Snapshots of the 1980s

I’ve kept a journal since 1975, when I was ten years old — I started after reading “Harriet the Spy.” At Columbia College Chicago, I decided to major in writing after the very first assignment turned out to be “start keeping a journal.” To keep everything together, I wrote all of my assignments longhand in the same notebook I used as a journal. Journal entries are mixed in with long essays full of crossings-out, carets, circlings and arrows.

Because of this messy mix, I hadn’t reread these 12 journals, dated 1982 through 1987, until I dug them out last week. This in turn was sparked by having spontaneously started an email correspondence with one of my writing professors from that time. For some reason I had looked at the writing department web page and saw that some of my teachers are still teaching. When I saw these people’s faces again, I couldn’t resist getting in touch.

This brief correspondence has brought those years to life. Just making the connection caused me to remember all sorts of good people and experiences. So what did I find when I checked my journals?

First of all, I was reading lots of second-wave feminists and radical women writers, and taking notes, literally and figuratively. And I was an observant feminist. I saw and called out guys interrupting women, hassling girls on the street, my retail-job boss dominating his female business partner and micromanaging his female employees, and a guy I was dating pointing out my youthful lack of perspective while also hiding something from me.

I was fit and felt great on account of commuting everywhere by bike or walking, and by seemingly endless recreational bike rides all over the city alone or with others during good weather.

I was a free spirit who wanted to date anyone who asked, and wanted to make out, while stating right up front that clothes would stay on — which I did successfully for some years, until *I* was ready to do otherwise. (It helped that I didn’t drink alcohol then.) This may sound like a buzz kill, but I dated many people with no regrets and I am sure I was a lot of fun to be with, because they did not stop asking me out. I also often reversed roles by asking guys out, which was much remarked upon then.

In my writing classes, I wrote about sexism, violence, and pornography, and I was seen as really far out there, especially by some of the guys. My male and female writing instructors were professional and even-keeled, and they tried to help me channel my radical readings into my own thoughts.

In 1984, feminism was fringe, and I mean FRINGE, at least in my neighborhood. But I was immersed in putting together what I saw as the connections between various forms of objectification and belittling of women. I enthusiastically thought I was going to raise the consciousness of everyone I met, female and male.

I worked at school as a writing tutor to students who needed help. (This teaching experience turned out 20 years later to lend confidence to my earliest CrossFit teaching forays.)

I’m proud of the strength and independence I showed as a young adult, after losing my mother at age 11. I’m in awe that my mother and father could have instilled this resilience that outlasted the trauma, to me and my father, of that loss. I feel that the college and program I chose were really good ones for me — not just a way of getting a degree and checking the box. Have I been true to that young adult free-spirit feminist writer? Yes, with a few exceptions when I got in something over my head, she’s been my compass. How can I continue to be a fulfillment of that young woman as I get older?

I’m old enough to start having a perspective on the whole path of my life. I’m grateful to my young self for keeping a journal, and to have found positive experiences in my past. I’ve often described myself as having been a timid mouse when I was young, and I’m going to stop doing that, because I can clearly see now that it wasn’t the case. In fact I protected myself where it was needed and reached out for life in ways that I wanted.