I learned from (and which are exclusively employed by) Sunday Style supplements. Amidst the indexing, there is also inevitable misery, lots of it, and described in painstaking, intricate prose. I have never taken to anything as naturally and as contentedly as I took to describing and poking at my own unhappiness.
In my later teens and early twenties, the writing takes on a terse, shorthand quality, like: “S. called again last night. Not sure as to intentions. Meanwhile, B. as elusive as ever.” I can only imagine that I found some romance in this World War One era-aping verbal economy, some relief from the pompous verbosity of my early teens. I can see myself trying to be an adult in those later books, trying to coolly bypass the emotional hand wringing that had characterised the previous diaries. I can see the personality not fitting, not really slipping on fully from the way I could never be quite as dispassionate as I would have liked about new boys, from the train tickets and cinema stubs I couldn’t help sellotaping in there, from the way the word “lover” never stopped sticking in my craw (as it should for all right-thinking people).
There is a great furtive pleasure to be had in returning to all these half-formed identities. Writing a diary has always been for me an attempt at creating a workable narrative to hang my life around. I grew up doing little else but reading stories, and always especially liked great sprawling, dense works of art that take in a person’s whole life from birth to death. It was unavoidable that I would spend all these hours trying to make my own experiences fit that mould, and of course, unavoidable that I would fail and end up with the straggly collection of lists, names and ineloquent melancholy that I have. Still, it’s just barely visible, if you plough through the tens of thousands of words of tedium- the slow emergence of a more truthful, less shaky self. And if I’m reading back over that last sentence in a few years, thinking I didn’t have a clue what I was talking about, I hope I give myself a break. Be nice, future Megan.
Megan Nolan @Megaroooo