Sunday, December 21, 2008
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Saturday, December 13, 2008
First for a little background.
Two years ago I was in my Yale dorm room studying for some bullshit literature test. It was late. I realized I would never be able to cram in enough knowledge of obscure Hegelian ideals to get an 'A' when I decided to procrastinate.
"What's with this whole GPA nonsense?" I thought to myself. "Who even came up with this crap?'
I did some digging. I discovered that the 4.0 grade system was invented at Yale, and I fell off my couch and lay on the floor like a comatose beached starfish reliving the cosmic cycle which had drafted me as a perfectionist pawn and spit me out here... I spent my entire highschool career mastering a system to impress an institution that invented that very system. ***See myriad of EDUCATION and YALE posts.
Needless to say, I was pissed off. I channeled this into a few Bailey's-fueled nights of too much eye makeup and underaged dancing to horrible club music, then progressed into my "fuck it" phase, during which I ate cookies by the boxfull and stayed in bed for days skipping class, not showering, and watching LOST episodes back to back to back. I moaned and groaned and had a big existential crisis in the Sterling Memorial Library courtyard while smoking a cigarette during the "life is a meaningless abyss, might as well be a trendy hipster and blow ironic cigarette smoke rings into said abyss" phase. And I realized that I could continue to bitch or I could do something. So I started writing.
I wrote a few op-eds about No Child Left Behind, and I wrote a big fat book proposal.
Fast forward to a few months ago. I was put in touch with HCI, a fantastic company based out of Florida known for the Chicken Soup For The Soul series. Young Adult (YA) market is growing. Fangirls are proving their strength. They wanted a teenage memoir. Could I do that?
I wasn't sure. I wrote down a collection of teenage angsty highschool stories, tried to be as honest as possible about the reality of being a teenager, and hoped for the best. It's seven months and 288 pages later, and now I'm pretty sure I can.
SO ONTO THE QUESTIONS!
1. What the hell is your book about?
My book is a teenage memoir. Sure I haven't created the most expansive monarchy in the world, or become a billionaire mogul with my adorably anorexic twin sister, or written, directed, produced, and starred in one of the greatest films of all time. (a big thanks to Alexander, Olsens, and Orson Welles for making my every achievement seem little more than the not-even-sticky-anymore brown star at the end of the sticker supply.) Still, having spent the last few months poring over old yearbooks and reassembling the most awkward and formative moments of my life into some semblance of a story, I cannot escape what a surprisingly... interesting journey it's turned out to be.
And by "interesting" I mean a combination between fascination, frustration, titillation, and utter repulsion. At first compared to what I had initially set out to write about, teenagehood seemed a little frivolous, but the more time I spend with my teenage self and her teenage problems and teenage friends and enemies and frenemies, the more I realize that we're all still teenagers at heart.
Little kids are stupid. Ignorant to the social boundaries we have drawn all around ourselves with different colored cultural crayons. They'll soon learn through a steady dose of indoctrination and humiliation, but until then they'll run out of the bathroom absolutely beaming, shouting "HannahHannahHannah I pooped a circle!!" as my five year old cousin informed me yesterday. When you're a kid you don't know enough to worry about the chickenskin on your arms or your uneven eyebrows or the fact that when you're around pretty girls you get gassy.
Then, hooray! Middleschool. Awkward dancing. Bitchy popular people. Braces. Unfortunate hormonal side effects all 'round. You learn that your parents are not the smartest strongest bestest in the whole wide world, that pretty much nobody other than them wants to listen to your fully choreographed one-woman rendition of Office Krupke from West Side Story, and that your fossil collection is not objectively neato. You learn that pretty much everything you do in a regular day could do with some "cool"ifying, and you watch TV shows with real live teenagers (played by 35 year old underwear models) and figure out the new rules.
All of which you are ready to implement come highschool. New freedoms- cars, parties, that creepy delegate dance at the end of the model UN conference where every greasy nerd in the continental united states cashes in the horny points they've been saving with a whole year of sexual frustration in some super un-PC PDA...
