Friday, June 16, 2006

i heart hungry, grouchy, foul-mouthed sailors

It’s happened again: I’ve witnessed something so brilliant and powerful that I’ve decided I don’t ever need to write again (just when I’d started writing again, in little dribbles, my characters puttering around chapter five with pained expressions on their blurry faces that said, “Could you please make us deeper or at least give us something interesting to do?”).

Usually, the likes of Michael Cunningham or Richard Powers or Toni Morrison or Arthur Miller prompt such flights of ecstasy/despair. This time it was a bunch of teenagers.

Or more specifically, the former teenagers who read old letters, poems and diary entries from their respective youths at the last-for-a-while installment of Mortified at King King last night. In between fits of laughter that almost made me drool, I couldn’t help but think that, while many writers and filmmakers devote their entire careers trying to capture the bittersweet magic of adolescence, and some do a really good job, none are able to do so more perfectly than teenagers themselves:

  • The upper middle-class goth girl who hates all the fake people out there and, like, the government and stuff. She can’t wait for ten years from now when all the fake punks have turned into yuppies but she’ll still be living The Life.
  • The 11-year-old who can’t understand why her diary entries are any less profound than Anne Frank’s. She really hopes her diary will be found and published someday, but she also really, really doesn’t want to die in a concentration camp. (My own diary may have had a few entries along these lines, as history, guilt and fame were always appealing to me.)
  • The 14-year-old camper whose 28-year-old self accurately describes her as a “hungry, grouchy, foul-mouthed sailor.”
  • The boy who loves nothing more than ditching class to watch The Guiding Light and hang out with his mom’s friend Liza Minnelli, and can’t figure out why he doesn’t fit in at school.

Never have I been so envious of someone’s embarrassing youth. And yet (again, between eruptions of laughter), I noticed that everyone on stage was white and had grown up in some stratum of the middle class. Is teen angst only funny if the teen in question has nothing, really, to be angsty about? (Although divorce, social leprosy and discovering you’re queer in the early ‘80s are not exactly hallmarks of privilege. And I found the entries that were just slightly disturbing to be the best.)

Don’t non-white kids who grow up in apartments still have obsessive crushes that serve as fodder for terrible, terrible poetry? (I can answer that question, and the answer is yes, I’ve read and gently edited a lot of it.) So maybe it’s more that the Mortified crowd is made up of largely middle-class 20- and 30-something former nerds who’ve blossomed into semi-hipsters. So of course I felt pretty comfortable there, save for the slight discomfort I feel whenever I’m in an overly homogenous situation.

The show was a benefit for 826LA, a writing center for kids, “so that they don’t write crap like this,” explained the host. Dave Eggers’ 826 franchise is noble, fun, brilliant and so hip that sometimes I want to strangle it. It makes me feel like I am not so much a former nerd as a current one, whose boring office doesn’t have even one pirate store attached to it.

In that way, I got to relive my teenage years just a bit too vividly. But I was happy to be there with my high school friends Amy and Heather, who stuck by me through so many bad hairstyles. Amy and I found ourselves recalling Prom Night ’95—a.k.a. the night we set up our sleeping bags to watch Speed on video in my family room.

As for the 826 kids, I wish them many years of well-documented crap. Because how else can you elevate your equally lame grown-up reactions to the angst years (embarrassment, nostalgia, lingering insecurity) to an art form?

P.S. Speaking of documenting crap, today is my blog’s first birthday. I plan to treat myself to some delicious, bready cake in celebration.


Schrodinger's Kitten said...

Happy Birthday!!!

And aren't our blogs a sort of version of angsty diaries?I forsee a production in about 15 years where us aging soccer moms read these blogs aloud and laugh, laugh, laugh.

Cheryl said...

It's true. I'm already embarrassed by half of what I've blogged. But just as I was always far too egotistical to burn my diaries, I'm far too egotistical to hit the "delete" button, as tempting as it sometimes is.

Tracy Lynn said...

Happy Blog-O-Birthday. I really wanted that to be much cooler, but I was thwarted by my inability to think of a word that combined blog and birthday successfully. I'll have to get back to you on that one.

I could never manage to keep a diary. I was too self conscious to even let myself read anything I wrote.

Now, of course, I spill whatever's in my head to the entire universe via the Net. I'm pretty sure it's because of the psych meds.

Cheryl said...

I'd like to see a line graph comparing the number of psych meds prescribed to the number of blogs out there in the blogiverse. I imagine there's a relationship. All the better for the blogiverse. Or the blorld, as Lee-Roy says.

mortified said...

Hi. I just did a search for "mortified" and came across your awesome blog entry about our show. Thank you so much for saying such nice things. We're super grassroots and love hearing this sorta stuff. (As for your question about ethnicity, we do get performers from ALL walks of life but are ultimately limited to who contacts us.) Thanks for being so cool. Feel free to submit stuff.
Dave, Mortified Producer

Cheryl said...

Hey Dave, thanks so much for commenting. The show was awesome--I'll definitely be back when it returns in the fall, with many friends in tow (I've been telling everyone about it). And I may take you up on the offer to submit as well. Lord knows my teen diaries were plenty mortifying.