Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I was reading Nathan Bransford's posts and entered a contest that closes today at 4PM Western.  It was an interesting premise:  "Write a compelling diary entry."  The writing prompt was to make a diary entry in the voice of a teen.  I read some of the entries.  Wow.  Some really unpoignant stuff.  Not that my entry was incredible.  I sort of treated it like a writing excercise rather than a contest, really. 

It really struck me, though, that many of these people (there were over 580 entries when I posted mine) read and write young adult fiction.  It was odd to read the entries and think back to my teen years.  I never thought like that.  As a teen, my opinion of adults was respectful, benign and I had a feeling that they were hopelessly out-of-touch with my reality, my world.  It reminded me that each generation creates a new perception of reality.  Often, it begins with a narrow, insular view of the world through our own, inexperienced eyes.  It is then formed and shaped by our world and by our disposition or reaction to it. 

As I read these fictional entries, I felt that outside of demonstrating some obvious lack of talent, they represent what I have come to loathe about young adult fiction.  I think too often, adults tend to look down their noses at youth.  We poke fun at their lack of focus, their tendency toward cliqueishness, their adherence to the principles of their peers, their vanity, their angst, their awkwardness, their general fumbling for identity and belonging.  What we lose track of, though, is that we have not outgrown these things.  We are still considered awkward, fumbling, vain, conformist, alarmist, sicophant, and suffer from middle age syndrome, identity crisis, job stress, relationship stress and male pattern baldness. 

Yet, as authors seek to capture the younger audience, they speak in cliches, mumble about broken hearts and puppy love and jealousy and envy.  We all ask "why me?"  We all seek to understand "why not me?"  But to think that young adults, ages 13-19, dwell on these as much as we remember is to mire ourselves in nostalgia too much.  Maybe my own memories are tainted. 

I remember at age 13 singing "Erich's Girl" instead of "Jesse's Girl" to the Rick Springfield song.  I think I cried, too.  I learned to play the song on my grandmother's electric organ one weekend.  I remember longing for a chance to "go out with" Renee.  It dominated my life for a whole two weeks.  Yes, Renee, I was one of the long line of geeks hanging on every flip of your hairsprayed blonde bangs and every thin smile from of your angular chiseled face.

But, for every lonely moment longing for a girl or spent in misery over an inevitable break-up, I spent hours and days just seeking a good time.  I played games, stalked deer and squirrels, read books, watched television and wrote stories.  I "hung out" with friends, listened to music, played Dungeons and Dragons and thought more about how many repetitions of bench presses I needed to do to make the starting lineup than I did about how my hair looked.

I guess what I am saying is that although I had more hair with which to concern myself then, things like vanity, puppy love, and fitting in with the crowd took a back seat to enjoying life as it came.  There is an exuberence about youth, a restlessness, a cloying sense of the NOW that screams DO SOMETHING.  I remember watching my mother and father, who lacked a circle of friends outside of our extended family, only have fun when they were alone and thought:  that can't be me.  And now look.  No offense, Dad, but I am your son.  And then, with the energy, the ambition and the unquenchable desire of youth, I blithely led fun, exciting, fulfilling teen years.  I can earnestly say that despite my family's poverty, I never lacked for anything.

And I think that is the essence of youth.  We cannot pigeonhole or stereotype the energy, the excitement, the steamrolling, rollercoaster ride that is teendom.  And the thought of distilling these things down to a diary entry is an excercise in hopeless optimism.  I read about a dozen entries and was appalled, disappointed and was left wondering how poor Mr. Bransford was to glean a winner from these tawdry, grasping, insulting and superficial fictional diary entries.  Oh, there was drama, there was mature thought and often the authors used a genuine stream-of-consciousness, I-am-talking-to-my-diary-friend technique.  But, I think they missed the point.