I think the teenage state of mind has been trivialized and overlooked as a result of suburban affluence- all kids have to do is go to school so all of their problems are just angst and hormones. Sure, when your lifespan is 80 years long the second 1/8 might not seem that important, but not too long ago teenaged was middle aged, and it was teenagers on the battlefront in every major revolution. The teenage mind is revolutionary by definition- surging with fundamental synapse zaps which will change your body, your processing, challenge every world view.
There's no Santa, Dad's an alcoholic, the government is lying to you, your mother is having an affair with "auntie cathy," and babies come from sex, which you will think about all the time, but in all probability have about as much chance of having it as you have of being cool and popular, and let's face it... were you?
2. Why does "Everything Suck?"
When I was unpopular everything sucked because I felt like there was something wrong with me. Seriously, I was sure I was defective. Maybe if I just tried harder, got smarter, skinnier, funnier, then I would be able to be "normal." This seemed very important and also very faroff coming from a house where a monkey roams around the kitchen and instead of spending money to fix the gutters my Dad once designed and constructed a vehicular shoe. Here is some advice: if you want people to think you're normal, do not show up to school in a shoe.
After a lot of research and focus and hair gel, eventually I did feel popular. But things weren't perfect at the top- there was competition coupled with all of the self-doubt from before, and a whole new set of expectations that came from being more in the spotlight. Sex, drugs, college applications... You'll have to read the book to find out about drinking Cristall with famous rappers, almost getting kicked out of Yale before I get to attend, being published in Newsweek at 17, and other things too embarrassing to mention in this forum. But the point is that in a time of great flux, if you don't like yourself, then you start searching. Far and wide. And the farther you search the more lost you feel in your own skin, and then by extension, everything kind of does suck.
3. Why the hell should I care?
Well, you certainly don't have to care. But if you're at all interested in understanding yourself, or your peers, and the future of this planet, teenagers are at the crux of it all. The stage for ideological revelation is set in the time between childhood and adulthood- you're reevaluating your place in the world, questioning the things you've always been taught, gaining independence. Maybe you're a bully or a recluse or a cheerleader but whether you loved or hated highschool, it would be hard to identify another chunk of 4 years which is so universally... awkward. You have no expertise, no moves, little freedom, and pretty much no respect. Who even are you? Who are your friends? What are you good for?
In the olden days teenagers were apprentices or serfs. They weren't lazing around all day on Second Life eating Doritos, downloading pirated porn, and shopping for shoes. There wasn't time for having an existential crisis. No dating. No clubbing. NO FACEBOOK. Leisure time leads to high-class problems. ADD. Controlled substances. Depression. Being one of those goth kids who cultivates paleness. People sell these teens prozac. Ipods. Cigarettes and shoes. Ivy League degrees.
And then you get out and you realize that everything and nothing is like highschool. There are still politics, inequality, and suckiness. But there are also still reliable awesome people who you love. Fun things to learn and explore. There's power struggles and ass-kissing and also flexibility and self-determination. So. Many. Possibilities.
The teenager inside you has a lot to say- she's shy and cynical, awkward and gawky and bursting with dreams... she has the power to lead revolutions, the stubbornness to start wars, and the uncertainty to undo all of the good within her by comparing herself as pale comparisons to others. Embrace her passion, respect her questioning, and assure her that it's really, truly, finally okay to be herself.
(And buy her a copy of my teenage memoir Everything Sucks out in August.)
Keep me posted, hope all is well, let me know what you're thinking.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
All Work And No Play Makes Hannah a Confidence Ponderer. or: Why A Theater Major is at most only 70% BS.
Now I know first drafts don't have to be perfect, but that doesn't change the fact that the only reason I'm talking to you right now at all is that I am procrastinating having to continue squeezing a baby out of my brain. Get out the bone saws. This one's a struggler.
I hope that you will forgive me for my absence, and take heart in knowing that while I deprived you of any posts more substantial than me mugging with a monkey, (desperate times...) I was depriving myself of sunlight, regular human interaction, and even the most basic human hygiene. I know, I know, I'm quite a catch. Inside my love den strewn with post-its, crusty thai takeout, monkey poop, and glitter nailpolish, things have never looked brighter. This is probably due to the fact that because I have been left to my own devices, (but having absolutely no connection to the recent Twilight epidemic,) I have essentially become a pajama-wearing, chocoholic, nocturnal hermit whose only source of light is florescent.
