Writing YA and making meaning of those adolescent years

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Writing YA and making meaning of those adolescent years

Postby abc » 23 Jan 2013, 13:19

Because my day job is in mental health, specifically with adolescents, this time of transition and becoming is on my mind a lot. It's true that when I meet with troubled kids I give them a little spiel on their brain development and how they might be feeling things bigger, brighter, more painfully, and more wonderfully than I am (at 38 years old). I also say to them, "but that doesn't take away from the fact that your feelings are real and true", because I don't want to be too scientific and I definitely don't want to be condescending and most importantly because I remember.

I remember how much things could suck at 12, 13, 14, 15. God, 15, how hard was that year? But of course I also remember how absolutely brilliant things could feel, too. I remember the first time I heard the Violent Femmes (played by the older teenage boys I was in the car with--sons of my parents friends, given the directive to take me somewhere). I heard Kiss Off and Blister in the Sun and thought, WHAT THE HELL IS THIS!? ONLY THE GREATEST THING EVER! Wasn't it, though? And I remember how painful it was not to be liked by the boy I liked. He was the boy that should have liked me--if this were your favorite YA novel. He was that boy. He was cute, but not too cute. He was funny, but not obnoxious. He dressed well in a way that didn't fit our small-town, mullet-loving fashion sense. He wore J. Crew for God's sake. He read really good books and listened to really good music. He didn't listen to Rat and Bon Jovi. He listened to Talking Heads and The Cowboy Junkies. I loved film and he loved film. We were meant to be.

But he didn't like me. He didn't really even want to be my friend. I tried. I tried and tried. I figured it was just a matter of time before I'd get asked by him to the Homecoming Dance, but that didn't happen. Many Friday and Saturday nights were spent a lone at home with whatever foreign or arty films I could manage to find at the local video store. He dated other girls, kissed other girls (girls that had bigger boobs and permed hair and had never heard of James Joyce or rocked out to a Sinead O'Connor tune). I couldn't figure out why he didn't see me as his small town Natalie Merchant and invite me over for a David Lynch film festival like pronto.

It didn't happen. He never liked me. And that pain, I still feel it today. I don't like him anymore. Of course not. I am happily married to just the right guy. I haven't seen him in probably twenty something years. But high school, rejection, unrequited love--those pains left some rather rugged scars that never fully healed.

I am writing all this because 1) I think about it a lot. Especially because I'm writing young adult. I read young adult. I love to watch shows and movies about young adult. This must mean something. Psychologically it must mean something. And 2) This article http://nymag.com/news/features/high-school-2013-1/ in New York Magazine, which is awesome, yes, but also so telling!

The title Why You Truly Never Leave High School. So true because you don't. You never leave, damnit. Is it a curse or a gift? It's both.

One of the many reasons I love this article is because it says this, "...the prefrontal cortex has not yet finished developing in adolescents. It’s still adding myelin, the fatty white substance that speeds up and improves neural connections, and until those connections are consolidated—which most researchers now believe is sometime in our mid-­twenties—the more primitive, emotional parts of the brain (known collectively as the limbic system) have a more significant influence." There it is, people. It's not you, it's your limbic system. And your limbic system is where you need to go when you write. Or something like that. You know, delve into that limbic system. Find your Bella, your Katniss, your Holden, your Huck. Find them and tell their story. That's what I'm going. Of course, not exactly. I'm not telling The True and Important Accounts of Young Alison Coffey. But I'm mining those true and important (to me) accounts for my stories. I'm remembering how it felt to find the exact right perfect dress to homecoming and then not being able to wear it because no one asked me to go. I'm remembering how it felt to be drunk for the first time and feel so alive and silly and gorgeous and crazy. I'm remembering how incredibly awesome it was to hear Kiss Off in those boy's car and think, "this is me, this is my music!" And then I find a way to put it on the page and make it someone else's story. And it's kinda healing, actually. And cool, because it gives meaning to my pain--my stupid, adolescent pain that still finds its way into my nightly dreams.

