Monday Musings: Teenage diaries, #6

This entry was written late in my last year of sixth form, when I was in the middle of writing a novel, but also acting in my final youth theatre play, After Juliet.

UntitledEighteen

April 19th, 2005

I went into the Boston Tea Party today to get some form of drink after swimming (Starbucks being closed) and had only been there a little while when A— came in and noticed me. [A was a playwright who had written a number of plays for youth theatre.] I don’t think I’ve seen her since HOUSE ON HELLMOUTH HILL (the return of!). I seem to remember finding her slightly annoying and patronising – God I was an over-critical little girl then. We had a very interesting conversation – she began by asking me about my own writing, as always, and I said that I was certainly keeping on with it but was so busy at the moment with A Levels that I had very little time. (Still bogged down in chapter 13. And not very positive about it as always happens when I have to take a long break. But I want to start again!)

Then I asked her about Storm [on the Lawn. A youth theatre project] this year, for which she’s written another play, this time focusing on the life and stories of Hans Christian Andersen. We had quite a good conversation about Andersen – by good luck I’ve been reading some of his stories lately, thinking they might be useful for Elizabeth [a character in the novel I was writing] so I could mention the well-known ones like the Wild Swans and the Snow Queen without sounding a complete twit. It was clearly a good topic for A— as she’s obviously really enthusiastic about it having done loads of research – she told me about some of the lesser known, more ‘Gothic’ Anderson tales such as ‘The Shadow’ apparently, about a man who believes his shadow has come alive and is following (Funny how we just did Ferdinand [from The Duchess of Malfi] today – I am being chased by nothing and so forth) him, and ‘Auntie Toothache’. Must look those up – could be very useful.

It was interesting enough just to be able to talk to somebody serious about writing; it’s always surprising how nice it feels, as even people who say they’re interested in writing but are my age are usually not OBSESSIVE enough. Said I knew very little about HCA’s life and A— told me a bit about that as well – apparently a very strange man. She finished by promising to get me a copy of The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, as always, and gave me her e-mail address and said that I really could contact her at any time in the future, as it would probably never change. Always feel awkward about that – I am grateful she wants to help me with my writing but I never know what I could ask her.

B— [our youth theatre director] came in at that point and he and A— went to a separate table while I read. I think they’re discussing ‘The Country of the Blind’, Foundation group’s new project. I continued to read (‘A Clash of Kings’ very good at the moment) [proof I was a George RR Martin obsessive before it was cool!] and when I left I made sure to say good-bye, as I always miss chances like that. B— told me he was coming to see ‘After Juliet’ tonight and wished me luck. I didn’t want to sit down right away as it was sunny and the air felt gorgeous so I prowled up and down a bit. Am excited about first night tonight, although funnily I almost don’t want to go back into the atmosphere of the play.

Author’s Note

Teenagers – and indeed, the under-25s – are often stigmatised as being incapable of long-term planning, defined by their impulsiveness, risk-taking and lack of understanding of real consequences. In other words, they cannot make serious plans for the future. These stereotypes have always puzzled me, because I’m convinced that I was far more ‘mature’ as an eighteen-year-old than I was in my early- or even my mid-twenties. Viewing age as a continuum along which we gradually become more competent until the ‘decline’ of old age involves fundamentally ageist assumptions about both young and older people. In reality, we don’t experience our own ageing as steady improvement, but as a series of ups and downs, as we claw back some self-knowledge and lose it again. Why, then, are we so ready to accept negative generalisations about whole age groups?

As I’ve said all along, posting my teenage diaries has never been about proving that I was some super-exceptional teenager. Indeed, I’ve tried to emphasise how much I had in common with others my age (although I often looked down at my contemporaries at the time!). This entry is a little different, in that I think, aged eighteen, that I was unusually focused – a focus I lost once I went to university and was distracted by my social life. I was committed to writing a serious novel, and I worked on my novel every day. Ten years later, I realise how difficult that is to achieve. I was taking four A Levels, so I didn’t have a lot of free time, and I consciously gave up things I might have enjoyed to devote time to my writing. For the first time, I also became truly reflective, about myself, and about the others around me. I’m not suggesting that I was a perfect eighteen-year-old – most significantly, I was very socially isolated – but I think I knew who I was and what I wanted much more clearly than I have since, and that I was essentially right about what those things were. When I re-read this diary entry, I don’t hear an immature teenager but a person living her life as best as she knows how.

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