On the eve of her 50th, a journalist rereads her high school diary and wonders: Are the kids okay?
My friends know it's my birthday. They wrote in to Radio Scenicland and asked the morning announcer to include Kim Knight, aged 4, on the salutations list. Hilarious!
I know it's my birthday, because I wrote it in red ink: Well, I'm 15 today - Happy Birthday!
It is 1985 and I thought it was a kinder, gentler time but then I noticed that on February 16, I wrote: "Had a DISCUSSION with Grandma about kids today. Personally, I think she needs to open her eyes and look at the real world."
The next day: "Mum and me sort of had an argument. Why should I behave differently just because G & G are here? They can take me as they find me. J. Walker ran his hundredth sub-four-minute mile."
It is 1985 and it is the only year I will ever comprehensively keep a diary. It is proof that when I was 15, I threw a discus 17.5m, came 49th in the school cross country and had an English teacher who pointed me in the right direction. I rediscovered that diary a few weeks ago. Just before I turned 50.
They say that if you read someone else's diary, you get what you deserve. It was weird, reading the young, old me.
June 20, 1985: "In English today, we had to plan a personal essay. 'My ambition'. I DON'T have one. At least nothing that anyone wouldn't laugh at. How would the class have took it if I'd said I really want to do something important - write, especially. Or a job that needs talking."
Never mind my dreadful sentence construction. The main problem is that less than a week later, I had been caught smoking, scored just 44 per cent in a practice science exam and received a detention for locking a geography teacher out of a classroom. I remember exactly none of these things, even though I have written them down in my diary. I am an unreliable witness to my own life.
September 14: Started to wax legs tonight. Ouch!
Other people's holidays - what's it like to grow up in a motor camp?
Do women over 50 really get ignored when they go shopping?
September 15: Grandma arrived. Finished legs. Think I burnt them.
This. This I can remember. My shin skin went red and bubbly, I had scabs on my knees for weeks and I never waxed again.
My diary reveals a 15-year-old self in constant need of improvement. In early March, I "decided to do diet/skin/nails hair tonight (health, but still smoke)". In late March, "I tried out a new face pack today. It had yeast in it and the yeast started working on my face. Bought some Avon." In June, the gelatine I ate to make my nails stronger "made me wretch". One weekend, I was convinced beetroot juice would be cheaper than Clairol burgundy hair dye. My mother said it wouldn't stick and later, when it looked like a murder in the shower, I had to admit she was correct.
On November 7, I wrote: "I feel today that I gained that infathomable depth - wisdom." Re-typing this just now, I realise the word I was looking for was UNfathomable. Also, possibly, INsufferable.
If you type the words "diary" and "manuscript" into the National Library's search engine, you get more than 10,000 hits. A whaler from 1830. A 12-year-old boy on a ship bound for New Zealand. Runner Jack Lovelock. Writer Katherine Mansfield. Activist and MP Keith Locke. Artist Joanna Paul. Soldiers bound for war. Sir Donald McLean, the first Minister for Native land policy, claims and purchases.
Librarians tell me it's common for people to begin journals just before major life events, hence the number of diaries by soldiers or new immigrants. You don't have to be famous to have your diary archived, because eventually time makes us all more interesting. Apparently we have a propensity to throw out anything less than 30 years old. Some history is only saved because we have forgotten it existed; because it was in the bottom of a box lugged from Greymouth to Timaru to Auckland. And now you are 50.
February 20, 1985:
Listened to INXS Original Sin today. Disaster. Reminded me of R. I'm going to get the tape tomorrow!
March 24, 1985: Me and T are going to the Legionnaires tonight which should be good . . . just got back, best night out since The Narcs.
May 7, 1985: Great English class. Talked about All Black tour - answer is too bloody obvious … DON'T Go!
