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.)
Flannery O'Connor said "anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days." And I'd posit that anybody who has lived through their teenagehood has enough information, happy, crappy, and transformational moments, to write about.
To all those who laughed when I told them I was writing a memoir at the age of 22-yes it's true it sounds a little funny, and probably even a little pretentious. But who says you need to be at the end of your life to reflect? In fact isn't it going to be more generative/relevant the sooner you start? And don't teenagers deserve something of their own to read? Some honest humor, vulnerability, and commiseration in a world of too much GPA ADD and MTV?
After four pages I thought this was a terrible idea for a project. After one hundred I was intrigued. And now after 288 pages, I feel like my book has become something I never expected- sprouted its own personality and agenda and purpose. Just like a real teenager. I'm so excited to see what kind of antics it gets up to before publication.
Keep me posted, hope all is well, let me know what you're thinking.
Keep me posted, hope all is well, let me know what you're thinking.