50 thoughts on turning 50: #7 Dear Diary

dear diary 002

I watched the documentary “Mortified Nation” yesterday, which showcases the stage show, Mortified, where ordinary people get up in public and read from their childhood journals, letters, stories and other personal writings. It’s part comedy, part therapy, and fully hilarious.

So of course I went and dug out my own childhood journal.

My childhood musings are not as valuable as say, the diaries and letters of Jacqueline Onassis, whose papers, it was reported today, are expected to fetch $1.6 million at auction.

But they are pretty darned amusing.

For the record, I did a lot of story writing as a child. Most of the stories I wrote featured talking animals, and in one case a talking sea sponge named Harry. Apparently I put that idea out into the universe when I was in elementary school and someone picked up the energy decades later to create a wildly successful cartoon. Although in all fairness, my sponge Harry didn’t wear pants, square or otherwise. But in my story we did go to the movies together to see “Peter Pan.”

I read my journal to darling husband last night, and I have to tell you that it made for some fine entertainment.

It appears that when I was in 5th and 6th grade, I was under the illusion that every boy who paid attention to me might like me, probably because I had been told that if a boy teased, mocked or otherwise was mean to me that meant he had a crush on me. I got that from my mother; it was then (and probably is) the prevailing parental wisdom for young girls. Johnny pulls your hair, so obviously he must like you.

I was either quite popular as a child, or the target of more mockery than even I remember.

Sixth grade (1975-76) was a roller coaster year for me. The school district lines were redrawn and our entire subdivision was moved to a different elementary school than the one I’d gone to for grades 2 through 5. Then my parents separated, and my mother, sister and I moved to Massachusetts for several months, a change that included a new school.

In my diary there are several days’ musings from my time in Massachusetts, including several where I on dwelt on whether Timmy liked me, a notion based solely, from what I wrote, on “a feeling he might like me.”

If memory serves me right, Timmy spent quite a bit of time at recess throwing things at me, calling me names, and pretending like I smelled, which is probably why day after day I told my diary, “I think he likes me” and “I really want to know if he likes me”. I wanted to find out the truth, so I hatched a plan to become his secret admirer. I apparently aborted the scheme, probably because soon after we moved back to Rochester and I was on to another crush … or three.

Here are a few diary excerpts, last names removed:

“September 5, 1975 – I like school. John (someone said) likes me. I like him sort of. He’s a year younger than me, but he’s really nice. He’s not really cute.”

At least my priorities were in order, I suppose. Nice personality trumped “cute”.

“May 20 1976 – Mike took the pepperoni off my pizza in lunch today. Then he ate them. Well, they were on my tray. He is going out with Stacy. I wonder if he likes me.”

Looking back, I’m not sure what would have caused me to think a boy with a girlfriend would have been interested in me, especially considering that as I aged I found that my own boyfriends generally weren’t interested in me, and the ones that were turned out to be slightly mentally unbalanced.

Seventh grade seems to have solidified the notion that a boy who does mean things to you is worthy of your attention:

“February 14, 1977 – Dave kind of needs a haircut. I still think he’s cute. I think he likes me for a friend. He’s OK. He tried to dump salad on my head.”

In 1980, I wrote about going for a walk around a lake with a boy named Rick, who kissed me and promised to write to me (!!). I’m not sure who Rick was but I can only assume he was nice, because I have no recollection of Rick, being kissed by Rick, or waiting for the mailman to deliver a letter from Rick. It appears I only remember the rascals.

The journal is a hoot, but it also was interesting to see the budding writer/editor in me already blossoming. Throughout the meager entries, I wrote things like “fix!” and “dumb” or “this is really dumb”, the pre-teen equivalents of “revise” or “make this stronger”.

And it wasn’t all about boys. At the end of 5th grade, our class went on a camping trip.

“June 10, 1975 – 2nd day. Went canoeing, took water safety, and first aid, too. Took photography. There’s a lot of action up here.” And in the event that I might forget that I was the one who wrote about being super jazzed about first aid and water safety, I signed it, “me, Joanne.”

My husband thought the journal was not only funny, but also offered insight into my adult personality. On my birthday, for example, I raved about getting books and Cracker Jacks. He said it sounded like I was a happy kid who was easily amused and easily pleased.

Some of that honestly surprises me. I’m still easily amused and fairly easily pleased. (I’m still thrilled with books and snacks.) But happy? When I think back to my childhood, I remember being painfully dorky, outcast, and insecure. Of course, a lot of that came after elementary school, when the boys got meaner and I got weirder and it was finally clear that negative attention from a boy wasn’t some indication of an undying love.

That’s when I fell in love with Scott Baio and Shaun Cassidy. And that’s a story for another day.

This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. Read more here.


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