My husband (coincidentally named Jordan) bought me the My So-Called Life box set for Christmas, and I just got around to finishing watching the DVDs this past weekend. Don’t get me wrong, this is probably the 1,234,868th time I’ve seen this show. But for some reason, the run through these last few episodes really got me thinking about the wisdom of Angela Chase and Jordan Catalano.
The timing of my viewing is quite perfect, because I conducted two interviews recently where I was asked what type of student I was in high school. I answered truthfully:
“I was one of those students who flew under the radar. I was a good student (National Honors Society), but I wasn’t one of the “smart kids” most likely to succeed. I played sports, but I was mostly second string. I was a cheerleader, but it had nothing to do with popularity. And mostly, I think I was in the “background” of the social scene.
Looking back, I can now recognize how insecure I was in middle and high school (what adolescent girl isn’t?). But I think that’s why I enjoy writing for teens. I still vividly remember how I felt during those years, and I hope teens today can relate to that voice in my writing.”
This is very, very true. I was the girl who sat next to you in English, but who you never really gave much thought to. The girl who spent a lot of time wrapped in her own head, silently miserable.
I was Angela Chase.
And I was living high school when that show came out.
Growing up, that show stuck with me because it was such an accurate portrayal of what I was experiencing and feeling at that exact point in time. I had a Jordan Catalano who I obsessed over and who was absolutely no good for me. I had happy, normal parents who I wanted to rebel against while simultaneously not wanting to disappoint. I had friends who I thought were much, much cooler than I was (and who are probably reading this, hi!).
I don’t think I realized it then, but that show was the first piece of writing I ever emotionally connected to. It influenced me as a teenager and it now influences me as a writer.
My first novel ever was my attempt at My So-Called Life. It was a telling of my emotionally wrenching middle school years. It’s the book that landed me my agent, but never sold. And it’s always stuck with me. Because I knew I didn’t nail it.
The story continues to toss and turn in the back of my head, trying to become something. I call it my “white whale,” because time after time I try to revise it, mold it, change it. But it still always ends up feeling wrong.
I won’t give up on it. If I was meant to, it wouldn’t still be tickling in the back of my brain. And I wouldn’t still be striving to make the simple act of handholding seem like the most climatic thing since a meteor was about to crash into Earth.
POP CULTURE RANT: If I Stay
So I just finished reading If I Stay, the book everyone has been talking about—the next Lovely Bones, the next movie to be directed by Catherine Hardwicke. I loved how real it felt. I thought the characters—including the boyfriend, the best friend, the parents—were extremely well developed and unique. Only criticism? I wanted more. It ends on a bit of cliffhanger, and I would have liked to have seen a glimpse of what happens next. But as far as criticisms go, that’s a pretty good one.