Not that I would mind some kind of connection to the recent Twilight epidemic. If being mormon and writing about vampire foreplay is the recipe for 25 million books sold and 30 million opening day, then break out the magic golden plates and virgin blood, cuz I'm moving to Utah.
Here's what I think makes vampires so sexy: They can't die, they don't take shit, and for some reason even though they never have occupations, they are always immaculately appointed and live in giant mansions. This all adds up to one thing: CONFIDENCE. I have been thinking about confidence a lot lately. (If you're not up for a neurotic psychoanalytical Magic Shoolbus-esque journey to the center of the mind of a person who's been spending six hours a day reliving all of their most awkward and formative memories in agonizing detail, bail now. I don't blame you- it's a fucking circus in there. Get out while you can.)
For the rest of you- the biggest challenge of writing for me, hands down, is just believing in the idea that I'm actually going to finish something. Starting out with a blank page has got to be one of the most awful experiences in my life- i imagine hell will be and endless repetition of blaring alarm clocks, blank first pages, and the leaky brown water at the bottom of garbage cans. At least in school I could go on an all night bender and churn out something loaded up with enough metaphors and "paradoxes" to confuse my TA into thinking that it deserves an A because as far as literary theory goes, there's a pretty fine line between pretentious genius and pretentious tripe.
I'm trying hard to make sure this book (which is 30 times longer than any mfing paper) isn't pretentious anything, because for all their giggling and gossip, teenage girls are actually ninja masters at social radar. They can detect bullshit and insincerity a mile off. I should know, I was one.
And a confused one at that. I didn't have a dashing vampire lover, or an alternate life as a pop-star, or the body of Lindsay Lohan, so according to popular opinion I was pretty much as important as every other angsty teenage girl with hair line acne, which was not very important at all. I wasn't very confident. I should have been.
Here's what I think about Sarah Palin- 5% fashion, 5% "aw, shucks," 110% confidence. I know, I know Mathy Mcgee, that adds up to more than a hundred. That's how important I think the confidence was- it pushed her over the edge, it made the things that came out of her mouth, no matter how raucously imbecilic, sound totally legitimate, because she committed.
They talk a lot in the theater about commitment. "Commit to your role," "commit to the scene." But what does that really mean? I had an excellent acting teacher last year who, in a refreshing departure from high fallutin theater theory, emphasized the importance of just being real, right now, here in your body. She advised asking yourself the questions that will yield specifics about your character's situation which you can use find intersections into your own experience, getting prepared, and then chilling the fuck out. Don't show how upset you are about having to shoot your mentally retarded lady/mouse-murdering farm buddy. Just exist up there on the stage, and trust yourself. If you believe it, we'll believe it.
Palin certainly had down the "trusting yourself" part even if the preparation wasn't all there, which just goes to show the power of confident improvisation. And politicians have good reason to be confident. They're controlling the lives of thousands, sometimes even billions of people. Nothing'll put a spring in your step quite like the knowledge that with a flip of your little finger, you could make Russia extinct.
Confidence can make dumb people alluring, and turn untalented people into celebrities. I don't think I need to name names..
And you know what? Good for them. Even better for those people who were talented to begin with and then just ran with it. Props to Bowie for prancing around dressed like a time traveling transvestite and not only getting away with it, but marrying a god damn super model. Props to OJ Simpson forgetting off the hook and then having the balls to write a book called "If I Did It." Well probably not so much props as gasps of audacity, but you get the picture...
This is what I've been learning:
1.) A key to writing, and probably a lot of other things, is having confidence. The confidence to face the blank page and get through three more pages of shit believing that maybe on page 4 something worthwhile will come out. And a lot of the time it feels like you're lying to yourself, because you're the one making all the shit, and you're getting that distinct gassy feeling like there's a lot more to come.
2.) The key to having confidence is lying to yourself. Hold on there, don't get your britches in a twist. This isn't Enron or OJ lying, I'm talkin' about some good old fashioned blind faith. Because nobody is born with a 300 page book in their hands, and how are you ever going to get away with becoming a Vice Presidential, glam-rock murderer if you don't have a little faith in a seemingly distant dream?
