Earlier this week I found a large snippet of my old high school Livejournal via the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. This has taught me a couple lessons, one immediate and one still developing.
First, the immediate lesson: no matter how strong the language otherwise (“This account has been deleted and purged”), it is impossible to actually delete something on the Internet. In the (likely declining) days of comment sections and Twitter and Facebook, this is important to remember.
Second, the developing lesson. It’s really hard to read stuff you wrote at 17. What I find interesting is a shift in perspective on time when looking at all of this. When I think back about, say, college, it blows my mind that I finished grad school a little under eight years ago and that my 10th college reunion is coming up. When I look back at my high school Livejournal, though, and see things that were written 13, 14 years ago, I want to believe it was longer. When I think about myself in college, I think about the experiences that formed me into a person, for good and for ill. I think about decisions I made…for good and for ill. These things feel recent and relevant, even if it was a decade ago. When I think about myself in high school, I see a confused kid trying to grow up, grabbing onto anything he can. Reading what I wrote makes me feel that acutely, and though educational, it doesn’t necessarily feel good. It makes me want to feel separated from that version of me…by two decades, at least.
The most recent post captured through the Wayback Machine was February 1st, 2005. This means that a good year of my Livejournal is lost to the ages…a year with lots of juicy stuff in it. Though I have no record of my one serious high school relationship and the significant drama it caused (April 2005 – January 2006, that one), I do have a copy of what was probably one of the worst posts I ever made. It was the post which I referenced in an earlier post, and it severely damaged what was likely one of my most intimate friendships in high school. I reread it, and…it means essentially nothing to me. The only reason I knew it was the right post was the ending, which was seared into my brain because it was spat back at me the next day. But other than that, I have no idea what I’m talking about in that post.
Isn’t that crazy? I mean, I wrote a whole post on *this* blog about how dramatic and ugly a shift it was, and I remember exactly what the overarching plotline was. But the actual events that set me off? No clue. And reading the post, the context clues I did get only confused me, as they didn’t point to anything I remembered. That’s actually broadly true about a lot of the posts…they talked about events I either don’t remember or only remembered vaguely. And I was a very buttoned up kid in high school (there’s even a cringe-inducing post about being straight edge in there, and thirtysomething me is just thinking ‘kid, just wait until you discover beer’), so there’s no reason to expect those memories are particularly lost…just that I wrote so much about so many mundane things that everything has started to blur together.
The fact that we cannot possibly remember every waking moment of our lives is why media like Livejournal and Facebook are so appealing. They’re cybernetic implants to memory, giving us insight into our past long after our meat brains have been programmed to forget. It’s why at the end of college I decided that my college blog, even if I didn’t want to write it any more, should stay on the internet. Maybe as a museum to my ego, I suppose, but more likely so that I could go back and read the things I wrote. Doesn’t really matter if anyone else does. I never thought I was any good at forgetting…I still have very good recall, of a lot of things, but retaining information is different that retaining memories of your past. And even if you keep those memories, you still may need something to trigger them.
Sometime around age 25, I became quite sad that I deleted my Livejournal. It was at that time that there was nothing left for me within my old high school, somewhat because everyone I could have possibly known was too old to stick around, yes, but more because the old buildings were being demolished and anything I could have remembered now ceased to exist. It was also after I had moved back to Boston, long enough that the shock of leaving school and going to “real life” had settled, but still recently enough after that I was trying to figure out what the new version of my Massachusetts life looked like. I have not spent the intervening years searching for my Livejournal, I only found it now because I thought of a different URL string to use after talking to my girlfriend about her Livejournal. And then I read about a year’s worth of posts, through all of 2004. And I don’t think I’m sad I deleted it now. Both because I’m now, more than ever, glad I’m not that awkward and confused kid any more, but also because reading it didn’t give me any new insight into myself. It just reminded me that adolescence sucks, is confusing, and that I was not special when it came to trying to claw through it.
I have in the past tried to treat all this writing as an open book, especially as I’ve gotten older and have felt more comfortable talking about poor decisions I’ve made in the past. At 30 I’m still making poor decisions, but I like to think I have a better capacity to own them and learn from them now. Time will tell. Anyways, my point here is that I can’t really write nearly 1000 words about my old Livejournal without sharing it. Here you go*. If you do decide to read it, understand that I was 17. I think that’s all I really need to say to gather at least an iota of sympathy. And for completeness’ sake, my college blog. I don’t know if you can see me growing up in there, but I like to imagine I can.
*The landing page has 5 or so snapshots…among those are three fragments of the old blog. Even if I’m being an exhibitionist, you still have to do some work.