Thursday, February 6, 2014

We Used To Wait

by Giselle Renarde

It seems strange
how we used to wait for letters to arrive
But what's stranger still
is how something so small can keep you alive.
~"We Used To Wait"
by Arcade Fire

On Tuesday, J.P. Bowie cited quite a few hands-related songs. The first one that came to mind, for me, was Both Hands by Ani DiFranco--a song I remember listening to in my teens.  But Ani's been in trouble recently, so I'll sidestep that one and move right along to the next song that came to mind: We Used To Wait by Arcade Fire. Its first line calls to mind the image pens and paper and scrawling lengthy missives:

I used to write.
I used to write letters.
I used to sign my name...

But, more than hands, that song makes me think of Summer 1999. I was going into my final year of high school (secondary education lasted 5 years in Ontario back then) and I was infatuated with one of my teachers. I couldn't understand whether my feelings were romantic or I was looking for a father figure or... both?  All I knew was that we'd grown close over the course of the past school year.  There was an undeniable connection, and though he hadn't admitted his feelings for me (that would have been bad for business while he was a teacher and I was a student) we did keep in contact after the school year was over.

By August, I couldn't stop thinking about him. He was away visiting his in-laws, but he'd written me a twelve-page letter that said very little, and promised another was soon to come.

So I waited...

And I waited...

And waited...

I got so anxious for that letter, more anxious than I'd ever been for anything.  I felt sure he'd finally confess his true feelings. Every day I checked not only my mother's mailbox, but our neighbours' mailboxes, too, on the off-chance the postie delivered that sanctum sanctorum of an envelope to the wrong house.

In the meantime, I put my thoughts down on paper. It was the first time in my entire life I kept a diary.

A few months ago, I found the diary I kept in 1999. It's a dappled grey book, very business-like, and the entries are handwritten neatly and deliberately with a calligraphy pen.

When I started reading it I had to shake my head, because, well, first of all it didn't read like something written by an 18-year-old.  In my taboo novella "Adam and Sheree's Family Christmas" I had Adam find his sister Sheree's journal from when she was 18 or 19.  I had him find it AND read it--and I wrote those journal entries (really more of a sex diary, I guess) the way I assumed a barely-legal teen would write.  It's casual and bubbly and in many ways quite immature.

That's not how my real-life diary reads at all. Actually, it kind of reads like it was written by a 60-year-old man--but I always said I was born middle aged.

Anyway, when I started reading this diary it annoyed me. I annoyed me. But I couldn't stop reading. I found myself addicted to the damn thing.  You'd think I'd remember writing this journal, or at least remember my own life, but 15 years ago is a little hazy.  I felt like I was reading a story, reading someone else's life.  Had I really been so naive? So deeply "attuned" to pop spirituality? So blind to my own motivations?  If I felt like that was the me I am today, I would have found that diary deeply humiliating.

Instead, I found it amusing and entertaining and maybe kind of sad in its own modest way... and I wanted to share it.

So this is the official announcement.  I haven't told anyone, aside from my girlfriend (who has now read the thing three times). You heard it here first:

I've decided to publish my actual honest-to-god diary as a book called "Like It's 1999: Diary of a Teenager in love with a Teacher."  The journal of my teenaged angst will be available in print and as an ebook March 14, 2014.

Ooooo we used to wait
Ooooo we used to wait
Ooooo we used to wait
Sometimes it never came


  1. I kept diaries all through high school, college and grad school. When I read them now, I have difficulty remembering what all that angst and arousal really felt like. What bothers me most, though, is how many people (including lovers) are mentioned in those pages whom I can't recall at all. A bit scary. I thought they were making a huge impression on me, that they were central to my life. Clearly I was wrong.

    Actually, I've had a worse experience reading my poetry from those years. I'll have an intense, erotic poem dedicated to someone via their initials, and I can't even remember who those initials refer to.

  2. I really wish I'd started a journal as a teen. It just wasn't something a guy did back in the fifties and early sixties. There were too many other diversions to pursue. Like girls!

    It always amazes me how little I retain of my own work. I go back after three or four years and say either 'hey, this is okay. Or, 'what the fuck was I thinking?' It's all like someone else wrote it. Of course, once I get into it, most of it comes back.

    How wonderful to be able to assess your way of thinking from so far back. Of course, you don't have to remember as far back as some of us. :>)

  3. August 1999-July 2000 was the only period in my entire life I kept a journal. I was surprised, when I found it and read it, that it had its own internal narrative structure--not something you would necessarily expect of a diary.

    As I type this comment there's a news story on the radio about a teacher (who plays drums in a band with the Canadian Prime Minister) being charged with sexual this-that-and-the-other. In 1998. Hmm... I wonder if there are any teachers in Ontario who haven't slept with their students. I know a girl who's had sex with 3 of her former high school teachers.

  4. Never was interested in any of my high school teachers. I was too busy trying to get laid by fellow students, and even in one case, his dad first! (great little anecdote there!) I did have a nooner with a college professor, and years later I found out he wanted it to be more. I thought it was clear that it was a "have to do this at least once in my college years" kind of thing. It was fun, but only a momentary diversion. I guess I was very shallow back then. No, I KNOW I was!

    Re: diary...I kept one in high school, but Mom found it and read it to my dad. I had tons of angst in there, as well as my initial impressions of what sex felt like. It made Dad's head explode! I almost got thrown out of the house, and he threatened to take me to therapy because obviously I was sick and twisted, for wanting to have sex with guys instead of remaining pure. Sigh. So while I had wanted to save it until I was old and would chuckle warmly over my teen self, instead I burned it, trying to expiate the damage already done.

    I['d never have the guts to publish it, even though both parents have passed on. You are very brave to expose your younger self to readers.

    1. Sick and Twisted! That's a book title if ever I heard one.

      Publishing fiction requires bravery, for me. I feel much closer to my fiction than I feel to this diary, backwards as that seems. You know me--I'm always going "What if people hate my writing?" With this it's like, yeah, feel free to hate 18-year-old me. (My girlfriend made me cut the characterization "douchebag" out of my introduction--she said I was inviting people to hate me. heh. Yeah, I totally was.)

  5. So you never did hear from teach? Seems strange after he took the time to write a 12 page letter - he must have had some kind of feelings for you. Maybe someone got in the way...

  6. Fascinating story, Giselle! I look forward to seeing your diary in print.

  7. I can think of one or two lady teachers in high school i wouldn;t have minded being molested by at all. For girls that may be traumatic, for boys its an ego boost.

    My diary from that time is kind of embarrassing too, with my naive thoughts and self absorption. Problem is, I don;t know if iIve changed that much.


  8. Oh wow, this whets the appetite of the voyeur in me a great deal. I must admit that the idea of reading your old journal really, really appeals to me. (And, having kept a journal for most of my life, I'm surprised you found a coherent narrative—when I go back to mine, they tend to be catalogs of worries.) Can't wait!


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