The Ledge of Despair and Exultation: I love YA

In 1999 I was a senior in high school and MTV published Stephen Chbosky’s YA novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I just loved it. Like, loved it till I hurt. Last year I went to see the movie adaptation and despite my ridiculously high expectations, I left happily heartsick. That’s why on my commute yesterday morning I found myself getting emotionally invested in a song that came on the radio. It was “It’s Time” by Imagine Dragons – the same song that played over almost all the previews for the film. Weird, right? But let me break it down.

When you’re in high school, there’s are a bunch of things in play, but here are the major two that come to mind:

  1. Heart health. If you’re getting your heart broken, it’s probably the first time. Know what’s terrifying about that? When it’s the first time you get your heart broken, you have no frame of reference. You have no real life experience that let’s you know that it gets better. The second time, the third time, you can reference back and know that healing happens, but that first time, holy crap.
  1. The pressure of limitlessness. If your family has cleared a bit of a path for you, now it’s up to you. This is not a time in life in which you settle out of fear. You reach or you run. When you are knocked down a peg, you feel like you are falling off of a mountain. When you are validated, you feel like maybe, just maybe you can do anything in the world.

So, back to the song. There’s something there that crystallized a realization about YA for me. It’s the chorus. The way the lyrics kind of rush over each other like a current, like the singer can almost not keep up with the ideas. Like he’s straining and  running to convey this kind of abstract sentiment.

It’s time to begin, isn’t it?
I get a little bit bigger, but then I’ll admit
I’m just the same as I was
Now don’t you understand
That I’m never changing who I am

It’s proud and kind of dumb, and sincere and urgent. This is why I’m drawn to these stories and driven to create them. When else in life is drama so naturally ingrained into life? And it’s not bull – those feelings are legitimate.

Being a teenager is, if you’ll pardon the timely parallel, filled with all kinds of green lights across the water. Just like Gatsby idealization of his love, and keeping her right out of his reach, teenagers idealize a future filled with possibilities. Close enough to throw a rock at, but impossible because it’s not here yet.

When I was in high school and imagined a life in New York, I filled in the concrete blanks with delicious abstractions. I filled in the spaces with gorgeous, gritty, daring things I mentally pasted together from movies or books or TV. It was and wasn’t reality.  In my twenties, when I moved there, there was a reckoning to be had. I’d stand in the same spot that I’d envisioned, and be uncomfortably cold because I wore the wrong coat. And I was pissed off at myself because I blew eight dollars on a drink, and I didn’t have that kind of money. And the people I was with weren’t auto-bffs fighting the good fight with me, they were just other lonely people. The cigarettes on the sidewalk didn’t look like art, they looked gross. I missed my parents.

But that stuff is for the twenties. Given a take it or leave it option, I will leave those twenties. No thank you.

Your teenage years are for green lights, and life-or-death-in-love situations. For me, that’s really the good stuff. It’s emotionally pure and unfettered by rent or a disappointing job hunt that leaves you feeling desperate and …well, disappointed. I just love those stories.

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The Beauty of Slow

When I was in high school we had to do the mile run. You know, in front of everyone.

Some of us happened to be un-athletic, slightly chubby drama club kids. Some of us might have been girls who wore old t-shirts from the Salvation Army and cut our own bangs in an attempt to establish an identity outside of the mainstream.  Because maybe some of us watched Reality Bites at a pivotal moment in our development and dreamed of being just like Winona Ryder’s character while harboring a deep understanding that we were Janine Garofalos.

Basically, I wasn’t a girl who was physically or emotionally equipped to run a mile in front of my classmates. So what would any self-respecting adolescent do when faced with a weakness? Deny and overcompensate. I ran so damn fast. I tried to look casual as I gasped for air and my legs burned. When I say I thought I might die, it’s because I legitimately thought I might die. But, worse than that would be living, slowing to walk the last quarter-mile, and being the last person in class to cross the finish line.

An eight-minute mile, folks. Pretty good! Definitely not embarrassing. Until I threw up.

