Shooting Blanks

Fiction Mirrors Reality: “What do you care what I think anyway? I don’t even count, right? I could disappear forever and it wouldn’t make any difference. I might as well not even exist at this school, remember? And you… don’t like me anyway.” ~John Bender, The Breakfast Club

We Were Young: “When you grow up. your heart dies.” ~Allison Reynolds, The Breakfast Club

Sometimes it can feel this way.
Sometimes it can feel this way.

As I read an old journal – my first journal – as research for another blog entry, I found that it led me to think about my writing. When I was 15, I was so proud of my journal. My journal was everything to me. But it was nothing. It was just me recycling M*A*S*H jokes, stealing Charlie Brown quotes, and being obsessed with waifish girls in my class. I wanted so much to be doing something creative, but it was just masturbation.

December 23, 1978: I spent a lot of time out behind the house today. (We have a creek and a dump.) I was constantly thinking about – no, no I wasn’t really thinking of anything. I was just thinking. I came to no real conclusions.

Somehow this epiphany extended to the present, and at the moment I am feeling that every word I’ve ever written has been a jumbled, better-spelled, better-grammared version of those first whiny spiral-bound entries from tenth grade.

January 14, 1979: I’ve been thinking lately. In what do I excel? Am I totally useless? No. I have three outstanding abilities. Firstly, I am a good orator, seeing that I got first place at Cameron [speech contest]. Secondly, my hobby. I am a pretty fair photographer. Lastly, and probably most important to me, I am a highly prolific writer. This paragraph may sound conceited, but I must occasionally remind myself that I am not totally untalented and worthless.

I tried to quench this deserted thirst by re-reading some of my blog entries and short stories, but that was just shooting blanks. Maybe I really am a bad writer. The only writing I’ve ever actually gotten published is in Ada Magazine, and that wasn’t much of an accomplishment since I am the editor. By this time in 1979, after a school year of journal writing, I fantasized that I would end up writing novels.

January 14, 1979: I feel surrealistically sad right now. I feel so much as if I am going to die. But of course, it is only a feeling. Or perhaps, a hope? After all, what’s there to live for? A few novels, maybe one of my photos on a magazine cover, an award for best oratory? Maybe nothing, maybe everything.

The journal entries themselves from that period seem – at least from my probably too-close, too-critical perspective – much more self-involved, self-indulgent, and self-piteous than I imagine other 15-year-olds’ thoughts would be.

January 30, 1979: I just don’t understand. Why? Why am I the one and only Richard R. Barron? The totally untalented and superfluous RRB? The great unsung hero of absolutely nothing of any importance? I really should call X; she hardly knows that I exist. All of my long nights spent in ambivalence, all that pain and suffering was for nothing at all. Then again, maybe not.

So here I am watching a late night documentary about mind control. I don’t think my brain could be washed or mind could be controlled.

And there seemed to be so many violent thoughts; I often used the word “revenge.” I know I never had violent fantasies at the time, so it might be that I was relatively inarticulate. Maybe I just wanted justice, or maybe I just wanted to be heard. “Revenge” is a loud word to write, but no one seemed to hear it.

April 27, 1979: I feel like crying. I want to die. Everything has suddenly gone wrong. Everyone is starting to hate me. Worst of all, I am starting to hate myself. My entire emotional structure is collapsing. Time lingers on and brings back memories. So much has happened inside me since last summer. A good deal has changed just within a few days. I am alone, but I am not lonely. I am at peace, but there is much unrest. I know I exist and yet I do not understand why.  I am just a shadow on the wall. I am nothing.

I could vanish from the face of the Earth right now and no one would know.

I effect no one’s life and play no significant role in any society. Who cares? Who DOES care? No one. No one will ever care about or for me. I am totally inadequate and superfluous.

But what about the long run? Is it possible that I could significantly influence the future of the world? Perhaps there is a definite reason to remain part of life on Earth.

For me, these spiral-nound notebooks were my very heart and soul converted to words, but when I was young, the words were completely inadequate.
For me, these spiral-bound notebooks were my very heart and soul converted to words, but when I was young, the words were completely inadequate.

Another thing I did in junior high and high school was sneaking out of the house late at night. I don’t know what other kids did when they snuck out; maybe it was to get high, drink, and screw, or all three. In Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Jennifer Jason Leigh sneaks out to have sex with a college kid. I snuck out to explore. A buddy and I would meet up somewhere – a park or the golf course – and go from there, finding and exploring stuff like construction sites, vacant lots, storage areas, whatever. We always did it when it was super cold outside, and I always wore my dad’s surplus army jacket. The next day we made maps of what we did.

