Highly recommend: Mortified Nation + pulling out your old diaries

Cathy ZielskeCZ Life34 Comments

I recently watched a documentary on Netflix while walking last week on the treadmill. The film is Mortified Nation, a movie about people getting up in front of other people and reading excerpts from their teen-age journals.

I was laughing so hard I couldn’t walk and focus at the same time. It was that good.

It was everything I love in a good documentary: clever, profane, real and genuinely laugh-out-loud funny.

But for all the raunch and hilarity it serves up, it also serves up some really tender moments about growing up.

If you’re here and reading this, you—like me—went through adolescence. And if you’re like me, there’s a lot of stuff that you really don’t remember, save for what you wrote down on the private pages of your personal diary.

I got my first diary in 1980 and I have kept one, off and on, throughout much of my life.


Yes. The names of boys have been blurred out to protect the innocent. I’ll never forget hearing from a friend in Washington that the wife of a man whose name appeared in my high school album, the one I shared in Clean & Simple Scrapbooking, was all, “Who the hell is this woman and how do you know her?” Or something like that.

(And see if you can guess what “QS” stood for back in 1980. I’m not proud, people.)

My first diaries were essentially records of boys and things I ought not to be doing. (Sorry, Mom.)


The inside front and back covers were hallowed ground for boy crazy. Apparently SCOTT was more special than the rest. And really into rainbow Cooper letter stickers. (Oh wait. That was me.)


I like how in the Memorandum section at the end I note the eruption of Mt. St. Helens (which I actually heard while I was in the shower, two hours north) but also how much I hated Jeff. And yes, my f-bombs flowed freely.

But just like that, the hate was gone!

Of course there were my college journals. They had much deeper thought and much better handwriting.


My writing dropped off sharply during certain periods. There’s not a whole lot I wrote in my 20s. There’s only a little I wrote in my 30s. And much of my 40s found a voice through blogging and scrapbooking.

But oh, how I cherish those early entries. The boy craziness. The stuff I was doing that I wasn’t supposed to be doing so I wrote it all out in code. The teen-aged drama. The deep philosophical musings of my 19-year-old self.

If you haven’t looked at your old journals in eons, I strongly encourage you to take a peek back.

And by all means, check out Mortified Nation.


Cathy ZielskeHighly recommend: Mortified Nation + pulling out your old diaries

34 Comments on “Highly recommend: Mortified Nation + pulling out your old diaries”

  1. #1

    Your 1980 diary could totally be my 1980 diary, even down to the handwriting- oh, those slanted letter Es that were all the rage! (Even over here in New Zealand.) just replace Jeff with Ross, and yup, pretty much identical. I still drag mine out every now and again, too. Except for the one I kept when I was 17…I burned that one to protect the guilty. Me, mostly. Ahem.

  2. #2

    I have an entire plastic tote filled with journals that I started when I was 10. I don’t want to destroy them, but I don’t want anyone reading them until after I’m dead.

  3. #3
    Tanya Napier

    I feel like I was looking straight into my diary! I am on board with the comment from Kim about not wanting to destroy them, but not wanting anyone to read them until after I’m dead. Especially from my 20’s- let’s just say I really enjoyed them. I want to spend a day reading them, but I need to make sure no one is home to hear or see me laughing, crying and blushing while going through a box generically labeled, “Scrapbooking.”

  4. #4
    Sara Mangan

    You got me thinking….my 12 year old said just the other day, “I wish I could see what you were like when you were my age.” Maybe I should share a few pages of my journals with her. Just so she can see I struggled with the same things she is and I survived.

  5. #6

    This reminds me of a recent cartoon in the New Yorker – a mother reading her old diaries in the attic and her son asks “what was the point of blogging back then if you couldn’t post it online?” ha ha!!

    I love your 1980s handwriting – I remember being soooo jealous of cool girls like you (beautiful handwriting, boys, and S-ing – !!) And you DID keep your resolution, erm, albeit not quite in 1980 – but you did – so congrats for that! 🙂

  6. #7

    These are great! I too wrote about all the things I was doing but shouldn’t be doing.. haha. Then, at 16 my parents broke into my room (you know I was one of those kids with a lock on my door) read my journals and then confronted me about my life and choices… So needless to say I ran away for a few weeks and… BURNED every single journal I had ever owned (along with all but ONE yearbook – because you know, they might read what friends had written to me and that was personal/mine too). A couple years later they actually gave me a new blank journal for Christmas… Um yeah right!! I was so angry about that violation (for years and years and years..). It wasn’t until 15 years later when I had my daughter that I finally got the nerve to start writing again – through scrapbooking, but to include REAL thoughts and feelings in my scrapbooking (and not just random quotes and such). I wish I still had my journals… there might be a few (hundred) pages here and there that maybe I would still want to tear out and burn, but it would be fun to look back through them.

  7. #9

    QS = Quit Smoking??

    As much as I believe in journaling now, I never really kept a diary. Not sure if that is a good thing or bad! But I would LOVE to go back and read some of the constant notes friends and I passed back and forth…probably be mortified afterwards!

  8. #10

    Amazing how similar our diaries were around that age – mine had fat round letters slanting to the right (sometimes) but otherwise very much the same, and like Lisa, I was in NZ. I went through mine a while back and threw out the oldest one, which was very pointless rambling angst and rankings/ratings of various intermediate school boys which was nonsensical and made me feel sick to re-read. I kept the next one which had actual content and all subsequent ones. I wish I had diaries from the turbulent college years – anything, even calendars or planner pages – to get the memories clearer in my head. I have lists of all the books I read and movies I saw though.
    I have been wanting to go to see the Seattle Salon of Shame for a couple of years now. I get the emails, but never quite make it there. You get 2 free tickets if you read, but there’s NO WAY I’m going to do that. I am not up for public speaking. I’ll just have to watch the doco. 🙂

  9. #11

    Someone took & read my journal, too, and I’ve never gotten over the violation of it. NEVER. When you’re a kid, especially, there is nothing more personal than a diary and that kind of invasion is beyond the pale. I’ve never written anything personal since then that I haven’t either immediately shredded or erased and then shredded. That was 32 years ago.

