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 gove
rnment and stuff. She can’t wait for ten years from now when all the fake punks have tu rned 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.