So I decided that I hated running. It actually felt like hell, so why would I ever do it again?  And I didn’t for years and years.

I don’t remember what got me into jogging in my late twenties, but it probably had something to do with hating the way I looked in pants. I started doing short distances, and it was hard, but something dawned on me. I was alone. No sixteen year olds watching me, no gym teacher with a stop watch, no ill-fitting gym clothes or weird ponytail. Check that, I totally had a weird ponytail, but I didn’t care because I was alone. I could go at my own pace, and my own pace was slow.

I’ve been on and off (and off )of jogging since then with a long break for pregnancy. I just picked it up again about a week and a half ago. It took me a while postpartum to feel able to exercise, but when I finally did, it felt magical. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve never had such a good time running. I’ve never even had a good time running. Now it feels great.

One thing I’m hypothesizing is that my pain tolerance is so much higher now, that the physically uncomfortable parts don’t bother me quite so much. Also, it is time alone to focus on my body and my brain and the fresh air.

And slow? I got it. I got slow slow slow down to a science.

Yesterday there was a pickle-faced girl on a scooter who passive aggressively scooted just a foot ahead of me for about a third of a mile. She was kind of goading me in an evil-genius fashion (a little terrifying for someone who appeared to be 11 years old). She’d casually look back and give me the stink eye every minute or so.

High School me would have done one of two things. Either say “forget this” and just stop running, or start sprinting to get the hell away from her.  But yesterday, I just kept jogging. Slow slow slow and very steady. I kept my breathing even and my pace consistent and I had a great run.

Not worrying about where you are “supposed” to be is so important. Being motivated by dodging embarrassment is a great way to not enjoy anything, or ever learn anything. The older I get the more clear this becomes. It’s good to be bad at things because that’s how you get good at things.

Whether it’s running, writing, or learning French* I think the same rules apply. If you can happily go fast, that’s awesome! But otherwise, find the pace that let’s you breathe and enjoy the jog.

*I’m not learning French. Yet. But I love croissants.

Who put the mom in the mom sh-mom sh-mom

(If you read this post’s title in Leonard Nimoy’s voice, we’re best friends.)

I’ve got a lot to say about motherhood lately, but this Mother’s Day, I’m not thinking about me. I’m, appropriately, thinking about my mom.

Why? Because as far as mothering goes, the job that this woman has done in the past three months is worthy of a Presidential citation, or an Olympic medal, or, I don’t know, some really fantastic wine.

When you have a baby, that baby becomes the world. The pregnancy mindset of  “I must take supreme care of my body because I am a sacred vessel” quickly shifts to the new mom mindset of “What body? What are you talking about? Where’s the baby? I can’t feel my face.

It’s enough to give a girl whiplash. In fact, maybe I got whiplash, but it would have just blended into all the other physical discomforts so I never would’ve noticed.

But know who notices stuff about me? My mom. She, while hilariously and insanely in love with her brand new grandbaby, has never ever lost sight of me. In the very beginning, she came over after school almost every day and sat with me to keep me company. She talked with me about all the things I was worried about. Listened while I went on and on about the minutia of breastfeeding, and all my aches and pains.

She did the dishes I left piling up in the sink, or organized all the new tiny clothes, whatever she could do. And she smiled while doing it, happy to be there.

Nevermind all the extra stuff like making an appointment for me to get a manicure and taking me shopping so that not everything I wear is stained with milk throw-up. Also, she never forgets to ask, “How are you doing?”

My husband commented, “She seems so worried,” and I think that was true. But she was worried because I was her sleepless, discombobulated daughter. I kind of appreciated it.

It’s how I’ll endeavor to be if Emmeline ever has a baby (no pressure, Emmie, YOU BE YOU). If I can be the kind of mother to her that my mom is to me, this little chicken will be a very lucky girl. Her nails are too bitty for manicures right now, but we’ll get around to it.

I guess the point is that over the years my mom has done some really world-class momming, but I’ve never appreciated her quite as much as I do this Mother’s Day.

Yay! Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!