3. Having confidence and committing can create reality. There were many days when I was sure I wouldn't be able to finish this project the way I wanted to. I wasn't a professional writer who worked 8 hours a day and met deadlines and did outlines. It's true. I wasn't. So I lied to myself a little bit every day, and pretended I was that person. After a while I stopped checking the clock and facebook every 20 minutes, and after 6 months of being confident in a little positive lying, I think I actually became half-competent.
A paper cape and a crown can turn a fine actor into a king. He commits. He doesn't criticize himself, worry about preparation for the next scene, or keep one eye the reviewer in the front row, because he's just in the moment. He's confident.
And the bard wasn't dumb. Life really is a stage. No one is born ready to do what they want to do, and lots of clumsy footwork always precedes the grand tango of every great goal. The only way to be the person who runs 2 miles a day or reads two books a week or turns into Paris Hilton is one audacious cha-cha at a time. Pretend. Do your prep-work, don't freak out about the nay-sayers, stay in the moment a little every day until you've done enough prep to become. Have faith in the progress of a continual process. It's a bitch for web-savvy kids like us to wrap our heads around, but unfortunately, Life Itself is not googleable. So lie yourself into having the confidence to believe that with some well-intentioned patience in pretending, you can get your shit done. And if that sounds a little Dr. Phil for you then surprise because you've unintentionally stumbled upon the long awaited (by nobody but me,) third installment of Hannah's Guide To Eternal Happiness
Anyways, this would all be well and good if I were not, as I mentioned before, totally talking out of my ass right now in a cowardly retreat from the vile whiff of blank-white-book-page. You guys are the best. Thanks for all of your encouragement. I know you wouldn't want to be aiding or abetting my continued procrastination, because if I don't finish this book I can't move out of my parent's house and will probably start traveling around the country in a pink minivan full of cats showing up at your house to crash on your couches and eat your frozen dinners. (I know where you live.)
Please keep me posted on your goings on, I'd love to hear updates on life, work, politics, etc , and if you have something interesting to share feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org because in light of my deadline I've been considering the community-fostering, diversity-generating, (ie lazy,) idea of having guest contributors on the blog. No but seriously, I want your probative ponderings like a fat kid wants cake.
Wish me luck people. Back to the trenches.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Monday, November 3, 2008
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Friday, October 24, 2008
Monday, October 13, 2008
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Monday, September 22, 2008
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Thank you for your insightful thoughts and questions regarding my most recent education post. My favorite nervous prefrosh E wrote: “Before you scared the bejeezus out of me concerning Yale. Now you scared the bejeezus out of me in general. Where can I get a REAL education?"
This question and others like it from fellow knowledge-lovers who are frustrated with what one reader described as “recycled thought, recycled theses, and recycled teaching,” deserve a very thoughtful answer, and I spent much of this week turning over possibilities in my mind.
But an answer came to me, as most exciting answers so often do, as a complete surprise and while I was focused on something else entirely- namely finishing a 50 page chapter summary for my editor.
Let me just say that writing is a bitch. You stare at a blank page completely convinced you have absolutely nothing to say, or even if you do kinda have a vague idea of what you’d like to say, crafting those blobs of thought into a cohesive narrative seems about as likely as your being able to sculpt a life sized replica of the David out of peanut butter before lunchtime.
So in the face of no ideas, no outlines, and no hope, you just have to forge ahead anyway by convincing yourself that something good will happen eventually. Believing in yourself is a clichéd mantra, but a popular one because it is such an essential prerequisite for having the balls and audacity to turn passion into product.
And therein lies one of my main problems with the ‘idea’ of higher education. We seem to think that we need to do well on the SATs, we need to get good grades, we need to graduate from college in order to be PREPARED. But the truth is, you’re already prepared. You were born with a unique set of abilities and interests and with a completely revolutionary perspective. You, as you are right now, are capable of unrecycled revolutionary thoughts simply because you are the only you there ever has been or will be.
