10 Things I Learned Reading My Teenage Diary on Stage

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What would posess someone to get up on stage and read the most embarrasing passages from her teenage diary to a theater full of strangers?

I’m still trying to figure that out, even after my regular participation in the Salon of Shame.

I’ve been attending the Salon of Shame as a spectator for several years. The premise is simple: half a dozen people, mostly in their 30’s, get up on stage and read passages from their teenage diaries. Any subject matter is fair game. Explanations and post-scripts are discouraged – shame is best delivered straight-up. You’ve got five minutes at the microphone.

Meanwhile, sign-language interpreters translate your words into grand gestures for the hearing-impaired portion of the audience. The ASL interpreters are often the highlight of the show.

I decided this summer it was time to participate, since I have over 100 notebooks filled to the brim with laughable material. Oh, and I run a website about journaling. Right.

Reading at the Salon of Shame has been an eye-opening experience. Here’s what I learned.

1. It sounds different when you say it outloud.

Honestly, I felt like the victim when I was writing these particular passages. And even when I re-read them 100 times to myself before the show, it was narrated in the voice of a put-upon teenager struggling to hold onto her virginity.

But when reading “What are these feelings? Not love, and sometimes I wonder if they’re even like. Most of the time I don’t feel one way or the other – he’s just there…” I realized I sounded like a total bitch. I got a whole new perspective on myself and my history.

I was cold-hearted and insensitive? Incredible!

2. We are not alone.

We all feel like aliens some of the time. And most of those times are between the ages of 12 and 17.

All those years that I felt so isolated and freakish — I was convinced I was the only person on Earth going through it. All evidence is to the contrary.

When I arrived at the theater for the Salon of Shame and stepped into the bathroom, there was a Tiger Beat magazine next to the sink, opened to an article on New Kids on the Block. I suspected I was among kindred spirits.

When Ariel got up and read her strident letter to Jonathan Knight of New Kids on the Block, my suspicion was confirmed. (You can witness the magic of this and many other moments firsthand on the Youtube of Shame.)

3. I don’t know as much as I think I do.

At the time I wrote those journal entries in 1990 at the age of 15, I knew it all. I was sure I knew how my life would pan out. I knew what adults were thinking.

I even knew how the world turned. (It revolved around me, of course.)

And then I grew up.

4. Sign language for “boning away” looks pretty much like you’d expect.

Who knew?

5. It’s important to laugh at yourself.

And others. Especially others.

Keeping a sense of humor will get you through this life. It’s so essential to be able to laugh, and to share that laughter with others, regardless of who started it.

And what better way to get over an embarrassing past than to make a funny out of it?

6. Everyone eventually comes into their own.

Most of the people reading at the Salon of Shame were not cheerleaders or star quarterbacks. If they were, they likely wouldn’t have been sitting alone furiously writing in their diaries in high school.

It’s comforting to see the parade of former outcasts – the goths, theater freaks, bad seeds and black sheep – as adults, generally well-adjusted and surrounded by friends and fellows.

7. Perms are never a good idea.

Like, ever.

8. You can feel the fear and do it anyway.

I wasn’t nervous about reading at the event until we got to the theater. I mean, it’s not like I had to memorize anything. I just had to read what was in front of me.

But I was mostly nervous about the microphone. At 6’1″, I’m easily a foot taller than most of the other readers, and I imagined struggling with the height of the microphone and dropping it and in general making a loud squealing mess of myself.

I was relieved to see the mic on a long adjustable gooseneck. But we didn’t know the order of the readings, so after each reader I’d get all anxious waiting for my name to be called. And this went on for almost two hours since I read second to last.

By the time it was my turn, I was nearly frothing at the mouth. The butterflies had turned into buffalo. I was full on freaking out. But I did it anyway. Riding that surge of adrenaline, wrestling with my fight-or-flight instinct was invigorating.

And in the end, I actually had fun.

9. Being a pack rat has its advantages.

I’m glad I hung on to all that old stuff. I never would have had a chance to participate in the Salon if it weren’t for my enormous backlog of journals.

10. Any embarrassing disaster is funny, given enough time (or vodka).

I’ve got a few humdingers I’m just waiting to age enough to be funny. It happens eventually – I’m living proof.

In the meantime, have a drink while you wait it out.


  1. Sue

    This is so funny. You were able to reveal all of those crazy things that were so important.
    Yes, time does make some of the embartassment lessen; but I will probably never be able to write or tell about the time that……….sbr

  2. Lanzman

    “I was cold-hearted and insensitive? Incredible!” I think you mean “Inconceivable!” With a slight, vaguely Sicilian lisp, of course.
    I just recently stumbled across your blog and as an on-again, off-again journal writer myself, I am finding it invaluable.

  3. Lynn

    I’m new to your blog too, but I love it. This post is hilarious! I recently found some of my high school diaries, and ended up thinking “Who was that naive self-centered ingrate who wrote those? It can’t have been me!” Nice to know we’re not alone.

  4. Karrie

    What a great adventure! Looking back on the painful highschool years, I wish I had journaled more so that I could laugh at it now. Don’t you wish you knew about “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” in highschool? I was so scared of everything and everybody, no wonder I look back in horror. I wish too that I knew about Susan Jeffers book of the same name then too.

    By the way, I had one cute perm, so maybe “never” is too strong a word? Thanks for the great post.

  5. Kristin

    Welcome to the blog, you guys. Glad you found me. I wish I could hear the details of all of your high school diaries! I think we were all pretty much in the same boat.

    And Karrie, as for perms – I’ll ammend that to say that they’re never a good idea for my particular head. 🙂 I’ve got extremely thick hair and it was long – holy lion-head spiral perm! It was out of control.

    Thanks for reading – come back soon!

  6. C

    We have this in England but it’s called “Cringe” (suitable title!). I haven’t been to one yet, I really must, very soon! I have so much I could contribute… teenage journals are the best source of amusement!

  7. Liz

    I’m pretty close to being a teenager myself (I’m 20), so to me, my ‘teenage’ things are my preteen things. I come across them randomly. I’d start writing then forget get another one and so on. It’s rather embarrassing to come across. ahaha But when I graduated high school, my sophomore english teacher sent out letters that we wrote to ourselves to read when we graduated, mine are soooo embarrassing! It’d be something I’d want to share at something like this. Unfortunately I live in Maine and I haven’t heard of anything like this.

    But congrats on having the courage!