I wonder how many kids snuck out late at night, and what they did. Abby and I were guardians of her nephew for a few years during his teen years, and I always wondered if he snuck out. As far as I know, my parents never knew I snuck out, and I was never aware that he snuck out.

May 4, 1979: I have come a conclusion. I am totally and absolutely worthless. It’s not really all that bad that no one else cares about you once you get used to it. It’s just that I really don’t care any longer. I need a way out and I am desperate. No one even really likes me. I am simply an outcast, a loner, an oddball in a great crown of normal, happy people.

What would really happen if I killed myself? What would REALLY happen? I would, in a way, have my long-sought-after justice. Justice, indeed, my friend, justice.

Life goes on. I must continue regardless of the world’s meaninglessness.

Like most kids, or even most people whose perspective becomes myopic and self-centered, I thought of my life as miserable and difficult. I honestly had no idea how good it was; carefree, full of potential, healthy. George Bernard Shaw pierced the heart of the matter when he said, “Youth is wasted on the young.”

May 5, 1979: My life is going very badly now. I am filled with pressures and anxieties. Learning to ignore problems… especially those unsolvable ones… is hardly a solution. Something is wrong… deep down inside, something is wrong. Is it just that I am very tired?? Am I losing my sanity??

One thing is for sure… those vast, untapped and long forgotten memories will soon return. Once again I will wish and hope and eventually be hurt, disillusioned and disappointed.

Nothing has gone right in a very long time. I must have a reprieve or I will go insane. Why is the world so deeply set against me?

All I can tell you now is that I feel like nothing in a world of something, and that something wants to push me deeper into oblivion.

One fairly impressive thing about all these crazy, sometimes seemingly dangerous, things I wrote in my journal: my English teacher completely respected its implied confidentiality, and made dozens of mostly helpful, understanding comments in the margins when he graded it. I’m not sure a teacher in the 21st century would be as understanding about my teen angst, but might instead regard me as a threat and report me to authorities, the result of which is to push such feelings and expressions deeper into the shadows.

May 10, 1979: I am losing control over my emotional status once again. My feelings have, as usual, suddenly and profoundly changed. I am again confused and somewhat afraid. I am falling apart. I am under a great deal of stress in all ways. I am so tired. No one really cares right now. I would try to care, but I tried to care one and failed. No longer is there poetic justice in the world. There is only work and bad feelings. No rest.

Another lesson I might take from these ramblings is the value of communicating clearly. Teenagers can’t really do it. Part of that is the Small World syndrome, a subset of wishful thinking, in which we believe the things closest to us are the only things in the world, and everyone else surely sees them.

At the end of the year, the English teacher hosted the infamous luncheon at his home that devolved into the famous “social pressure” conversation. It was an odd experience for me, since I spent more than a year presuming and assuming all kinds of unhappy fiction about how everyone felt about me. The luncheon laid out before me, to some extent, that there were other people in the world, and that despite their good looks and popular friends, these other people had feelings not entirely unlike my own.

Recently I've been putting Post-It notes on all the passages in my journal I perceived as significant. The result is that I have journals full of Post-It notes.
Recently I’ve been putting Post-It notes on all the passages in my journal I perceived as significant. The result is that I have journals full of Post-It notes.


  1. I’m a terrible sister. I had no idea you considered yourself worthless. You were my role model for confidence, success, and popularity. Also hair!

  2. Everyone knows I love Carl Finch, so forgive one of my favorite quotes about his creative process.

    – “this is a pretty easy level of recognition to achieve; to be fascinated with oneself. But most “creative people,” as well, for some reason, need to be accepted outside of their own skin, which means getting under someone else’s skin; making yourself irresistible. Which ultimately means making yourself so irresistible that enough people are willing to go out of their way, -to experience what you’ve created. This is where playtime becomes work and it, generally, sucks.

    We the creative, will never run out of work because of first the need to make something worthy and then the required arm waving just to interrupt traffic to move them.

    But here I may presume much. Does this relate?

  3. This is one of the best anythings that I have ever read in my life. This needs to be organized into a manuscript and submitted for publication. A teenaged boy’s angst juxtaposed with the reflection of his 52 year old self. Do something with this. It’s inspired.

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