  10. #12

    Molly, that is so sad that they did that. I kept mine hidden, and to this day, I have no idea if my mom ever read them, but if she did, she never said anything.

    My own daughter has kept journals, and one time, I did happen to read something a few years back and it was not a happy scene that came from it because, well, let’s just say I invaded her privacy and I learned a real lesson from that.

  11. #14

    I never kept a diary or journal until I was divorced in my early 40s. I really should read them now and then trash ’em. I hope QS is quit smoking and not QualudeS, but we all survived many things. Somehow.

  12. #15
    Michelle M

    Love it! Thanks for letting us know about the movie – looks hilarious! I recently read all my old journals from my senior year on and was wishing I had kept more of my older diaries and done a better job of journaling especially during some of the more difficult times in my life. Great post! 🙂

  13. #16

    You know, thinking about this now… I can see that I will probably never really get over it. I definitely do journal my thoughts now – especially in books I’ve been making to my daughter but in those writings I don’t ever and I mean NEVER write about negative feelings or struggles – I can’t write anything that could come across as negative, or share feelings that really make me feel vulnerable or open.

  14. #17

    Yep, my daughter is only 6 and she has her own little smash book she works on once in awhile. I’m trying to encourage her to keep memories and hope she will have her own journals someday too. You can bet I will not – not ever read her journals. I know my parents were worried about me but I still don’t feel they were justified. You know – follow me around one night to see where I go and what I do, drug test your kids, whatever but don’t – don’t go reading my personal stuff – those thoughts, feelings – those were mine and they took all that stuff – the good and the bad and shamed me with it. Not a good feeling.. even thinking about it now is bringing up some “aha” moments.. maybe that’s why I keep all my struggles to myself, maybe that’s why I completely close down if I start feeling vulnerable. Geesh… time to see a therapist LOL 🙂

  15. #18

    Oh man. I have all my half-filled in journals squirreled away in a drawer. To read them would require a bottle or two of wine and an empty house. Doubt I would ever want to share them in public. I do know I saw a mother-daughter journal idea I’d like to implement when my 4 year old is old enough. A space to ask questions you can’t/don’t want to speak out loud. For both of us.

    Off to Netflix…

  16. #24

    Fun stuff, I’ve got all mine saved too, but there are so many words I rarely take the time to bring any of the diaries out to read, but maybe I should dive in and have a look… 🙂

  17. #25
    Danielle King

    I has my very own Mortified Nation night with a few close friends around 10 years ago. It happened spontaneously after (quite) a few drinks – the word Stonkered comes to mind. LOL. So I dragged out my high school journals and boy did we have a laugh!! All at the expense of my high school self. It was a very funny night & in a way quite grounding to see that I struggled in many of the same ways as everyone else did.

  18. #26

    I’m thinking every 80s girl had that exact loopy handwriting. And the boy crazy. 😉 I don’t remember keeping journals…if I had them, my Mom tossed them when we moved in 85. My conquests, however, are written inside the covers of my yearbooks. 😉

  19. #27

    The same thing happened to me, my mom read my journal that I had hidden so well it was obvious she was looking hard to find it. I threw mine away after that and never kept one again. Sometimes now I want to keep one but afraid someone might find it and read it.

    I encourage my kids to keep them and tell them one day they will love looking back at them. That is my one regret at throwing them away, can’t share some of it with my kids.

    This was fun to read about yours Cathy, thanks for sharing them.

  20. #29

    Oh my word, I have the same boy-filled journals too, years and years. Yikes! I do still have them, and occasionally have glanced through them. :O I sure wish I’d written about a few other topics that I’d love to know more about now, like my parents splitting up, etc. It was the only place I could just pour out those huge emotions, though, so that’s what I did.

    I use Oh Life! now (have for years) which isn’t quite the same…but is filled with tales of “my boys” now instead of all those crushes. 😀

  21. #31

    Oh how unfair I am unable to get access to this in Australia. I really don’t understand why we have such issues getting access to these shows. But looks great and hopefully one day I will be able to see it.

  22. #32

    I didn’t do diaries too much, but I did have letter books with a couple of my friends, that we would pass backwards and forwards between us and write notes. It was similarly all about boys! Funny how boy crazy teenage girls can be! 🙂

  23. #33

    I gave my 14 year old daughter my teen diaries, unedited and in their full glory. Ouch.

    I actually knew the day I found out I was having a daughter that I would give these to her at the appropriate teen moment. I knew there would come a time when I would say, “I understand. Been there, done that.” And she would look at me with anger and annoyance and disbelief and I would hand those over and say, “Told you.”

    We already had a good relationship, but the diary sharing was a way of showing her that I, too, once had similar issues and feelings and that I came through it all OK. It also showed that I was willing to open myself up to her and be vulnerable. While she laughed (and rightly so) it actually caused her to look at me a little differently and with a different kind of respect.

  24. #34

    I loved Kliban cats. My room was red, black, and white and decorated with them. I don’t even really know where my diaries are from those days. I do have a lot of haphazard, partially-filled journals of adulthood, though. Mostly from the past 20 or so years, I think. I actually journal more now than probably ever. Will check the movie out. Sounds interesting, for sure.

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