10/22/94“The city’s a fire, a passionate flame
That knows me by name.” – U2
Yesterday I found an e-mail message waiting for me from Julie Wilson, this girl in Nebraska. One of them was a form letter for her ‘zine Heaven or Hell. The other was a letter from her. We’ll probably trade ‘zine issues. I also have myself a new penpal from Australia, Edna. She lives in Tasmania and seems really nice. I returned an FB to her (actually, it was a sheet) and she mailed me a whole bunch of stuff.
I had this dream that I met this girl Mary Salardi (I don’t even write to her but I see her in lots of other FB’s) and told her that when she writes NIN she has to put the second “N” backwards. It was funny.
“I want to fly but my wings have been so denied” – Alice in Chains
I had to include this entry because it mentioned email. In 1994! When computers were still so intimidating and novel and I had my doubts whether I would become an avid user of one (Doogie Howser Diary entries notwithstanding). This was back before Google or Hotmail, when checking for “e-mail messages” was a multi-step process and addresses involved suffixes like “.ny.edu” that I had to write down in order to remember properly. Though it was around this time a new Internet service provider called America Online (later to become AOL) was starting to get adopted by non-luddites.
I still preferred my correspondence to be on paper, in stamped envelopes. Reading a person’s handwriting was so much more personal, and you could write letters anywhere, whereas I had to sit in computer lab to type out emails. Plus, back then something like friendship books (or FB’s) would have been difficult to do via email. In high school I had a friend who would make photocopies of all his letters before mailing them, and I always found it strange that he did so. Considering how uber-nostalgic I am, now I wish I had done the same, at least with some of my letters, if only to see what I left out of the diary.
A word on FB’s for those who didn’t have pen pals back in the day or those who spent more of their lives typing than writing by hand. Back before the worldwide web became ubiquitous, before it was easy to find people with common interests via websites, blogs, message boards, and social media, there were friendship books. Here’s how it worked: One person started the FB by stapling a few small pieces together into a booklet (sometimes a single sheet of paper was used, but usually they were booklets.). Their name and address would go on the cover and could be decorated with various photos/glitter/doodles (I was a fan of borders in funky nail polish colors because they were shiny and bright). There was usually a list of favorite bands, interests, and the types of pen pals being sought. Sort of like snail mail platonic personal ads. The friendship book would gets mailed to a pen pal, who decorated the next page with his/her (usually her) details and then sent it on to a different pen pal. And so on and so forth until person to fill the last page mailed the friendship book back to its owner. Ideally, the book came back with a few potentially interesting new people to write to. You could also start a friendship book for one of your own pen pals as a surprise for them.
I was initially excited to find new U2 fans through Propaganda, but that pen pal circuit was pretty incestuous, so FBs dedicated to the band had a lot of the same names in them after a while. However, there were always a few new folks in the mix, and the less obsessive fans with more varied music taste, had more eclectic FB’s. Once I branched out to more alternative music, the pen pals became even more diverse and interesting.
I wish I kept a few of these friendship books for posterity, because there’s really nothing like them today. They would have been a great time-capsule, of a period before communication became more electronic and disposable.
10/17/94“You make this all go away
I’m down to just one thing
And I’m starting to scare myself.” – NIN
I dyed my hair yesterday. It came out very dark brown with red highlights. A lot of people noticed and complimented me.
Didi and I were talking in the locker hall today and Claudia was nearby. Didi said something about Doogie Howser (that old T.V. show) and Claudia got all excited because she thought she heard someone say “Dookie,” the Green Day album. It reminded me of the olden days (9th grade) when Didi would dread saying or hearing the words “you too” around me (“U2? Where?”). Claudia’s lucky they don’t have more stuff out (as in albums and merchandise) or it could get more serious. She’s the third non-U2 obsessive fan I know (there’s also Alicia with Soul Asylum, and Darby with Smashing Pumpkins). It’s as if I’m drawn to these people. If I stay with this writing thing, maybe one day I’ll write a book about obsessive fandom. Or maybe start a support group, something like that.
