Inspired by seeing Joe Orton’s obsessive diary keeping as depicted in the film Prick Up Your Ears, I began to record my own life events—both mundane and salacious—from late 1987 until mid 2002.
Lately I’ve been going through those old journals, attempting to convert them from their original ancient Word and WordPerfect formats into something readable on today’s equipment. Word 2016 won’t open any native document prior to the 97-04 format, but Apple’s Preview application has no trouble (go figure), allowing a rather painless cut-and-paste into the new format. But nothing I own will open the old WordPerfect documents save for Apple’s own TextEdit—which unfortunately also displays all the garbage that WordPerfect threw into those documents in addition to the actual text. It’s a very time consuming process to weed that crap out and get it in a usable format. And the very few files that I for some reason password protected—even if was able to recall passwords from 20 years ago—are lost completely.
As I’ve written about before, the Mark who existed prior to the 2003 cancer diagnosis is very different from the one who came out of that ordeal, and nothing has brought that into sharper focus than going over those old entries.
It’s worth noting that while my own obsessive journaling started sputtering out a few months prior, it came to an abrupt end at the time of my diagnosis for two reasons. Firstly, I really didn’t want any written record of the thoughts and feelings I was experiencing at the time because I couldn’t come up with words to describe any of it without sounding full of self-pity, and I was just not that kind of person—knowing full well even then that I was going to come out of it okay. Secondly, only a few months after completing treatment and on my way to a full recovery, I discovered blogging, and while I couldn’t be quite as open and unfettered with my words being published for anyone to see as I could when writing only for myself, blogging did scratch the itch that journaling had ignited.
While I’m not proud of a lot of the things that are recorded in my journals (much of it is embarrassingly cringe-worthy at this point), they do accurately represent one gay man’s journey through his thirties while looking for love and living in San Francisco in the late 80s and 90s. In spite of the AIDS specter constantly looming, there was sex; lots of it. There are many names in those journals of men with whom I was obsessed but am now unable to conjure a face for. There were broken hearts and hearts broken.
San Francisco was even then an extremely expensive place to live, and while I generally made enough to get by (if only barely), angst about money was a recurrent theme. (Some things never change, even now.) But there were also reflections on the magic that existed in that city, whether it was catching sight of the fog spilling over Twin Peaks on an August afternoon, or the way the sun glinted off the bay, or the first evening after daylight savings kicked in and you found yourself walking home from work in the crisp dark air, or something as simple as a smile exchanged with a handsome stranger on the train.
My growing love for technology—and the horrific amount of time and money spent acquiring it—is spelled out in excruciating detail. Trips to computer fairs and installing hardware or software are so obsessively documented that I want to reach back in time and slap the shit out of that Mark, telling him to get the fuck away from that glowing screen and go to the beach!
There were also many a rumination about spirituality and attempting to find meaning and my place in the universe; pondering alien life and reincarnation—oftentimes punctuated in the same entry with a description of an unexpected orgasmic encounter with a total stranger in some public venue.
I knew even as I was recording those encounters for posterity that some day, with older and wiser eyes, I’d recoil in horror, and ask, “What were you thinking?! You were such a fucking asshole!” And sure enough, I now find myself doing exactly that. Really, Mark…you’re damn lucky you didn’t get yourself killed or arrested. ANY NUMBER OF TIMES.
Ah, the innocence of youth.
And yet I am reminded of two quotes from a onetime favorite book, Illusions, the Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, that I always kept in mind when recording my adventures:
“You are lead through your lifetime by the inner learning creature, the playful spiritual being that is your real self. Don’t turn away from possible futures before you’re certain you don’t have anything to learn from them.”
“Live never to be ashamed of anything you do or say is published around the world—even if what is published is not true.”