Smells Like Teen Spirit

Everyone has nights where they lie awake thinking of every mistake they’ve ever made and cringing at the ceiling. I had one this weekend, thinking of something that happened when I was 15. It was 3am and Rational Brain — the part of me that should have said, “Look, Stephanie. That was 10 years ago. It might be time to let it go.” — had gone to bed at a reasonable hour, so it was just me and Crazy Brain hanging out in the dark, regretting everything.

Crazy Brain, as crazy brains are wont to do, decided that it was vitally important that I track down the journal I kept from ages 14 to 15 to find out what my teenage self had thought about the incident in question. Immediately.

Don't listen to Crazy Brain. It's crazy.

Don’t listen to Crazy Brain. It’s crazy.

I knew something about the event would be in there even though I haven’t read that particular journal in nearly a decade because the occurrence is still burned into my brain and I was a very thorough diarist. I distinctly remember writing incredibly precocious things that no average teenager would have understood. I remember thinking that as I wrote them, anyway.

I was prepared for a journal entry about this particular incident that began with a droll observation of mankind and ended in a profound conclusion proving that ninth- and tenth-grade Stephanie was the most clever ninth and tenth grader to grace this earth.

I was not prepared to find no entry on the matter at all. I was even less prepared for what I did find. Teenage Stephanie was not the greatest thing since sliced bread. I’d go so far as to call teenage Stephanie a pretentious and delusional twit.

Expectations vs. Reality (told using actual quotes)

Expectation #1. My 14-year-old self was making the kind of biting, incisive observations about mankind that philosophers only dream of.

Reality Check #1. “world peace is all i really want 4 my 15th birthday. violent movies aren’t helping. if all these people have a problem w/ kids smoking Bcuz it’s cool, what about all the violence????”

Expectation #2. At 15, I was an incredibly kind person.

Reality Check #2. “It’s not like he’s even attractive, especially considering his brain is pea-sized.” [<–This was about someone I had a crush on.]

Reality Check #2.5. “Mr. ___ is so hairy and gross. Why would his wife be pretty? I was sort of expecting a caveman to marry him.” [<–This was about one of the most supportive teachers I’ve ever had.]

Expectation #3. Mature for my age, I was above petty high school drama.

Reality Check #3. “It should be illegal to flirt with a girl for a week, ignore her the next week, then flirt with her again the next. It’s like against the law or something. I have fully liked him — FULLY — for four years running… that’s nearly a third of my entire life.”

Expectation #4. My physical age did not match up with my mental age, which was somewhere near 30, probably.

Reality Check #4. “Father = FAT. HER. IT MAKES SO MUCH SENSE!”

Expectation #5. When I die, someone will be very interested in publishing this journal, like Sylvia Plath’s high school journals.

Reality Check #6. “I don’t even think he actually likes me. Male chauvinist pig. …I don’t actually know what chauvinist means, to be honest. It just sounded right.”

I'm pretty sure Sylvia does not feel threatened.

I’m pretty sure Sylvia does not feel threatened.

I should have known as soon as I opened the notebook that it wasn’t what I remembered it being. There are hints of this from the start. First of all, I wrote in it back-to-front to fool spies, who only read things front-to-back.

The first entry (on the back page) is in the bubbliest handwriting I’ve ever seen, and every letter has its own carefully maintained quirk. My l’s, b’s, and t’s are all wide loops, my a’s all have elaborate tops, and my i’s are dotted with hearts. HEARTS. I turned in handwritten papers with this stuff on it. I forced other humans to read drivel in terrible handwriting and there is no punishment too severe for this.

After the fifth or sixth “Paul McCartney sux” (a controversial opinion I hold to this day, but now try to spell correctly), it’s easy to see why adults dislike teenagers. They’re horrible.

I shouldn’t be too hard on teenage me. My brain was a hormonal mess, my body was doing freaky things it had never done before, and I was spending seven hours a day stewing in a building with hundreds of people in the same freaky situation.

