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Ode to the teenage diary

Author:
dear diary

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

I feel as though when I say that I keep a diary, people look at me differently. There’s something judgemental in their response. That’s something that I’m used to, because I was a teenage girl for a pretty long time, and I’m a massive One Direction fan – most people tend to look down on people who meet this criteria. Actually, there’s a link there. People who like One Direction and people who write diaries can be anyone, but what demographic are they traditionally associated with? That’s right – teenage girls.

Obviously, I’m a cheerleader for teenage girls. I love teenage girls and I have experienced first-hand how smart they can be, how kind they can be, how strong and brave and creative they can be.

I am also a cheerleader for diaries and journaling. I believe that there is so much value in this practice, especially as something in the life of a teenage girl.

In a culture which teaches girls to hold back our emotions; to be good and sit pretty; where we are to be seen and not heard – writing a diary is an amazing release. Our diaries are private spaces, and nobody can criticise or judge us. Our diaries are places where we are allowed to let it out. All of it.

Anger is a particularly difficult emotion for a lot of girls to express, because we’ve been taught that it’s an ‘ugly’ emotion. I really struggle with it, and tend to only ever direct it onto myself. But if I take the time to sit down with my journal (or any old notebook, even a scrap piece of paper – and failing that, the notes app in my phone) I can get out some of that pent up rage. I can release my frustrations, and it doesn’t cause any harm to me or to anyone else. I also like that because nobody else is going to see what I write, it can be messy visually, too. I like things to be ‘perfect’, because I like to have people’s approval. In the comfort of my own pages, I don’t need anybody’s approval. I can, for once, relax, and scribble away.

It’s not just the emotions of girls that are undervalued, but our everyday experiences. We are taught to value what upper-middle class white men say, and to ignore the lessons we learn in our own lives. We learn early in life to question what we have to contribute to the world, we are told the story of our irrationality, our fickleness, our naivety. When we write in our diaries, we tell ourselves a new narrative. When we write about our lives, we are writing to remind ourselves that we have something to say and that it matters.

As a teenage girl, I was told often that my mood swings were normal, ‘just hormonal’, and that I was overdramatic. Now, I cannot say that I was not dramatic – I remain so to this day – but I can say that these comments were dismissive. They told me that other people knew best what was going on in my head, and that stopped me from talking about it. I even told myself, “you’re making this all up”, “this isn’t real”. I didn’t believe in my own version of events, I didn’t trust myself in the slightest. Finding that self-trust is something I’m still working on. But I am always learning, and my diary is instrumental in that discovery. At 15 years old, reading my own diary entry from the day before was what made me wake up, and realise that what was going on in my head was serious. At 19, it is what made me stop denying the truth and recognise the significance of what I was feeling – my diary helped me to end a relationship I was no longer happy in, and leave a space that was triggering my anxiety and depression to the extreme. My diary saved me from my own denial.

This record of memories and the validation of our personal experiences is also important to our identity. It is so easy for your sense of who you are to get tangled up with who you’re ‘supposed to be’. Teenage girls are thrown hundreds of mixed messages every single day, and we lose ourselves to it all. We allow ourselves to be defined by others and simply categorised. Not because we want to be, but because it’s overwhelming, and it can feel like the easiest option to play pretend. But in our diaries, we can take off the masks. We can be honest, and that is healing.

Nobody’s identity is static, but mine is particularly erratic. I have spent my life moulding myself into different forms, usually out of a sense of desperation, a need to be seen, a fear of being abandoned by the people I loved. For me, identity is something I don’t understand – none of the people I’ve been in the past really feel like me. When I read through old diaries, it’s painful. “I don’t know her”, I think, going through the journal I kept during my hospitalisation at 15 years old. But as uncomfortable as my past selves make me, it’s important that I connect with them, learn to accept them and, ultimately, forgive them. And when I read my old diaries, I learn about who they were, and by extension who I am. This was the only place that I was honest, and so it gives me an insight to thought patterns; shows me the consistencies in my likes and dislikes; proves to me that there is a thread which connects me to myself. I’m not just fragments.

