Don’t Just Hear, Listen

July 24, 2015 – Culture

On Monday the 13th of July “This is Happening” hosted a night titled “Don’t just hear, Listen!” in the function room, upstairs in Chaplin’s bar on Hawkins St. The event was a fundraiser for a show their upcoming show “(Not) Belonging” about “Subculture, adolescence and what it feels like to belong”, premiering this September. Writers, poets and anyone else who felt brave were invited to take to the stage and share extracts from their teenage diaries with a room full of strangers.

The evening wasn’t just limited to diaries. Anything that gave an idea of how the person was in their youth was welcomed. Love letters, old poetry, tweets, doodles and even letters written to teen magazines that were never sent (signed with names like “Lovestruck”) were all read. Others performed unwritten anecdotes about significant events from their youth like going to see a band abroad for the first time. Whatever medium they came through, the common thread that ran throughout all the pieces was that the events that seemed so important to the adolescents who had written them had become hilarious, and a little bit cringe-worthy, to the young adults they grew up to be.

Most of the extracts contained everything you’d expect to find in a teenagers diary. Sentences like “I think I might fancy Ronan again”, “My head = fuck” and “Junior Cert fast approaching”. The sort of thoughts most people can probably relate to, but had also completely forgotten about. The sort of thoughts that are so inane and insignificant you can’t believe they used to overwhelm you. Lists of all the people you had crushes on. Lists of all the cool things you did that summer. System of a Down lyrics for no reason. It was humbling to be reminded that at one stage we were all at an age where we thought every little thing we were going through was the most important thing in the world and every emotion was the most intense we’d ever felt.

There was talk about some things that only happened so briefly, they were kind of fleeting fads. Things that it’s possible only your cohort could relate to. But I know exactly what it meant to give someone your “Bebo Luv”.  Anyone who is any older than me was probably too old to have used Bebo and anyone much younger was probably too young to care before everyone switched to Facebook. Already, I’ve heard teenagers saying that Facebooks just for old people. And I have no idea what “Kik” is.

For me, talk of the anxiety of using MSN to talk to a crush rang especially true. The flutter when they sign in. Those cool two minutes you wait before you write “Hey”. The mild panic when they’ve seen you’re message but haven’t responded in ten minutes. The feeling of dread when they sign out shortly after without letting you know they were heading off. A friend of mine used to like saying seeing the green dot beside you’re crushes name when they’ve signed in is the 21st century equivalent of Jay Gatsby standing on his lawn, staring at the green light at East Egg.

One of the most interesting pieces on the night was a collection of extracts from a diary telling the epic tale of a young teen’s love life. From the moment she started liking a certain boy in her class, to the moment she stopped being a frigid (remember that was a thing?), by way of every milestone (Hands touching in P.E., getting into tickle fights, etc.) It also included a number of gems showing just how intense every emotion at this age is “I love you so much it hurts”, “It was the best and worst day of my life” and, my personal favourite “Do you have any idea how hard it is to love you when all I want to do is jump into a black hole – which is what love is”

Another of the diaries offered insights into a slightly older teenagers romantic episodes and featured such milestones as “It was my first time topping someone. A bit overrated but it’s nice – She’s supposedly giving me a wank tomorrow”, “She’s a worse meet but she’s a lot less slutty” and “I wanked three times and she masturbated for the first time so last night was really weird” all the while comparing the different girls he was getting with. In the authors defence, he ended his piece by looking up from his diary and asking the crowd “God, I was an awful prick, wasn’t I?”

We expect someone sharing their diary to be a somewhat uncomfortable experience, given that it was written for their eyes only (and maybe even said so on the cover). Diaries are never written with the intention of being shared. If one the functions of keeping a diary is to unload the weight of the emotions you’re feeling by getting your thoughts together and putting them down on the paper, twitter can be seen to fill a similar role. The main difference is that twitter is intended to be public. But the sort of things a 15 year old wants to share with the world can be just as embarrassing as the things they want to keep to themselves.  One of the readers on the night shared with us all his tweets from an account set up 7 years ago. A large part of it was passive aggressive tweeting at his mom, for not letting him go out and meet his girlfriend (who he admitted wasn’t technically his girlfriend at the time, but also didn’t have twitter, so what harm?) as well as a collection of tweets complaining about stubble, razors and just generally trying to mention as often as possible he was shaving. I’m still waiting on my first whiskers to push through, but I imagine at some point in my 30’s I’ll be able to relate. He also shared some stand-alone nuggets, the most memorable undoubtedly being “It’s going to be another falling asleep to Death Cab night”

The last diary of the night documented the anxieties of a girl who had arranged to shift a guy she knew. From worries like “What if he’s one of those kiss and go guys?” to “What if I’m terrible at kissing? What if I only last a few seconds?” – Because back then we all knew the best shifts lasted 15 minutes at least. It also contained an incredibly cute anecdote about hanging out with all his friends and how she dealt with them all shouting at her to get with him. “To shut them up we hugged. It was lovely. Like teddies jumping up and down inside me”.

Nearly everyone spoke of being on the outside, being misunderstood and being alone and yet paradoxically every single person in the room could relate to nearly everything that was being said. Everyone saw bits of themselves as teenagers in the extracts that were being shared. If not it would have been an incredibly tense and uncomfortable night. Looking back, it seems like in early adolescence everyone is too wrapped up in their own drama to notice everyone else’s identical problems. Were all desperate to make our own narratives as interesting as possible. But it’s also a time when you’re going through so many changes it can seem overwhelmingly. It’s the first girlfriend or boyfriend you’ve ever had, so it is the most in love you’ve ever been. You haven’t really ever had to do anything so the junior cert is the most stressful thing in the world. It’s easy to laugh and cringe about how lame you were. But cut yourself a little slack, because you were kind of right.

Words: Shane Murphy

Image: Jessica Rooney Deane


You can support This Is Happening’s forthcoming event (Not) Belonging on their fundit page here