“I hope someday you’ll have a beautiful life I know you’ll be a sun in somebody else’s sky…” – Pearl Jam
Or better yet, maybe I’ll start a blog in which we can all laugh about these obsessions.
Claudia was quickly becoming one of my closest friends at Hunter. Even though Green Day was her musical addiction and U2/Nine Inch Nails mine, we had other music in common, like Nine Inch Nails and Tori Amos. More importantly, we both had a disdain for the mainstream and the general oppressiveness of our high school. Music helped us both deal with that teenage frustration.
I’ve always been drawn to passionate people, but in high school and college, music was such an enormous part of my identity that I couldn’t help but gravitate toward others with similar obsessive tendencies. I didn’t mind hearing Darby go on about what a songwriting genius she thought Billy Corgan was or Claudia give impassioned soliloquies on Billie Joe Armstrong, because they let me have my turn ramble on about the brilliance of Trent Reznor. And while I always thought Alicia was a sweet girl, when I learned of her Soul Asylum fixation, I liked her so much more for it, and she was glad to have someone she could obsess with, even if our music antennas were set to different channels. In a way it kind of was like having one-on-one support groups.
Even though now I can see that this type of obsession is sometimes a substitute for something lacking in life, at the time I believed it gave a person depth of character and a crazy-in-a-good-way streak to their personality. It always irked me when I would ask people their favorite music and they replied, “Oh, I like everything.” I much preferred it when someone was utterly hooked on a particular artist or genre, even if it wasn’t something I was into (as was the case, when I was a little girl, with Depeche Mode).
Of course now I understand where temperance has its good points. It’s healthy to have diverse interests and that kind of one-track mindedness can become tedious. But back then, I didn’t have much else. I had school, I had my friends, and I had music. And being so obsessed with music gave me a language that helped me develop friendships in high school and beyond that may not have otherwise come to fruition. It was a bond unlike any other.
In the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, I was fond of the show Doogie Howser, M.D. in which a young Neil Patrick Harris played a prodigy whose impressive memory and passion for medicine helped him become a doctor at 14. On top of dealing with the stresses of being a practitioner, Doogie had to navigate the everyday pressures and dramas of puberty. Keeping a journal helped him make sense of it all, only he didn’t use paper, he used a computer (twenty years ago, this was pretty damn revolutionary). At the end of every episode, he would type away his insights. As the white words scrolled along the blue screen, many a night I felt like I learned something from his experiences too.
Around the time the show aired, my parents got me a computer. It cost about $3,000 (!) and I used it to write a handful of term papers and play hundreds of hours of Tetris. For a couple of months, I also used it to keep an electronic journal. I thought it would be fun to experiment with a new format and figured it would provide a safe place to keep my private thoughts private (how things change). Tucked into the back pages of the composition book journal are several printed out pages (dot matrix style) from my “Doogie diary.” This is the first entry:
April 2, 1990
Today in Music (class) we saw the tape of some of the talent show and during my act Mrs. Angelo said to me and Elaine
“Look at Mitchell (Also known as: two-timing sleaze-ball), he’s blushing!”
So we turn sideways and he was all red!
I wonder what that means…maybe he kind of misses me after all…
Well since we’re on the topic of sleaze-ball, and sleaze-ball is going out with Rose I’ll tell you what’s up with her.
First of all, I had a fight with her, so we’re not really on speaking terms. Also, some of Sam P’s friends are having a surprise birthday party for him and I’m invited to it. I kind of have a crush on Sam, and I know that he just likes me as a friend, but after the surprise party, who knows what could happen!
Also, Passover is coming soon and I am going to my cousin Anna’s house on April 10 and sleep over. I just can’t wait until Spring\Passover\Easter vacation!
For the talent show, I sang what was at the time my favorite song: “Foolish Beat” by Debbie Gibson. I don’t know whether my sentimental musical rendition had anything to do with Mitchell blushing, or what the fight with Rose was over, but there was tension between the three of us. None of us could communicate it in any real way, so instead the awkwardness grew.
Meanwhile, I plotted my revenge…