For those who write YA, do you find yourself too often remembering some seemingly inconsequential moment in high school or junior high and wonder why it plays so often in your mind? At night, trying to sleep, why do I think of that time in choir when he caught me looking? Why do I dwell on that? Or that little moment when the cheerleader gave me a dirty look? That time he put his hand on the small of my back. How thrilling it was. The every day fear of finding someone to eat lunch with. The lot of it. How to shake it? I don't know. It's there and it's big and somehow it matters. Well, this article tells me why and in fact I suspected it all along. I suspected that those wonderful, terrible years had more impact on who I am, what I am, and how I think then any stupid thing that might have happened when I was 32. I don't even remember 32, but boy do I remember 15!
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Re: Writing YA and making meaning of those adolescent years

Postby wilderness » 27 Jan 2013, 10:08

Interesting article, but I found some of the studies a little depressing. It seems to indicate we don't change as much as we might think and that our self-esteem problems are carried through to the rest of our lives. I like to think most of the kids who were "uncool" in high school find their way afterward and end up having just as fulfilling of lives, if not more so, than the popular kids do.
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Re: Writing YA and making meaning of those adolescent years

Postby abc » 29 Jan 2013, 07:58

Wilderness, I agree that it is a bit depressing and I do like to hope that people change (and that the not so cool kids go on to be awesome), but I still think we carry it all with is. We can be successful architects and computer programmers and still have scars from those years. While we change and hopefully grow wiser, it has marked us and affected us and damaged us, too.
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Re: Writing YA and making meaning of those adolescent years

Postby Mark.W.Carson » 30 Jan 2013, 10:54

I can add my take to the matter. Writing for YA has made me peel back years worth of scars to remember who I was back when I was the age of my characters. Hard, lumpy bits of a shell had grown over them, and it was quite awful the first few times while I knew it had to be done, and in a way, it was healthy.

I thought I had forgotten what it had felt like, and inrushes of emotion came and then hit some sort of normalcy. It's a trying time, being a teenager, and in some ways it is like learning to fly. The careless times of youth have to be put aside, and yet the freedom of adulthood (yeah right...) is not apparent yet. It's exciting, and new, and scary and wonderful and awful, with a range of emotions that stretch and creak, having not been used this way ever. A time of love, and loss, rebellion and consequences. Is there any wonder that this period of life is considered to be so special?
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Re: Writing YA and making meaning of those adolescent years

Postby abc » 31 Jan 2013, 08:54

Mark--that's lovely! Agreed.
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Re: Writing YA and making meaning of those adolescent years

Postby abc » 01 Feb 2013, 07:50

And I'd also like to share a bit from this lovely and relevant article that Michael Chabon wrote about Wes Anderson (one of my favorite filmmakers)

"There follows a program of renewed inquiry, often involuntary, into the nature and effects of mortality, entropy, heartbreak, violence, failure, cowardice, duplicity, cruelty, and grief; the researcher learns their histories, and their bitter lessons, by heart. Along the way, he or she discovers that the world has been broken for as long as anyone can remember, and struggles to reconcile this fact with the ache of cosmic nostalgia that arises, from time to time, in the researcher’s heart: an intimation of vanished glory, of lost wholeness, a memory of the world unbroken. We call the moment at which this ache first arises “adolescence.” The feeling haunts people all their lives."

Link to article: http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/20 ... on-worlds/
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Re: Writing YA and making meaning of those adolescent years

Postby Quill » 02 Feb 2013, 08:49

wilderness wrote:Interesting article, but I found some of the studies a little depressing.

I found the numerous misuses of colons and semicolons depressing, for a mainstream published article.

But yeah, most people never grow up.
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Re: Writing YA and making meaning of those adolescent years

Postby wilderness » 02 Feb 2013, 09:37

Quill wrote:I found the numerous misuses of colons and semicolons depressing, for a mainstream published article.


Hahaha...
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