In an age of MySpace, Twitter and Facebook, what makes a collection of diary entries from the pre-Internet era so engrossing?
MortifiedPublisher: Simon Spotlight
Subtitle: Love Is a Battlefield
Author: David Nadelberg
US publication date: 2008-01
When will we reach a saturation point for people wanting to share every minute detail about their lives? If you want to know about a stranger’s dietary habits or sexual proclivities, go to Blogger.com and click the “blogs updated” link. No one has secrets anymore in the Information Age, and many don’t seem to care. In an age of MySpace, Twitter and Facebook, what makes a collection of diary entries from the pre-Internet era so engrossing?
For many, Mortified: Love is a Battlefield will no doubt evoke a sense of nostalgia for anyone who took to their own Trapper Keeper notebooks or unicorn-emblazoned diaries to hash out their angst and confusion. (I dare anyone to try not to pour through your own teenage journals after reading a few chapters from this book.)
Mortified started out as a reading series in which people were invited to read aloud their old diary entries to an audience. The popularity of these events spawned Mortified: Real Words. Real People. Real Pathetic., an assemblage of earnest yet side-splitting missives from a time most of us would rather forget.
Mortified anthologizes a special brand of humiliation: young love and raging hormones. The teenage journals have a real power to them because they were never meant for an audience of friends and strangers; they were pure outpourings of confusion, joy, fear and boredom. All hum with the energy of the diarists waiting for their lives to begin -- and yearning to get laid.
To preserve the entries, no misspellings have been cleaned up, no faulty grammar altered. The flush of sweat and acne glints off the page. (Helping this is that each chapter begins with the author’s awkward photo from the era and a “Most Likely” or “Least Likely to…” assignation, yearbook style).
As if to validate the many ridiculous things spouted off in the heat of youth, one-sentence excerpts from the actual journals are featured within the chapters. If they weren’t, you might never believe a senior girl actually wrote “I must rape the little ones” (i.e., underclassmen) unless you saw it in her own handwriting. Also fun are the deadpan commentaries from the adult writers adding a few lines of clarification or gentle self-mocking on their unrequited crushes and tortured relationships.
The chapters generally take three different forms: a straight-forward chronicling of events, poetry/song lyrics, and letters never sent to those worshiped from afar. (There’s an oddball screenplay thrown in, as well as notes passed between two friends who never consummated the sexual tension between them). Most satisfying to read are the simple “Dear Diary” ones, especially those which track the increasing hysteria of a teen suffering unrequited love.
In “Down with Whitey”, Laura Chapman used mini-calendars to document her growing obsession with the titular Whitey, and it's hilarious to read how she veers from passion to hatred for the boy, depending on how much attention he pays to her. For example:
Oct 10 Went to a party at Steve’s. Made out with Whitey. He said he missed me. I LOVE Whitey!
Oct 12 Don called. Found out he was just using me. I HATE WHITEY!!!
Nov 24 Whitey smiled at me. BIG SHIT!
Dec 1 I hope this month turned out better than last one did! My goal is to get Whitey!
Lorelei Hill Butters actually drew her hope’s desire in “The Art of Love”, detailing in crude yet oddly sweet sketches her dreams of marrying Mr. Right. She depicts him asking her on a date, taking her on a Hawaiian honeymoon, and dancing with her Dirty Dancing-style, the adult Butters noting that the latter drawing pre-dated the Patrick Swayze movie.
The fervency in which she pinned her happiness on this person who barely knew she existed is touching, especially when contrasted with her frustration over her mother getting engaged to a racist loser. And Justin Jorgensen narrates in “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places” what it is like to be a gay preteen in a small town, denying his homosexuality to his mother even after she finds one of his porn videos. At one point he calls a gay chat line, and the response he gets from the much older man on the other line is equally funny and creepy.
The poetry is less fun to read, riddled with clichés, nonsensical rhymes and turns of phrase. But Laurent Martini’s song lyrics in “Introducing Live Evil” are surprisingly entertaining. The song titles, like “Sweet Little Missy” and “Blame it on the Booze”, epitomize his misguided attempts to prove to his classmates that he was cool.
And the weird thing is, the songs themselves are actually kind of good -- one could almost imagine Martini’s idols Mötley Crüe rocking out to the comically misogynistic “Booze”. A couple of these teen diarists also became published writers, including Jorgensen, and it is enjoyable to see that their burgeoning talents are recognizable in their pubescent scribbling.
Mortified could benefit from some judicious editing. As a collection, it would be stronger as a whole if at least seven to ten of the diary entries were excised. (There is a limit to the novelty of “why doesn’t he like me/date me/sleep with me?” if not written in a memorable way.) Overall though, this anthology is an artifact of a time when teenagers truly dwelled in private worlds, in which they trusted that the pages of a book could swallow their secrets whole.
Are these diaries more genuine in content and expression than blog posts? Is that what is noted in secret, never meant for others’ eyes or opinions, more trustworthy than a widely read LiveJournal? It seems so. In Mortified, the writers’ honesty is cutting and affecting, especially those who express their fantasies about how they long to be viewed: smart, popular, attractive, worthy of love.
It’s hard not to be sucked in by the nostalgia and view the current generation, reared with technology since their toddler years, as having less innocence than previous ones. Then again, teenagers are always in the process of constructing their identities. Whether it’s through hidden poetry or Facebook profiles, as Mortified shows, everyone endures the journey of self-absorption and self-discovery in his or her own way.