As a writer (or more generally, as a human being), I keep a journal to maintain my sanity.
I write to process everything I experience, to filter out reality from the tangled mess of emotions inside my brain. My journals are usually fragmented and somewhat repetitive, perhaps because of the reasons I stated above. I’ve kept journals fairly consistently since the first grade, when I began writing in a small, blue notebook with a tiny padlock shaped like a heart — a gift I had received for my sixth birthday. At the beginning, my entries were relatively mundane. And when I say mundane, I mean that the majority of this notebook is filled with in-depth descriptions of entire days of my life. That includes the things I did in school, books I read, each place I went, and, in extreme cases, the food I ate. To this day I’m not sure what compelled me to record these rather meticulous descriptions, but I remember enjoying it tremendously, so there must have been some appeal at the time.
This specific notebook, among others, is buried beneath ticket stubs, English essays, and old disposable camera photos in a cardboard box underneath my bed. I hadn’t felt compelled to pull it out and dust it off until this weekend, right after watching “Mortified Nation,” a documentary about journals, poetry, song lyrics, art and all the other disturbingly embarrassing yet wonderful things adults remember making as kids.
The Mortified project itself was created by David Nadelberg in the late 1990s. Nadelberg discovered the potential of unearthing childhood relics after reading aloud to a few friends an extremely awkward love letter that he had written as an adolescent. When they found amusement in what he had previously perceived as just sad and uncomfortable, he realized that the laughter invoked by that particular letter was part of something much larger than just himself — instead of feeling laughed at, he felt laughed with, and comforted by their groans of sympathetic dismay.
The project began as a single, live performance where Nadelberg read his letter out loud and a few friends joined him, having unearthed artifacts from their own childhood and adolescence to share. It was a huge success, and soon others were invited to sift through their childhood art/writing/etc. for bits of humor and poignancy to share their shame as well. There were a few scattered performances in bars, theaters and other venues before Mortified began to truly take shape and become the more formal “storytelling project” it is today, with performances held regularly in several big cities across the nation. Now, anyone who wants to participate can request a session with the producers online at Mortified’s website: www.getmortified.com. The producers of the show spend time with each participant to help them formulate their artifacts into something whole and concise, something with a message and a sense of closure that will be accessible to an audience.
The documentary itself features a collection of performances, all from one evening, broken up periodically by interviews with the producers and various contributors. It strives to capture the essence of what Mortified is and why people take part, which I think it does remarkably well. The participants share their childhood thoughts and ramblings through a variety of media including (but not limited to) goofy yet aggressively misogynistic punk songs, poorly drawn erotica, a lengthy bucket list, and, of course, a plethora of journals and diaries. The audience laughs and cringes along with the performers, and even just watching the documentary, it’s easy to feel the sense of warmth and togetherness that grows stronger with each performance.
I think it’s probably difficult for a lot of people to understand why someone would want to get up on stage and reveal these extremely intimate thoughts from possibly the most vulnerable period of one’s entire life. But I think that, in and of itself, is why people do it: because people ARE vulnerable and goofy and too passionate at all the wrong times. It feels good, comforting in a way, to acknowledge that nobody knows what they’re doing — everyone is awkward and uncomfortable and confused — so why not bask in the hilarity together?
Katie Huntington is a senior at Oneonta High School. ‘Teen Talk’ columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/news/lifestyles.