Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tears of a Clown: How to be a 12 Year Old Girl

So first things first, Netflix uploaded "The Wonder Years" to Netflix streaming, and it might be the best thing to ever happen to my life. In addition to that, I received in the mail (yeah, I'm now paying the $20-odd dollars or whatever it is every month so I can have streaming AND discs sent to my house, because the third season of The Gilmore Girls isn't going to watch itself, internet) the movie "Now and Then", which is a 90's movie with baby-faced Christina Ricci, Gaby Hoffman, and Thora Birch, among others. I've seen it before but surely, something happened to me months ago that prompted me to add it to my Netflix cue and immediately forget it until it arrived a few nights ago.

As I watched the movie, I was struck by how closely some of the things had mirrored my preteen experience. I, too, had a very close-knit group consisting of four female friends, each with their own quirks and differences. I, too, had long, patternless summers where we ran wild and free. The movie is set in a suburb in the 70's, so while I couldn't empathize with being able to ride your bike everywhere and get black cows down at the local diner, I got the jist of what emotion was being prompted of me. My actual experience was closer to taking the red line to Harvard, getting burritos at Anna's, or walking into Allston, a place my mother warned me about the dangers of every single time we went there. The dingy little shops we used to wander around with wide-eyed amazement is now about a block away from my apartment.

There was one moment that truly got my attention though, besides the part where Gaby Hoffman is narrowly rescued from drowning in the sewer by the town tramp, a man the girls refer to as "Crazy Pete", was the fact that, several times during the movie, our heroines are playing truth or dare, and they always pick truth. This is an obvious move, you may think; dare is always embarrassing, always involves either getting naked or doing something you will regret later. My friends and I always used to choose truth, no matter what. I hadn't thought about it until that moment, but what if truth or dare is actually some epic catalyst of the Young Female Experience? Groups of girls, detached from time, joined together through a mundane exercise in sharing secrets? Nobody ever mentions it because it seems like something so minuscule; obviously, everybody plays truth or dare. But its not obvious, not to me. That means there is something inherent within truth or dare that fulfills some biological desire that we all have when we're about 11 years old. That's fascinating to me. Growing up in a world where things are obsolete easily within the year of their creation has instilled in me a fascination of things that don't seem to ever go out of date. Truth or dare has survived generations. When I was 11, truth or dare was part of life, along with a slew of other things that I doubt I would have made it out of adolescence without. The following is Zoe Hyde's "In it to Win It" emergency crash-landing kit of how to get through your preteen years with minimal scarring, maximum fun, and zero making out. Sorry ladies, I have many talents, but that was and is not one of them. You're on your own with that one.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is key. You are going to be attending all-girl sleepovers, and going on school trips, and eventually would-you-rather and gossiping is going to get old (I mean, it'll take a while, but it will get old). When this happens, the best thing to do is turn out all the lights, whip out a flashlight and pretend to be scared. I don't remember if Scary Stories actually frightened me as a child, or if we were just affecting it, but it doesn't matter. These books will serve you well after a horror movie marathon, or in any kind of camping situation you might find yourself in. If you can get your hands on them, I also recommend listening to the books on cassette, I know they used to have them in the children's section of the Brookline Public Library.  Caveat Emptor: Do not try and memorize these stories and pass them off as your own if you have a smarty mcsmartypants best friend named Gabrielle who is going to totally call you out on it in front of everyone.

You probably are going to have all sorts of questions about your budding womanhood that you would rather get hit by a full truck of hot garbage rather than ask your mother about. Not because she wouldn't give you specific, diagram-worthy answers about how your own lady parts work, but maybe because you'd rather not talk about about said lady parts for like an hour with your mom. Just a thought. This book, however, is part of The American Girl series, which, for the most part, I find genuinely capable of relating to normal girls without getting too saccharine, which was always a deal breaker for me. The drawings are helpful and accurate without being cold, and the advice is lighthearted while being serious an helpful. Definitely a must have for preteen and teenage ladies who are figuring out how to operate these crazy body machines they find themselves trapped in. Very specific illustrations on how tampons work. Because seriously. It's not intuitive.  

Alice in Wonderland is a classic I would recommend to any one of any age, but something about Alice's fearlessness makes me put it on this list. I've read this book time and time again but I can't help feeling that Alice's tenacity in the face of overwhelming bizarrity has had some hand in my making. Those formative years are tough, and when you're on the cusp of teenager hood, you're going to need the kind of role model who, when confronted with falling through the earth's core, for example, does not panic, but speculates where and when she is going to land. That's what growing up is like, like a crazy free fall through experience, and its good to know that Alice does land, the fall doesn't kill her, and is in fact actually the start of her story, not the end.

Okay, so not every 8th grader is going to be down for some Emily Dickinson, but for those of them that are, this one goes out to my homies. Yo, Emily Dickinson got me when I was 12. Emily didn't front; she knew all about the pain of being yourself, and her poetry spoke to me in a way that I think only dead authors from the 19th century can speak to little nerdy girls heading in what I call a "feelings" direction. Having this collection (or one like it, I've forgotten) was also helpful when I was going through my goth phase. Just saying.

There are other books worth mentioning here, ones that resonated with me or I was reading during a particularly tumultuous time in my life, but that list could go on forever. I think the topics I've covered here are as timeless as truth or dare, and its going to be necessary to pass these volumes down to the following generations, perhaps even more so as time goes by. What can we count on in this crazy world, for example, if not our own capacity for awkwardness? If not our questioning? If not our adolescent fear of everything and everything that could or couldn't even happen? The times are constantly a-changin', kids today have different worries and fears than the kids of yesterday, but that seems like all the more reason to address the ways in which we haven't changed, and maybe won't ever. Which is why, as a former adolescent queen of awkward now faking adulthood with an alarming alacrity and poise, I ask you, friends, Romans, countryman: truth or dare?

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