In defence of fanfiction

Author:
fanfics

I have been reading and writing fanfiction since I was 13 years old – I am almost 20 – and I am unashamed of that fact. I believe in the power of this medium. Middle-aged white men may not see the value inherent in fanfic, and the rest of the world may ridicule fangirls and our “creepy/obsessive/weird” hobby, but I know that doesn’t mean anything. After all, aren’t some of the best things about the modern world widely misunderstood and undervalued? Aren’t selfies seen as proof of the ‘fact’ that young women are shallow, vapid creatures? Isn’t YouTube culture deemed as evidence that entertainment is in decay? And yet, think of the brilliance and importance of these things, of how selfies can promote self-love, and of how YouTube allows anyone (with access to a computer – still a massive privilege, of course) to be a creator? Fanfiction has similar value. Trust me, it’s played a significant part in shaping my life and who I am.

As a young teenager, I felt incredibly isolated. I had friends at school, but for several years I was unable to be honest with them – about my emotions, my sexuality, about anything substantial. Thankfully, there was the internet. More specifically, there was the One Direction fandom. It was whilst the band were on The X-Factor UK in 2010 that I found a community for myself, and I am immensely grateful for that. I remember very clearly the evening I went on Twitter, as usual, and one of my mutual followers posted about wanting to write a fic featuring female characters based on herself and a bunch of her fandom friends. I ended up being one of them – the fic concept being of us, as a girl band rivalling One Direction on the X-Factor (but being super close friends with them all, of course!). Each of us in that group ended up writing our own fics, and we all included each other in them. I remember feeling like I belonged, like I finally had a place. That circle of friends – and the stories we created together – was integral to my survival at that point. I was more than a bit miserable at school, but I knew that at the end of every day, my computer was waiting for me. I had something to escape into – the latest chapters of my friends’ fics, and the chatter that followed reading. And I had a purpose – I had my own fic to write, and people who wanted to read it, people who wanted to know my thoughts. Although it was fiction, my group all inserted real life issues into our stories – I remember vividly how one of my friends wrote my character’s body image issues, and finding so much comfort in reading it. The comfort that ‘I’ was given in this fictional world translated into real life. I eventually lost touch with those girls, but I never lost what they gave me. I will always value their friendship, and I will always value the way that fanfiction brought us together.

Fanfiction has not only helped to connect me to others, it’s helped me to connect to myself, too. I have never been comfortable in my sexuality, never really sure of ‘where I fit’ in regards to labels. Bisexual is the word I used to define myself for many years, but it was never quite right, and that always inhibited me considerably. This discomfort only intensified as I began to surround myself with queer friends, people who were out and proud and sure of their sexuality – as I became more and more immersed in queer culture, the more of a fraud I felt. Fanfiction was the thing that began to change that, because it was through fanfiction that I first came across the labels that I felt a true connection to. It was in fanfiction that I came across the concept of asexuality, and suddenly there was a possibility in the back of my mind that I wasn’t ‘failing’, that my general disinterest in sex did not necessarily mean that I was inherently lacking. However, I wasn’t entirely convinced that I ‘fit’ asexuality, because I did not 100% ‘meet the criteria’. For a few months, I was more confused than ever before, and it was immensely distressing. I began to strongly believe that I was defective – sexuality being one of many things that I felt I did not have ‘a fixed place’ in, one of the many things that left me in a grey area. And then came the fic that changed my life. I’m not even exaggerating. This was a high school AU, and in this fic, the two main characters – Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson – defined as grey-ace and demisexual, respectively. I had heard of the latter, but not fully understood what it meant, and – having a friend who defined this way – I wanted to. The former, on the other hand, was a term I had never come across before – intrigued, I looked it up. The results of my Google search were like a slap in the face. Except, pleasant. It was the first time I had sighed with relief at a simple word, the first time that I did not feel like I had to reach for a label and clutch desperately at it. It was the first time I’d latched onto something – not only in regards to my sexuality – that felt natural, easy. It was the first time I realised something important, that I am not defective, and what I feel (and don’t feel) is completely valid. It continues to amaze me that something so monumental in my life was a result of reading fanfiction, and serves as a reminder that doing what you love can have some huge results, beyond anything you could possibly imagine.

Fanfiction has been many things for me over the years – a place of community, of creativity, and of self-discovery. But perhaps the simplest and most important thing that fanfiction has done for me is given me a place to call home. Of course, that’s fandom in general – in the worst of times, One Direction have always been my retreat, my safe place – but fanfiction is perhaps a particularly special extension of that. As a life-long book nerd/story obsessive, it is the part of fanfiction that matters to me most because it encompasses all of myself, and it provides me with an escape of multiple dimensions. I will never understand why the rest of the world can’t see the beauty in that, but I’m not too bothered about that anymore. I know that I am never on my own in what I believe in and care about, and the proof is in this fandom.

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