On Voyeurism. Sort of.

I’ve been thinking about this journal. I know, I know—you can’t tell by looking at it. I am a very bad journal-keeper.

But here’s the thing: I wasn’t always.

There was a time in my life when I recorded my thoughts and observations with an enthusiasm bordering on obsessive. It sustained me. It kept me from melting into a puddle of boredom during high school.

I can’t be sure that other people like journal entries and scrapbooks the same way I do, because I also like liverwurst and that Swedish salt licorice that’s shaped to look like little fish, so this is going to be kind of an experiment. megancrewe has been talking about adolescence, posting journal excerpts that chronicle various revealing moments. In a certain sense, you could say that I’m copying Megan Crewe. And you would be right.

So, here goes. The Alice in this early observation is excruciatingly shy, which may explain why she is so fascinating to Sophomore Brenna. She wears glasses and is a year or two older than me, putting her at about 17. She wears combat boots and plays the cello. Although she mostly seems to go unremarked, Sophomore Brenna finds her utterly remarkable and admires her in the way that younger girls admire older ones. Although you can’t tell it from her somewhat impressionistic description, Sophomore Brenna spends most bus-rides wishing that she looked just like Alice.

No girls ride the bus except me, and sometimes Alice. But Alice keeps to herself and doesn’t say much. She is kind of pretty, with short auburn hair and gray eyes. She reminds me a little of a rabbit. The kind of rabbit that doesn’t say much. When someone asks her a question, she sighs, like the answer weighs a lot. Like so much that she almost can’t breathe.

She sits with her cheek against the window and her knees pulled up to her chest, tugging on the laces of her boots. Her slip is always uneven, hanging down past her skirt, and her stockings always have runs. I make up stories about her. About how she dreams of symphonies, of pirate ships or stars, like she’s always someplace else.

Alice escapes by staring out the window, but I don’t have to. It’s strange to know you mostly don’t exist. I’m not even a real wallflower, but more like the shadow of one. Sometimes people in my classes make comments about how I’m a space cadet, or “not all there,” and maybe that’s the same thing I’m doing when I pretend that Alice has gotten away. Maybe it’s the equivalent of calling her a space cadet, when really she’s just like me.

I could say a lot about this—things about empathy and self-perception and projection, but I’m mostly just astonished to realize that I probably could have been friends with Alice if I’d been more outgoing or hadn’t been in such peculiar awe of her.

At the time though, I felt her solitude was necessary to her character. Even though I prided myself on my objectivity, I still had a tendency to view everyone through my own lens. I saw people in terms of narrative rather than real life. It occurred to me that Alice was lonely, but not that I had any possible influence over her loneliness. I was fundamentally separate. Even sitting across the aisle from her, I had no involvement in the situation. The idea that I might one day start a conversation with her was flatly implausible.

This makes me regretful now, mostly because I think I would have liked her. In some ways though, it was simply a necessary part of my socialization, one more thing to grow out of. Because as weird as it may sound, at 15, if I didn’t know someone, they were mostly just a story I happened to be telling.

11 thoughts on “On Voyeurism. Sort of.

  1. This is incredibly honest and sad. I like it, and you, for lots of reasons that only float in my consciousness. I kept my journal in my head. Observations and discussions that I was too terrified to let get to my lips. Everyone knew me at school, from the age of 9 to 16, but I was friends with only a few. I let those friends go like dried leaves getting ready for winter.
    Even now I’ve friends and family raked and composted. I’m unsure how to reclaim what I’ve lost. The words remain trapped, my lips sealed with fear.
    In the old school system we were tested academically, and the bright and the not so bright were drafted from the herd. An A grade student in an all boys high school. Representative school athletics and rugby union. No girl or friend was invited to my home, and I declined all social invites.
    I left school at 16 and went farming. The hard work and isolation was a comfortable fit for my mind. Again everybody loved me, and I kept on walking away. I saw everything and recorded and added to it in my mind. People filled with pain were drawn to me: the broken, lonely, abused, drunk, angry, lost. Some wanted to fight me, and others wanted to love me. I declined all offers. It was the same as school. I regret not fighting, and making love. I was a serial voyeur, watching the world, and when I let the world in I fell in love, but autumn comes quick and I can’t hold on.
    On the outside I look like I exist in the world, but on the inside I’m miles away. I see real life, but I want to exist someplace else.
    What I think about now is what if everyone thinks and feels like I did/do. All those missed opportunities to interact and live. Imagine the conversations we all could have had. The friendships and experiences. I like visiting.

    • I’m kind of endlessly fascinated by my teen ramblings, so I’m really glad I kept them :)
      I’m making a new and ambitious effort to post on a regular basis, so I was thinking about splicing old journal entries with new ideas about what they mean as far as adolescence goes. This is because I was thinking, “Hmm, what should I post about? Well, I am excellent at talking about myself . . .”

  2. This is incredibly fascinating to me . . . especially because it reminds me so much of a girl I met in college. I was preoccupied with the serious business of being a piping protege and involved with my generally musical retinue, and I didn’t realize until I looked back that she was trying to find a way in, to be friends with me, and that she was probably cool and we would’ve been quite compatible if I hadn’t been so busy being self-contained awesome with my Chosen Minions.
    of course all of this informs James’ experience . . . rather transparently . . .
    It’s just so weird thinking of how we perceived people when we were teens. We really just picked something and ran with it, sometimes for all the wrong reasons, and then we couldn’t break that image no matter how hard we tried.

    • I’m developing this very half-assed theory that even when people’s actual lives are completely different, they wind up with a lot of the same Moments of Adolescence.
      There’s just that long, weird window of transitioning from someone who is very aware of board-books and Legos, to someone who is aware of other people who are not you.

  3. I’ve always admired the fact that you were able to observe others and give them page time. My journal entries were all about the emotion of the moment and when I read back, there’s hardly a clue as to what the emotion was even attached to. No names, hardly any specific events… I call it just a bunch of whining. And no matter how many of your entries I’ve been privy to, more fresh and vivid ones keep coming! Hurray!

    • Looking back, I suspect that my preoccupation with other people was just a tricky way to filter the emotion of the moment without having to take any responsibility for it.
      Of course, at the time, I had absolutely no idea how much observations about other people tend to reveal about the observer :D

  4. “She reminds me a little of a rabbit. The kind of rabbit that doesn’t say much. When someone asks her a question, she sighs, like the answer weighs a lot. Like so much that she almost can’t breathe.”
    I love this!
    “About how she dreams of symphonies, of pirate ships or stars, like she’s always someplace else.”
    And this!
    I’m in love with your writing!

    • Thanks! Full disclosure: when I wrote that, I was in my first big imitative phase, so my style owed a lot to Sandra Cisneros–I think I read The House on Mango Street about five times that year. And it shows :D

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