I originally thought I would start recapping my old journals with the very first one, which I began when I was twelve and wrote in a medium-sized Mead notebook, but then I came across a random journal and the first “fancy type” of journal I ever owned. A green hard-bound journal with a sticker featuring a graphic of a person reading under a tree and “The Next Chapter” written in Lucida Calligraphy, it was given to me as part of the Loyola Honors Program retreat in October 1998.
I had a mixed relationship with the honors program at my alma mater from pretty much the day I started. I mean, I have mixed feelings about Loyola as it is, but my issues with the honors program have a lot to do with my rough transition to college and feeling like I never really fit in. I had the grades to be there, but constantly felt like the dumbest person in the room (despite getting constant A- or A grades in those classes and having good relationships with several professors) and also made the mistake of trying to impress the wrong people at school (which is a whole other story). So when I learned that I had to go on this weekend retreat to a facility in Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania, I was not happy. I had planned to visit my girlfriend and didn’t want to spend time with people talking about my feelings and maybe even spirituality (after all, it is a Jesuit school). But I went and at some point had a reflection period where I was asked to write my thoughts.
I knew that I didn’t have a laptop with me, but a journal entry typed into MS Word and dated 10/3/98 means that I wrote something down and later transcribed it. I begin by describing the scene around me–like the person on the cover, I was sitting under a tree, and the air smelled of autumn. In fact, I was reminded of my hometown and the feel, smell, and sound of a suburban fall day that I have always cherished and still do. Then, however, I got very heavy, trying to reflect on the changes I’d undergone since high school, much of which I have said was passive, but changes I was ready to actively make.
At that point, I was having a very rough senior year, socially. The guys I lived with were, for lack of a better word, bullying me. Shit, they had bullied me in the previous year, but I had become so convinced that these were the only friends i would ever have that I insisted on continuing to win their approval. So this is what I wrote about pointing out how they get off on making me feel stupid and that in reality, they are really pretty. Then, I turn my attention on myself, saying,
I am not a perfect person. I have never tried to be, but what I have seen in my life is that I am a very open individual. With myself and others. I am not transparent, but it is not hard to get to know me, and hopefully, people will like me. But I’m not attention starved. I have a sort of vulnerability that is very valuable. I try not to leave myself open to attack, but at the same time, I try not to close myself off.
I then go through a whole paragraph of what I like about myself and what I am good at before concluding with admitting that I really got something out of the retreat and even though a number of those people were people I didn’t care for, getting away from the people who were the source of my problems was what I needed:
It has given me the opportunity to realize how good I am and can still be and how vital I am (and not to those who I live with) to the way I view myself, other people, and my future. There are some minds truer than the simplicity I deal with every day. I am glad I had the opportunity to discover that in myself and others.
Reading and transcribing that entry 21 years later, I am not as embarrassed as I thought I would be. Yes, there is some of Stuart Smalley self-affirmation in there, and quite a bit of it sounds like a 21-year-old trying to sound profound, but I was 21 and was trying to sound profound, so there you go. If anything, I am sad because I didn’t have the guts back then to do what I needed to go and cut those people out of my life as best I could. I remained friends with them and endured the same bullshit for the rest of the school year and while I didn’t live with them ever again, it took the better part of two decades to let those relationships go. As I said in previous entries, I am still privately working through this and am trying to not beat myself up for this particular weakness, but I can acknowledge there is a sadness here in regretting that I didn’t act sooner.
Thankfully, two decades of memories with someone who is more important to me than any of them ever were reminds me that there is more to all of this than my hand-wringing over my being the perpetual victim. The first page of the journal is a good reminder of that and sets a great tone. When given the journals, we were also given the name of one of our peers at the retreat and we had to write a message to that person. At the end of the weekend, we had to say a few words about that person when giving them the journal. When I received mine, Theresa, who had written in it, had said that the word that reminded her of me was “genuine” and she wrote “This weekend it’s been nice to get to know you a bit better and to see your genuineness show through in our group discussions.”
That’s always stuck with me, because it’s one of the nicest compliments I have ever received, and for all that prior hand-wringing I did about how much I was struggling at that point, it was a much-needed bright spot. I took that and the journal with me away from college, although the journal–whose pages are not lined, so I m sure that if I drew, I could have used it as a sketchbook–would be used to catalogue random stuff like comics clipped from the newspaper, budget plans for saving for my wife’s engagement ring, quotes from various sources, and a few attempts at poetry. Half of it is blank and I wonder if I should figure out something to fill it with before throwing it away.
I’m more conflicted about this than I should be. I don’t like the idea of wasting half a book, but since i already have journals for both my personal thoughts and creative writing as well as an organizer for budgeting, I can’t think of what to put in there.