But traditional education thrives on enforcing the belief that you are not enough. How can you expect to accomplish anything if you don’t know algebra? If you don’t read Dostoyevsky? If you can’t speak 2 languages? If you don’t have a college degree? Until you do all of those things, you are still only in the prerequisite part of your life, acquiring the skill points necessary to qualify you as a person who is worthy of doing something real.
Frankly, that's bull...
I’m not saying that learning isn’t the brightest pigment in your creative palate- learning is profoundly powerful. But even if you spend 50 years amassing millions of shades of information colors, compared to Wikipedia you will still only be a Crayola 10 pack. And you’ll be so self conscious about what you still don’t have, you’ll never take the plunge and just start scribbling with what you’ve got.
Ask any four year old fingerpainter about their “creative process” and they will look at you cockeyed. They’re just painting. They have not yet been told how ignorant they are in the face of college-education requirements, so they’re free to follow their own truths.
“But oh how woefully uneducated they are! Heathens! What they really need is to sit still, listen and repeat!”
We listen and repeat and listen and repeat in different subjects and formats for the better part of 17 years. We fill in bubbles with number two pencils and try to prove we aren’t idiots. But no matter how many bubbles we get ‘right’ we feel like failures in the face of the impossible expectation of being human Wikipedias. We’ll never be ready. But guess what?
You have always been ready.
And any educational system or institution which focuses on how much you don’t know, instead of nurturing what you intuitively know, is a sham. Haven’t your best teachers been the ones who encourage and engage you with knowledge which, for whatever reason, enriches you? Feels relevant for you? It's not about the subject, it's about how you feel about the subject. And you won't always be able to rationalize why you are drawn to what you are drawn to- your creative unconscious is a vast and thrillingly complicated place and you need to trust in hunches and passions- you'll end up doing something exciting everyday instead of trying to force yourself to be interested in something that seems 'important' but doesn't have meaning for you.
You are the only expert in yourself. Start listening.
And this isn’t self indulgent self-help baby stuff. You are an extremely difficult subject- infinitely harder than college classes. Going to Yale was technically tough, but strategically it couldn't have been simpler: just take the tests, do the reading, follow the rules.
What makes writing or painting or inventing so hard is that there is no syllabus for the intricate caverns of your own brain. There’s no expert, no textbook, no study-guide for the midterm. All there is is you, and when you’ve spent 17 years focusing on how much you don’t know, it’s hard to have faith in what you do. It’s hard to have faith in a process which you can’t read about in a book because nobody has ever done it before. It’s completely uncharted territory, and the only way you’re going to figure out how to do it is to do it.
So now you know why I started out talking about self confidence. I was an A student all my life who went to a top college, but having the confidence to follow rules is completely the opposite of believing in your own unique vision.
The ingenious idiocy of persisting in exploring your ideas instead of memorizing others' is not taught in schools because it undermines their authority- the notion that a child could produce something marvelous by following through on their inspiration might make SAT prep courses completely obscolete.
And I'm not saying it's all a waste of time, but remember that tasks which are safe and predictable will never be anything but safe and predictable, while the completely terrifyingly unknowable challenges have the potential to change the world.
So although I don't think I'm going to change the world with my little teen memoir, I do feel like I've learned an enormous amount about myself and my creative process by forcing myself to write even when I don't have a good idea, even when I feel untalented, even when it seems like it'll never sound right, and even when I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing, because showing up and having faith in the face of self-doubt is the only prerequisite for creating something new and worthwhile.
There are a billion things you don't know, but you'll only discover something truly unique if you trust in yourself. And the best way, the only way to start, is to just decide you're going to do it without questioning yourself about how unprepared you seem. Everyone feels unprepared. If they don't, then they aren't taking any risks. And risks are the only way that crazy amazing ideas become crazy amazing realities.
So to answer the original question, "REAL education" is not something you can purchase or download or memorize, it is an active personal journey. It can be supplemented and illuminated by school, but the only way you're going to have the balls to think you can write a sonata or cure a disease or find a unifying theory of the universe is to challenge yourself as often as you can.
Give yourself every opportunity to surprise yourself.
Because everything else you can just find on Wikipedia.
thoughts questions comments?