I imagine tadpoles go through something similar. One day they’re cute comma-shaped blobs and the next day they have dumb-looking legs and no one wants to hang out with them. I bet those weird in-between tadpoles are awful to be around, too. I bet they form in-between tadpole gangs and experiment with illegal algae just to fit in. But one morning they wake up and they’ve turned out to be a pretty ok frog and everyone knows how to act around them again.

Some of them even turn into fine, upstanding young frogs.

Some of them even turn into fine, upstanding young frogs.

My journals got better over time. The one I kept from ages 17 to 18 is a thrill ride — full of sex (other people’s), drugs (also other people’s) and rock n’ roll (mostly Queen). I figured out how grammar works sometime after my 19th birthday. Things have been looking up since then.

I’m just totally freaked out about what 36-year-old me will think of this blog post.


  1. Adi, the Happy Lifeaholic

    haha this is hilarious! I pulled out a diary earlier this month from when I was 12. We’re pretty much in the same boat with our spellings and opinions on crushes and faculty! ;)

  2. rixlibris

    Thank you. I’m sitting here at half past midnight, killing the last moments of freedom before heading out to my all night gig that spans the distance between retirement income and economic reality and you post this, providing sufficient smiles to carry the night.

  3. davidprosser

    So an incident from 10 years ago wasn’t even recorded in the diaries.I wonder why crazy brain insists on making it important now. Maybe normal brain will dismiss it today as being of no account. That should leave you free to sleep tonight without a care in the world.
    Your 36 year old self will enjoy this blog post and be pleased your 26 year old self was so rational.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

  4. Ard~Tyr

    I recently discovered old journals and re read them. In hope they would help me move on from a few issues that me and crazy brain often lay awake discussing. I too found that things I remembered weren’t in the journals, and things in the journals I didn’t remember. Maybe journaling did its job to help process….if only I had wrote about everything! Then maybe crazy brain would leave us alone

  5. Todd Duffey Writes on Things

    This might be the most succinct, cleanly thought out musing on the most chaotic time in a person’s life I’ve had the pleasure of reading! Well done! I’m a fan! May younger you continue to inspire older you (though at an earlier time).

  6. Miriam Joy

    I’ve learned from experience never to read any of the intermittent diaries I used to keep. I don’t need a reminder of my twelve-year-old self’s Twilight phase. Bad enough that it happened in the first place.

    I keep a journal these days, but reading it back is more depressing than anything else (there are months at a time where you can just feel my crappy mental health seeping from the pages), so I don’t tend to do that unless I need to for whatever reason.

  7. Emma {Emanation}

    what an entertaining post. I’m writing this in a current state of crazy-brain-insomnia. So glad I’m not alone ;) Although I must say that I tend to discard journals (after cathartic shredding) when I feel that I’ve dealt with that stage of my life. crazy-brain-insomnia probably shows that this is all a bit delusional

  8. BunKaryudo

    I can’t help feeling sorry for the supportive but troll-like teacher. Perhaps I see a little of myself in him. I didn’t keep a diary as teenager. My thoughts were obviously profound and important, but they are now tragically lost to humanity.

    It is interesting, though, the degree to which memory plays tricks on us. I’m pretty well into middle-age now, so I find I don’t have to wait for ten years for the fog of rosy misrememberings to descend. I finish every blog post these days certain that it is the one to make me a household name and bring an admiring world to my front door. Then I read it again the next day, only to find it has clearly been badly edited during the night by someone who doesn’t know the first thing about the English language.

  9. belle


  10. TheLovelyJLy

    :) I truly wish my dad didn’t toss all of my journals/diaries from when I was younger because it would of all been extremely comical and a fantastic read as adult me.

  11. lacylauren

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who does this! I look back at my old diaries when I need a good laugh, but they also unexpectedly remind me of some bad memories. Thanks for the laugh! I was a pain in everyone’s ass. I hope 26-year-old me is a little more forgiving of myself and others.

  12. hazelberrythickshake

    I pulled out my old diary about a month ago and it was just awful! I was tempted to destroy it but after I got over the initial shock, it was actually kind of hilarious.

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