Sunday, December 19, 2010

Memory Monday

I'm an incredibly nostalgic person. A song, a smell, an image, anything can send me tumbling into a recollection, sometimes good, sometimes bad though for the most part I've come to terms with my past and can even view the bad memories with a kind of distance that keeps them from hurting too badly.

There was a time when everything hurt though. The past, the present, and I couldn't even imagine the kind of place I'm in now. I wrote my way through most of this. I fictionalized some of it. I killed some of my demons (some quite literally) in I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE and also through Louisa's character got a strong look into what my future would be if I held on to the hurt forever. So I purged more in BALLADS. It's mostly fiction, but the scared girl whose best friends kept moving away, who never felt like she had real friends or truly fit the suburban mold, the girl who cut her skin to deal with those emotions, that was me.

There are still other things though, things I think about turning into more fictional stories and that's probably the way I will ultimately go, but sometimes I want to capture the exact moment, put it in words, set it free.

Yes, even though I am at the very beginning (two chapters have taken two weeks) of a tough revision of a really rough draft of the bartender book AKA the first "adult" book, and I have ideas brewing for a YA Urban Fantasy, a YA Post-Apocalyptic and most recently another YA contemporary realistic (those are just where my heart is and what comes to me most easily even if it doesn't sell. I read the other stuff but doubt my abilities to write it.), I'm also pondering a memoir or more likely a collection of essays about the things I experienced from I don't know thirteen through my early twenties. I don't remember much from before junior high and life finally calmed down in my early twenties, but in between it was fucked up in that interesting way that I like to read about at least. I don't know if other people would seeing as it's not like I'm famous or anything. And half the time I don't even think I could do it. It would mean reopening old wounds and some of them are too freshly healed, some of them I never thought I would close. I've also learned lessons from my teenage zinester days. You can be too honest. It can hurt people that you don't want to hurt. It can make people afraid to be close to you. And I don't want to do that again.

So I'm gun-shy for those many many good reasons. But man when I wrote my essay "Ten Years Gone" for Fresh Yarn five years ago and when I wrote the essay for the DEAR BULLY anthology, it did feel so good, so natural. That kind of confessional, honest story telling is where I got my start.

I don't know what I'll do. Keep weighing the pros and the cons like I have been for years (the DEAR BULLY thing really just opened it up again for me), but I figure this blog which gets so boring and dust-covered at times can be an outlet for the memories I feel a big urge to share as well as this amazing blog I've joined with a bunch of other YA writers called Dear Teen Me, in which we write letters to our teenage selves. My letter won't be up til late January, but there are a ton of good ones going up every day so if you are a nostalgia freak like me, check it out.

Here's the thing that set my nostalgia off the other day:

Yep, that's an '85 Plymouth Voyager. My family got a blue-gray one that year. No wooden paneling. At least I don't think. Like I said, foggy childhood memory so I'd have to look at a picture for reference, but I think I just really wanted the wood paneling for some reason, thinking it was fancier than ours.

A lot of memories in that van. We moved from St. Louis to Chicago in it when I was seven and our cat hid so far beneath a seat we'd thought we'd lost her. I'm sure there are other things too, but when I saw one the other day, the memory it stirred was my last one of that van. It was February of 1995. I'd been hanging out with kids I'd met at Scoville Park for about four or five months. There was a group of them that were really tight and I wanted to be their friend so badly because they were into indie and punk like me and a few of them had this band. But I just didn't feel cool enough and I was friends with another group of people that some of them had problems with. Stupid teenage bullshit. Somebody got the cops called on somebody because they were using their garage to smoke pot. But I'd just started dating one of the guys who was in that band and it was weekend of Valentine's Day and our high school had this stupid King of Hearts dance that being little rebels we didn't want to go to but we also were in need of something better today and this local band that I'd discovered was playing at the Metro. The Lupins. I thought they were the shit and they were *my* discovery. I saw them open for someone else and became obsessed. I'd heard of them and these kids, kids to whom new music was like the most valuable currency, they hadn't. It was my ticket in. I passed my cassette tape of the band through my new boyfriend. The other kids approved. They wanted to go to the show. So I went a step further and volunteered my mom to drive us. Because we had this van:

Only blue-gray and no wood paneling (at least I don't think so, maybe I actually hated the wood paneling and am editing it out?). And it was on it's deathbed. But my mom saw how much it meant to me so we packed the thing full of kids, possibly beyond the legal limit though probably not because my mom was driving and she didn't allow that sort of thing, not like I would later when I inherited (or rather claimed without giving my parents a choice in the matter) our Honda Civic and crammed 9 or 10 people into 5 seats. Anyway, to get on to 290, the highway into Chicago, to the Metro, to the show, we had to get on at Austin which is a bridge and fuck if that van didn't practically catch on fire as my mom sat on the bridge, on an angle with the weight of all those kids. All those kids who I feared might be judging me like most of the other Oak Park kids had been for the past seven years, thinking that I'd gotten them into a death trap, the stinking, smoking van, and my mom who I believe started to freak out in the way she does--and the way I do--when things get stressful, they were probably judging her too. And I hated her and the van for not being perfect and I hated them for judging her if they were judging her and most of all I hated myself because even though I had discovered this band that was so much better than the lame King of Hearts dance, even though I had even scored us a ride to the show which was definitely hard to come by at that point when most of us were sophomores and freshman, I still didn't feel cool enough. I still didn't feel like I would fit in with these misfits.

Everyone had a blast and another band, one called Hum from Champaign was on the bill and we all loved them even more than The Lupins. We discovered that band, the group of us together, and I'd brought us there. Me and the music and my mom and my family's shitty old van. For one small moment things were perfect. But then I remembered that I still felt like the outsider looking in. And then my boyfriend asked me to hold his coat while he went into the pit even though *I* always went into the pit. And I did because he was new and I liked him a lot, but I should have known then. That was the first sign and the second was when he started talking shit about all of his friends, the friends I wanted to know so badly. Within weeks, he would have a big fight with them and leave the band and tell me that none of them liked me and it was me and him against the world. He would break me. He would destroy my chances at real friendship with a lot of those kids who rode in my van. There would be tension between us for years. Like thirteen years until the grief over the death of a mutual friend would make it all insignificant, all the drama that boy who no one spoke anymore caused.

But fuck, the van, the sight of that van just brought it all back. Not the ugly stuff that followed, not the rest of the ride, just that moment of being on the bridge, thinking the van would die, thinking I didn't live up to these people who I know now were just as awkward and insecure as me, thinking we'd never get to the top of the bridge, to the expressway on-ramp, to that moment where I felt like they liked me and I could believe that they liked me. But we did.


Liviania said...

I have a terrible memory. But name almost any of my possessions and I can tell you how I acquired it and most of my interactions with it. It's strange.

Harmony said...

I have a love/hate relationship with the fact is that all it takes is one lyric from a song or an old photograph or just...anything, really for the memories to start flooding back. Then I'll sit there for hours staring at the ceiling wishing things were like they used to be or being thankful that time as passed.

ANYWAY. I love reading stuff like this! I guarantee if you wrote a memoir it would be read and loved. Change names if you have to (Elizabeth Gilbert did it). When you mentioned not being famous enough, I thought of Abby Sher. She wrote this book called Kissing Snowflakes which, as far as I know, wasn't all that popular. Then she wrote a memoir called AMEN, AMEN, AMEN, which obviously did well enough that my aunt heard about it. (Haven't read either though.) The best memoirs come from the non-famous. Because who wants to read another celeb/political idiot's memoir?

(How is it that every time I leave a comment on your blog, it ends up being ridiculously long?!)

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Liviania, I have a memory sort of like that too. I guess we remember what matters!

Harmony, yeah, I have a love/hate thing too, but I'm so used to the nostalgia now. And thanks so much for your input on the potential memoir thing. I'm still pondering it and I do totally agree that I prefer to read real people's memoirs to like someone from Jersery Shore or something!