I read this with surprise. A world view, in my small Greymouth High School world. My diary is so self-centred, so narrowly bound by Saturday night babysitting jobs and arguments with my parents, that I am amazed to see it expand at the edges. I huff and I puff, taking careful note of an anti-tour anthem's climb up the charts and, in July, I report in elated capital letters: "Rugby tour to South Africa definitely off. BRILLIANT."
Just casually, in the intervening months, I have also gone to A&E with a friend who swallowed a packet of pills. I have fretted about another's youth court appearance and held my breath alongside someone who thinks she is pregnant and someone else who thinks he has got someone pregnant. My own virginity is long gone.
One day I go to the movies ("Terrific film, 'The Breakfast Club'. So real. All the characters identifiable"). One day I put blue shoelaces on my camel-coloured Nomads and write that they remind me of a boy and GOD I USED TO LOVE HIM. Capital letters everywhere. It's easy to label adolescents as drama queens, but re-reading this, I'm struck by how much really was going on - and how matter-of-factly I'd recorded it. Teenagers, practising to be adults, do all the same stuff as adults. This week, I took the bus to work and stared at kids in high school uniforms and wondered: Are you okay? Is someone making sure you are okay?
Adolescence is defined as a developmental transition between childhood and adulthood. It's the period in which we reach sexual maturation but it's also a social and emotional process. "Adolescence begins in biology and ends in culture," academics Anne Conger and John Peterson wrote in 1984. Diane Papalia and Sally Wendkos Olds said one main difference between childhood and adolescence was the development of "what if" thinking - in teenagehood, we're able to think about what might be true, rather what we can absolutely see is true.
"Adolescents can put themselves in the mind of someone else," the theorists write. "Since they have trouble distinguishing what is interesting to them from what is interesting to someone else however, they assume everyone else is thinking about the same thing they are thinking about - themselves."
July 19 : Mr O (English) might be leaving. A pity. I think he's taught me a lot about who I'm doing things for - MYSELF.
And yes, I wrote poetry. The copied lines at the back of my diary lurch from Laurie Anderson lyrics to lines from Keri Hulme's The Bone People. I should have stopped there. Unfortunately, I was 15. Thus:
The putrid smell of rotten fish drowned the sweet manuka bush
The buzz of destroying angry fizz boats drowned the kereru's call
The slurping sting of sandflies drowned the caress of a warm and salty ocean
All around things drowned
The poem is undated. My humiliation is not.
March 3: Wrote a letter to More magazine about my poems!
I should mention my diary is no ordinary blank journal. Every day of the Magic Space Astrological Diary 1985 begins with a cosmic weather forecast. February 18 advised, for example: "Uncertain awakening, when it is best to look at things from other people's perspective." Underneath, I have written: "He makes me feel physically violent. I hate him, I hate him, I hate him."
There is a preamble I didn't read when I was 15. It reflects on the year prior, when "Lebanon, Afghanistan, the Gulf War and the English Industrial scene were public examples of interest groups wrestling for control". I'm amazed to discover this slim blue book was made in New Zealand by authors who had a Dominion Rd Post Office box. One of them appears to live in the United Kingdom now; an Aquarian who has been President of the British Astrological Association since 1999.
The diary's illustrator, Pamela Matthews, still practises "visionary art" on Waiheke Island. Her full-breasted women and naked-bottomed men proliferated the spaces between my awkward teen entries. Her zodiacal characters were long-haired and other-worldly. In my real world, we did not gambol in gossamer-gowned embrace. According to my notes, we "got on" to each other. I check with colleagues and this appears to be a uniquely West Coast descriptor for "hooking up". As in, "Simon got on to Angela". And "Tania got on to Michael". Not so much a euphemism as a literal description of teen sex.
August 21: First time I've kissed anyone seriously since A.
October 2: Mum thinks I'm going out with D. Why do I have to be "going out" with anyone?
December 28: I know I'll end up with him. Do I mind? I don't know. It's been an interesting year, hasn't it? Write more tomorrow morning.
(In case you were wondering, I never heard back from More magazine.)