This post is part of a series on the various ways I've used pen and paper in my life. To learn more about it, check out the introduction, or view the "ink and paper brain" category for other posts.

Oh, this journal.

Given to me as a gift by a close friend, it became Volume 2 for my reflections after I filled Exponents up, and lasted from my sophomore year of high school until a few months before high school graduation.

A Journal Named Exponents was a training ground for me. I had never kept a personal journal before, so I spent most of its pages determining what putting myself to paper looked like. At first, this meant meticulously recording the minutia of dates and hangouts–in at least two separate entries, I recorded not only what I ordered for dinner, but what all my companions did as well. By the end of Exponents and the beginning of Change, however, I’d curbed that tendency, and had a solid idea of what a personal journal was for me: a safe place where I could record my innermost thoughts without fear of judgment. As such, from cover to cover, the pages of Change carry the distilled essence of high school me.

It’s difficult to read.

Rage in the pages of Change

This is hardly the only–or most extreme–example.

Reading Exponents can be a trying task at times, but that’s because I’m so obviously young and naïve. Even my most myopic screeds against “society” or my most unnecessarily drawn-out date night play-by-plays are tolerable, because I can write them off as the charming (if also obnoxious) idiosyncrasies of 14-year-old Spencer. I can’t do that with Change.

The fact of it, as it has unfortunately taken me years to realize, is that I was not a great person in high school. I spent years with my head lodged firmly up my own ass, convinced that I alone understood how the world worked and that I was surrounded by people who just didn’t get it. Know how I’ve said my color identity is blue-red-white? Back then, I was nothing but cold blue, convinced that problems, both in the world and in my friend groups, were caused solely by a lack of knowledge and reason.

Yeah, I was that kind of asshole.

When a friend was depressed, my “support” was to berate her for not snapping out of it—after all, it was all in her head! Whether the subject was religion or sexuality, I knew that my perspective was right, and spilled ink immeasurable over my pages to exalt my own brilliance and privately scold those whose thinking failed to conform to my obviously enlightened view. Most damningly, though, I seemed utterly incapable of exercising empathy toward the people close to me.

If “Recognizing Others’ Autonomous Agency” had been a high school course, it would have tanked my GPA. I stuck my tentacles into my friends’ lives where they had no right to be, like when I extracted a promise of sexual abstinence from my best friend because it’s what I thought was right for him. I very obviously had no sense of personal boundaries, no respect for others’ independence, no clue how to be a friend with someone without also making them my project.

I can’t brush this off the way I can the contents of Exponents. The embarrassment of Exponents is almost entirely self-contained. Change, however, is filled to the brim with self-righteous indignation, objectification, meddling, and the intolerable sense that the only person whose perspective I thought to consider was me. I’m not embarrassed by this, I’m ashamed, because those ink-black pages represent a mindset I know hurt the people close to me.

I am not in any way proud of who I was in high school, and it amazes me that any of the people who knew me then are still friends with me. The loathsome self-centered assholery contained within this journal’s pages make the cover a gross joke: the only thing my high school self models is what I hope to see the world move beyond.