Symphony of Awkward [June 19]
Thirteen times: that’s how often I’ve packed up my personal diaries and carted them from one house to another over the years. That’s a hell of a lot of cardboard boxes stuffed with notepads full of stuff about me. Why did I do it?
Recently I joined a small gathering of women who had volunteered to read out random excerpts from their youthful diaries. At the event dubbed ‘The Symphony of Awkward’ we fell about laughing as we paraded our unedited former selves in front of each other. How quickly embarrassment can mutate into hilarity when it is shared.
All through those thirteen house moves, I had resisted opening up my diaries to find out who Sian was twenty, thirty, even forty years ago. Delivering her private words out loud, I understood my resistance: she was horrible.
Not all of the time, of course. Sometimes she was wise and curious, helpful or funny. Clearly she saw herself as a future Author because she used terms like ‘vignette’ and ‘narrative’. At other times she was arrogant, petulant, vain and condescending. Young Sian used phrases like ‘bedraggled little thing’ to describe people she had just met. She had a deep certainty about how the world should be and brooked no arguments. She was easily annoyed by small things, which she duly diarised in ridiculous detail. She was a hypocrite, publicly espousing one view and manifesting its opposite in her private writing.
Even whilst I was laughing at this opinionated young person, I felt slightly guilty for betraying my younger self. Her words were definitely NOT written for public consumption and she would have been mortified if she’d known her older self would humiliate her in this way. I felt compassion for her. She was even more critical of herself than of those she was observing around her.
Mostly, though, reading her words out loud at The Symphony of Awkward was deeply cathartic. I teach classes in ‘writing as therapy’, advising people to track their emotional lives in a daily journal. That way, they can get a sense of not just how far they’ve come, but also what they’ve managed to overcome.
I don’t regret carting those boxes of diaries around for all those decades. They revealed some good news: I am less self-critical than young Sian was. Together, we’ve done okay.
(This column was published in the Sunday Age and the Sydney Morning Herald in June 2017)