Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Is Time on My Side?

I get home pretty late from work, and though I really should just wash my face and crash out, I can't. I need to unwind a little, and this usually takes the form of watching bad TV and eating food I'd never admit to keeping in the house (Pop Tarts! Yo-Gos!). But with Mad Men, Glee & True Blood on hiatus, and Lost not starting until February, the pickings are pretty slim on my DVR. Last night I was scrolling though the guide, so desperate I almost turned on Bride Wars, when I saw The River's Edge was starting. I clicked INFO and saw the date. 1986. Nineteen-freaking-eighty six. I remember seeing it in the theaters. I wasn't old enough then, but in the 80s theaters just took your money, no questions asked. I went with my friends and we drank vodka we'd poured into empty perfume bottles (a whole nother story). I was obsessed with Keanu (that's Kay-ah-noo, not Kee-yah-noo--get it right) Reeves and was secretly delighted Ione Skye dressed all grungy, like me. I thought the movie was cool. If pressed, I'd probably say it was "really deep and metaphysical" (I didn't really know what metaphysical meant, but I used the word all the time.). The next week I probably went to see The Sure Thing or Ferris Bueller and forgot most of what I saw in River's Edge (except for Kay-ah-noo).

Totally different experience twenty-odd years later. No vodka for me--just chamomile tea and some Spanish cheese leftover from New Year's Eve. As the movie progressed I found I could not pay attention to it--even though Dennis Hopper and Crispin Glover put on quite a show--because I felt so horrified on behalf of the young actors. Ione Skye was sixteen when she made this movie, and she has sex onscreen! OK, she's miming real sex, but still. There is a twelve-year-old kid in it and he's shooting off a gun and throwing around the f-bomb! All I could think was, where were their mothers?

The lines between the generations are the blurriest they've ever been. The girl who babysits for my boys shops at the same clothing stores I do. My son listens to Green Day. I listen to Green Day. My freaking father-in-law listens to Green Day. I like to think I'm still pretty young, pretty hip. But every so often, something comes along and reminds me that twenty years have gone by. And I have changed with age. A lot.

I wonder how this affects my writing. I write YA because I loved that time of my life, even though it was often horrible. I feel close to all the emotions--in fact, it feels like they live right below the surface of my skin sometimes, so accessible, so fresh. But I wonder about the impact of time on memory. I wonder about what things don't ever change and what do. I think about the writers I know who still possess their SAT study guides and prom dresses. I wonder how my perspective differs from theirs. Then I wonder if it really matters. What do you guys think?


  1. AMAZING post, L. It's such an interesting discussion and I hope some of the younger writers will weigh in.

    Part of me will always be 16, but there's no question that I've changed over the past *cough* 15 *cough* years. I'm sure that changes how I relate to characters (DAMN you Bella Swan!) and how I write characters. I think about my kids reading my books someday and find myself wanting to create good role models for them and I'm guessing my 20-something counterparts don't worry about that quite as much.

  2. Hmmm...I would REALLY like to see some teen/20-somethings writers weigh in on this...

    Good topic, Loretta!

  3. Wow, Loretta. I am 18, and I have ACTUALLY thought about this. Not kidding. But more for MG novels.

    I would LOVE to write middle grade some day, but I don't think I can. I was in middle school only 5 or 6 years ago, but already that time of my life seems foreign to me. I remember it, but I don't think I could WRITE about it.

    Really, it's for the opposite things you pointed out here. I write fairly edgy/darkish YA. If I wrote MG, I don't know if I could go back to that point of innocence. I don't know if I could embrace the "not knowing" I felt in middle school. I don't think anything I write owuld ever fly with middle schoolers.

    And I worry about YA, too. I have worried before if the only reason it comes easy now is because I am a teenager. What if I find in ten years that I don't remember how it felt to be 17?

    But I agree about generations. My Mom borrows my clothes. She listens to more rap music than I do. And she's okay with all of the more edgy things I write.

    It's such an interesting thought. If I ever become a mother (I don't intend to, but we'll see) I wonder how I"ll feel about the things I love now. Gossip Girl, Cruel Intentions, Juno. More edgy things for my generation. Will I still think they are awesome then? Or will I be horrified?

    I guess we'll see.

  4. Your response is so interesting, Kody.

    I almost want to tell you, of course you'll remember what it's like to be 17 when you're 27. But I don't know if that's true, at least from my experience. When I was 27 I don't think I could put myself in a 17-year-old's place. But at thirty-nine, I can. I'm not exactly sure why.

    So you might not feel like you can return to the innocence of sixth grade now, but maybe somewhere along the line you will.

    I think seeing the world through my fourth-grader's eyes definitely helps. He's entering the stage where my mere presence is oh-so-embarrassing and I find myself thinking, I remember that! I remember what those feelings were like. I remember the awkwardness. I think when I was in my 20s I wanted to be so removed from my gawky tween/teen years that it would have been impossible to write about them.

  5. I think... I think there are things that transcend all that. That there is certainly a generational theme, but the things that stay wonderful or horrible linger. This very thing you mention is my issue with genre.

    I read Jane Eyre when I was thirteen (and again and again and again) is that YA? Does that story get old?

    I read the secret garden over recently. MG? YA?

    Anne of green gables? Loved it now and forever and then.

    BUT: watched FAME again thinking it would be something to share with my soon to be sixteen year old. I sunk lower and lower into the couch. I didn't remember the abortion or suicide or drugs. AND she...(the market for YA right) said:

    "This blows and has all emo people doing crappy things. The songs are good though..."

    So... what do we make of it all? Beats the HECK outta me!

  6. Suzy,

    Jane Eyre never, ever gets old because every time I read it I get something different from it. Maybe that's the the test?

    I totally forgot about all that stuff in Fame. I just watched Fast Times at Ridgemont High again and whoa--we've certainly grown more conservative overall. Could you imagine that film being made today?