I’ve fallen in love at first episode with If You Really Knew Me, an MTV reality show which A) is a reality show actually based in reality and therefore free of the weird scripted puns of, say, Parental Control and B) makes teenagers look like the sweetest, most vulnerable creatures ever to walk the earth.
The show follows a program called Challenge Day, which is basically high school group therapy aimed at preventing bullying. Over the course of an intense day of activities, the kids let down their guard and share the most difficult parts of their lives—we learn that the homecoming queen has been scarred by her parents’ divorce and the bipolar outcast deserves a ton of admiration for the shit she’s gone through.
Half the fun is seeing the subcultures at different high schools. Jocks and nerds may be universal, but “creekers” are particular to West Virginia, where hunting, fishing and wearing camouflage put you on the upper social rungs. (My friend Heather edited this episode, and she said that they got a bunch of messages afterward countering that creekers are not cool. Ah, kids.)
Challenge Day is a little like summer camp, a theater production or a church revival—a strange and magical space where the rules of the outside world don’t seem to apply. When Brittney reveals that her mom is in jail, her dad kicked her out and she tried to commit suicide, the entire gymnasium full of kids piles on her for a massive group hug. Behind her glasses and long bangs, her dark eyes show amazement: So this is what it feels like to be loved instead of shunned! The next day Rachel, a confident creeker whose sister died at age seven, invites Brittney to go hunting.
A cynical part of me—the part that is 33 years old and has gone some dark mental places this summer—thought, Nice, but will it last? Tell me the homecoming queen’s new Challenge Day club won’t just end up another gold star on her resume.
But then I thought, So what? Without Challenge Day, each of those kids would have gone on assuming everyone but them had their shit together (I still have a tendency to assume this, which is probably the source of my dark thoughts). Even if Challenge Day challenges those assumptions only for a day—even if the big bubble of love bursts almost immediately—isn’t that part of what makes the bubble magical?
2. 525,600 minutes times 33 years
Last night AK and I saw the Neil Patrick Harris-directed production of Rent at the Hollywood Bowl. I’d been skeptical about the casting of Nicole Scherzinger as Maureen (whom I may have described to AK as “some skanky Pussycat Dolls chick”), but she totally brought the house down.
But overall I didn’t go in with too many expectations. Mostly I just wanted to share this beloved, slightly embarrassing part of my past with AK, who’d never seen the show before. I was in a delicate place because on Friday T-Mec was diagnosed with skin cancer. I won’t really know the implications until we see a kitty oncologist next week, but I’ve been torn between thinking of the crazy sadness of losing her and the crazy sadness (and crazy cost) of treating a late-middle-aged cat for cancer.
So don’t laugh, but during “Will I Lose My Dignity?” all I could think of was T-Mec’s stripy blue-eyed face, and I just sobbed and sobbed and continued to do so off and on all the way home on the park-and-ride shuttle.
When I was younger, all the love-and-death stuff in Rent seemed so romantic. Now I think that loving someone when you know it will end—when you’ve seen it end before, because of cancer or because Challenge Day is only one day long—is the hardest thing in the world. To dive in and not hold a piece of yourself back. To really subscribe to the gospel of No Day But Today when you know there are so many other days, and they will be hard and lonely and you will be strapped for cash and a cloud of fear and cynicism will follow you wherever you go…well, that’s the challenge.