When I was a teenager, and full of emotions and hormones and sadness that sucked the life out of me from my short hair to my painted toenails, but also hilarity that bubbled up at any given moment, I channelled most of it into writing. Where else do you put all this stuff? I was curious if I was the only crazy teenager out there. All of my friends seemed so normal. But then I would get to know another writer, and I realized I was completely normal. For a teenaged writer. We used to muse that all of the writers we took a shine to as teenagers were certifiable, or “misunderstood,” and figured we, as writers who fought equally crazy and dangerous demons, must be on a path to post-mortem success like all the other crazies, Poe and Dickinson topping the list.
It did not take much to push me feverishly to my desk, or into a corner if a desk or table was not near, pen and notebook in hand, ready to fight it out through words until my shoulders tensed up to meet my ears and my hand was cramped around the pen in a way I imagined could only be undone surgically. Every thing was just so big, every look from a friend or stranger, every prank played on a pal, every crisis a friend faced, real or imagined, took my feet out from under me, my breath from my lungs, twisting my stomach in knots until I could write it out. I was obsessed with journals, and had about a dozen. I had then, and have now, very serious and set opinions regarding pens and pencils. The best pencil was a Red Velvet, one no longer manufactured. Curse those office supply conglomerates. Don’t they understand? I’m pretty sure my parents even got them for me for Christmas once. Pens had to be fine point for college-ruled paper, and blue. I preferred college-rule, because I wrote neater on it; I was forced to control my wild hand as it flew across the page. And I liked blue because it was brighter than black. Simple as that.
This was all when writing was the most romantic thing I could imagine. Every song made me fall in love, not with anyone in particular, just in love. Every book held possibility, and was granted forgiveness and grace if it didn’t live up to my standards, by the mere fact that I knew a better book could be waiting for me under the next cover I would open. Poetry was
magical, not because it was well-crafted, or perfect, but because it was there, and its presence made me feel somehow like I was less of a freak for writing poetry of my own. I don’t reflect on my teenage years with much dew in my eyes, though as I write this I imagine I should perhaps give my friends and family a little more credit than I did then. I hurt over the fact of my being misunderstood, when maybe I should have relished a little more in their patience and tolerance. (Another poem, Allison? About stars this time? That’s…great. Well done, you.) Their praise was rarely peppered with sarcasm. Yes, I owe their memories a little more than perhaps I have given.
One great punch in the emotional gut was music. I know most teenagers are fueled by music, but our little group stood on the same level of strange as me on this point. We were listening to the Beatles, and Billy Joel, when a more appropriate adolescent choice would have perhaps been Green Day or Soundgarden. We like those bands, too, liked finding new music. But classic rock and pop were where we all connected somehow. I have a distinct memory of a friend miming riding a motorcycle around the room while we listened to Uptown Girl. His beach visor was worn upside-down and his clothes spoke to the volleyball we played on the South Florida beaches each weekend. But the CD in the player was Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits Volume 2.
This past week I was in Barnes and Noble and I wandered the bookshelves, picking up random volumes and reading the dust jackets, wondering on how some books ever get published, and would my own ever grace a shelf other than the digital one in my Scrivener file? I rarely do this in bookstores anymore. Usually there is at least one, if not two kids in tow, and the oldest is only in the bookstore under coercion of promised treats at the cafe. He loves to read, loves books, but cannot understand the pleasure of books when you are not buying, or borrowing, for the purpose of reading.
Wandering is what I do best. I wander stores (later becoming frustrated at the time I wasted), I wander the house while I clean, I wander the page as I write. I wander, waiting for something to give me pause, something worth paying attention to, something worth following. As I wandered the bookstore, relishing a bit in my wandering, Billy Joel’s “Shameless” came on the store radio. I paused. I smiled. I let my mind slip back to a time when I let myself feel everything I had to feel, then wrote about it, not for the work, but for the words. For four minutes and twenty-eight seconds, I tried to think of a way to find a corner, a pen, some paper, and just go to town. I didn’t. The song ended, but Billy kept singing. They must have the whole CD in there, I thought.
“Lullaby” came on soon after and I vowed to be ready the next time I was was invited in my wandering to follow a thought until it was finished with me.
What gives you pause? What songs stop the world for you, if only for a few moments?