I’d love to embarrass myself by sharing journal entries with you from when I was a teenager, but they unfortunately don’t exist. I tried many times to keep a journal because it seemed like the appropriate thing for a self-described “writer” to do, but I could never get the hang of it. I’d usually last a couple of days, then give up in frustration. It seemed to me that there were very strict rules of non-fiction which were impossible to follow. I failed at keeping a journal because, quite frankly, I thought I was not allowed to lie.
I always felt compelled to stretch the truth a little, to make the characters (myself mostly) a little more interesting, to move events and details around to construct a more compelling narrative. Telling the truth was so…well, boring. Every cell in my body was dying to make stuff up, but I conjured all my strength to rein that impulse in. Instead of a cathartic release of my deepest thoughts and feelings, I remember each journal entry more like a painful exercise in restraint.
It didn’t occur to me that a journal could be anything I wanted it to be. It could be truth or fiction, stories or poems, song lyrics or doodles or collages or paper airplanes, and it could be a combination of any of these things. There was no journal police force on high alert, waiting to arrest me as soon as I stepped away from the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I was the only one enforcing the rules. I was my own censor.
It’s funny to me now that I found it so necessary to follow these “rules” so strictly, especially since I spent the bulk of my teenage years doing everything I could to prove what a rebel I was. I had a brief attempt at mainstream popularity early in junior high, but quickly realized it was more trouble than it was worth. Most of the time, I was at some point along the spectrum of what I like to call emo/hippie/freak Lisa Simpson. Some weeks, I was a little more hippie—walking around barefoot in long dresses and ratty hair, reading Tom Robbins and Beat poetry, listening to my dad’s old Joan Baez and Bob Dylan records. The next day, I’d be planning a protest about youth rights, dying my hair pink and listening to Ani Difranco, wearing all black and a dog collar (borrowed from my dog, still smelling of flea shampoo). But regardless of which phase I happened to be in at the time (or what stage of cleanliness), I was in honors classes and always got A’s (except for in PE, but that’s another story). I was the girl who raised her hand in class every time the teacher said anything the least bit debatable or politically incorrect. I stopped people in the hall if I overheard the faintest whisper of a homophobic or derogatory remark. I proudly displayed every progressive bumper sticker I could find on the back of my ’87 Honda Civic.
Wait a minute. Something’s not quite right here. If I was such a rebel, if I was so into freedom, why’d I feel the need to shove my beliefs down everybody’s throats? It’s true, outspoken girls with shaved heads and facial piercings aren’t what most people think of when they think of rule-followers. And yes, I was a rebel in the sense that I considered “questioning authority” a sort of art form. But if you look closely, I was as bound to rules as anyone else; they just happened to be different rules. Examples? Well for one, as mentioned earlier, Thou shalt not lie in a journal. Or what about, Thou shalt not like anything “girly;” Thou shalt not like music that is played on the radio; Thou shalt not like Hollywood blockbusters? Or what about, Thou shall like things nobody’s heard of; Thall shall like things deemed “indie;” Thou shall act like you don’t care what anybody thinks about you; and finally, the most important rule of all—If you disagree with me, you are wrong.
It was hard work being such a “rebel.” It was hard work following all the rules I invented to make it look like I wasn’t following any rules. I’m exhausted now just thinking about it. I’m glad I can give myself permission now to like Hollywood blockbusters, because those Pixar movies are awesome. And I never really liked obscure experimental film in the first place.