So about those journals. The first and most necessary surprise--necessary in the sense of allowing me to keep reading the damn things--is that they weren't nearly as cringe-inducing as I'd feared.
To be sure, there are lots of things I'm glad to have grown out of: endless fretting and insecurity, for one, and a species of boy-craziness I'd mostly forgotten about. I remembered mooning after various guys and obsessing over ones who didn't work out, but I did not remember commenting on the attractiveness of just about every man I met, or how many crushes-from-afar I apparently had. (Who's this cute Art & Architecture student I mention a dozen times? Or that barista I kept running into? Or the guy a friend dubbed "Taller Tom Cruise"? Not a clue.) I also forgot how sexually frank my journals were. Notional future children, I'm sorry for grossing you out.
But although I often wanted to tell Younger Flavia "snap out of it!" or "honey, he is not into you," that phase of my life is far enough away that I can regard my youthful silliness with more tolerance than I probably could have even five years ago.
What most interests me is the rich social world these journals conjure up. I'd forgotten just how enmeshed my life was with those of my friends--including friends who lived hundreds of miles away. My journals are full of references to two-hour phone calls or lengthy email exchanges or weekend visits, and I summarize in newsy detail all my friends' goings-ons: what they liked and hated about their jobs, their roommates, their significant others. I talk about which movies I saw with whom and what we said afterwards, and where we went and who we met up with--and why I really can't stand so-and-so's boyfriend. Young Flavia is often very funny, and good at characterizing people through a single quotation or brief anecdote that recalls them perfectly.
It's sad, in a way, how thoroughly that world has disappeared. In the endless catalogue I give of dance clubs and dive bars, coffee shops and restaurants, at least half are gone and another quarter I can't visualize or place geographically. More importantly, though I still have most of the friends I had then, we now have partners and kids and busy lives; I'm lucky to see or talk to many of them two or three times a year. Here they all are, though, living on the page not only in summary and paraphrase, but often in their own words: their insights, jokes and apt turns of phrase.
I'm also struck by how seriously my journals take the task of figuring myself out. Amidst all the mooning and insecurity, there's a lot of self-inquiry: why do I feel this way? What does this mean? Would I be happier doing something differently? I quote the things my friends say about me, turning over their assessments and agreeing or disagreeing, wondering if they're right. And I refer back, continually, to events that happened years earlier, sometimes consulting prior journals for reference.
Reading through several years at once makes growth more evident. Young Flavia's oscillations between madcap enthusiasm and weepy doubt become less extreme, and she's more inclined to be generous to others. I note with appreciation the friends who don't let me avoid difficult subjects or who make me admit when I'm mad at them--and I comment with pleasure when I succeed in raising a touchy issue myself.
There's a lot to miss about what I find in those journals. The close friendships and the apparently boundless free time are the most obvious, but I'm realizing that I also miss keeping a journal. Those notebooks didn't record everything, and towards the end they're especially spotty. But I'm sad, now, that the subsequent ten years have no comparable record. Reading about my early-grad-school lunacy reminded me of parts of the crushing grief of my big break-up seven years ago--but I have no record of the latter.
Naturally, I record bits and pieces of my life on social media and on this blog, and it has always been my goal to keep my blogging emotionally honest--not to paper over disappointments, anger, and frustration--but there's a lot that I can't say (whether due to professional discretion, personal discretion, or FERPA). For that matter, there's a lot I don't want to say in this format.
Indeed, in the era of social media and "don't say it if you don't want someone to see it," those journals feel vaguely illicit. I found myself grimacing occasionally at just how much I revealed about others' lives: their words, their actions, and my own occasionally nasty gossip or speculation. Though these notebooks exist in only a single hard copy, which no one else has access to, I've so internalized a sense of what I can't write about electronically that I almost can't believe I wrote such things at all.
I value my public writing, and I have no desire for it to be more rawly confessional. But I think I'm going to try keeping a journal again. The entries won't be as epic or as searching as they used to be, I'm sure--but I'm curious what I might have to say to myself when no one else is listening.