Wednesday, December 22, 2010

You've Lost A Lot In These Waning Years

Hello Reader!  I was coursing back through time yesterday, staring my memories in the face.  As it were, I couldn't help but gloss over - alright I'm a liar, I didn't gloss over it, I outright pored over them - five years of my life spent with someone.

No, I wasn't in a relationship with the person.  Although, we were close enough for it.  And it's not appropriate to explain here why the friendship soured.  I feel it is enough to say that even the best of friendships have beneath them an undercurrent of...well, something far more sinister and darker than just friendship.

Is it really melodramatic for me to call it a betrayal?  I mean, for God's sake it's been three years since everything ended.  How am I still hung up on this issue?  Probably because I did many wrong, cruel things to that person in the dying shambles of the relationship.  My justification has been that worse, crueler things happened to me.  Not over the course of a year, but during that entire five year epoch of my tiny life.  That's good enough justification right?

Either way the issue is important, for this blog at least, because I want it in my book.  I think I've said somewhere that this novel is asking the question what if Paul Muad'dib had to go to high school and still lead the Fremen?  What if Harry Potter and Dune were to be mashed up, their storylines and character attitudes merged together?  But in a lot of ways, the teenage relationships between Harry and his friends are incredibly juvenile.  For one thing they don't curse.  Maybe British children are less foul-mouthed than American children, but seeing as how I'm an American I can't really avoid writing about what I know.

That's a minor thing though.  What irks me as I reread the Harry Potter series is the genuine goodness in each of the children.  It seems to be that all of the undesirable traits, or at least those that people absolutely everywhere absolutely cannot tolerate, are sequestered to Slytherin house.  For pity's sake, the worst thing anyone in any of the other houses ever does is uncleverly tease Harry.  Most of them, actually all of them, apologize to him after they've been proven wrong by our persevering hero.  Of course I understand that the novels are meant for children.  Why shove complexity down their throats?  Ravenclaw can have terrible human beings in it too?  Whoa, heavy man.  To be fair there's already enough new information, and the whole damn thing is presented so delightfully and with so much vivid and wondrous detail there's no reason for any more complexity in the relationships between these children.

But then again maybe there is.  High school isn't the sordid affair presented by many books, movies, television shows etc.  Often these media present to us a wasteland of common sense inhabited by cliques who are all mutually exclusive from each other.  This is a complete fallacy.  High school, or at least what I experienced high school as, was an ever shifting chaotic mess of children figuring out who they are in often harmful ways - to themselves and to others.  I had friends who did more hard drugs in high school than many of my college friends, who pride themselves on their lack of boundaries, even attempt.  Backstabbing in college is so much easier, because you're not clustered with the same 60 students everywhere you go for six hours straight.  There isn't much harmful gossip in college, because as fast as word travels at the university it is thousands of magnitudes slower than the drivel that's tossed around on a high school campus.

Again, as always, I'm speaking in generalities.  You can bombard me all you want with examples of gossip and backbiting behaving by rules diametrically opposite to those I've outlined above.  Fine.  I'm a generalist, I apologize, I hope you can learn to accept it as I've learned to accept the nitpicking.  Also, I could be totally wrong.  If I am, I'll admit it.  Now on with it.

Now, how does this vision of high school relate to the novel?  Well, I'm writing about high school students for most of the story.  In fact, the first novel's plot is driven by the high school aspirations, pratfalls, missteps and melodrama that follow my teenage characters.  In a lot of ways, high school is the very first step - or series of giant leaps - we all take in becoming less innocent.  I'm not just talking about sex or drugs, I'm talking about sins and diseases of the heart.  Some of us become arrogant in our ephemeral youth, believing the success and grandeur of our teenage years will last us until we're well into the throes of our death bed.  Some wayward souls dive headfirst into waters unknown and do not surface.  Ever.

I lost a lot during those years.  The waning of my adolescence introduced an incredible side to me, one I had never known myself to have.  Of course my mother predicted it and forewarned me of it for many years.  She's pretty good at that.  But my adolescence decided to ignore her.  That same friend who hurt me so bad, was in turn hurt by my raging temper, volcanic as it was and very well still may be.  I'm not sure if it's pride or shame I feel when I consider that she was the only person privy to my purest rage, but I cannot pretend that others weren't exposed to some degree of the fury.  In a lot of ways the development of this temper was the maturation of the darkest shades of my personality, a slow loss of my innocence.  Naturally I am not defined by these shadows.  How many people are?

Then again I cannot sugar-coat the issue.  Some of us lose ourselves to the rollicking darkness.  Some of us lose ourselves and come back.  And some don't.  I don't feel as if this is melodramatic at all.  I live in a bubble of successful high school students, those men and women who were holistically strong enough to attend the institution I do.  They can do a damn fine job of keeping this kind of thing under wraps.  But what about those who were deemed unworthy by the admissions board?  What about those who didn't even try?  Do they not count, because they did not succeed?  In novels dealing with children of or near my age, often two archetypes emerge.  There's the Stephen King character who has gone through truly traumatic events in his or her earlier life and must, as an adult, deal with these issues head on.  Or there's the watered-down, often funny, mostly acerbic character studies that populate most young fiction - these characters are all generally good natured, and even their bullies are really good people deep down.

If you're going to gripe about my generalizations - I don't blame you, the little man inside my head is griping right alongside you - then please suggest a book to me that deviates from these two characterizations in describing child characters of or near the age of adolescence.

I'm not trying to write a book.  I'm trying to write a story.  I'm not a good writer.  I'm a great storyteller.  And I attribute this arrogant iota of information to my intellectual honesty.  And my intellectual honesty demands that I admit to a very solemn fact.  We have all lost much in these waning years.  We are not the perky students of our youth, wearing the cute Disney backpacks of our own volition - or without some hipster-influenced, high-falutin, sarcastic purpose.  We are not innocent.  Not a single one of us.  We have all done things we are not proud of, and those that I am surrounded by in college are good at hiding it.  I'm good at hiding it though three years on it still haunts me.  But those who aren't good at hiding these travails deserve a high school tale too.  Those who didn't survive the maturation and development of their worst selves should have their stories told too.

That's what Briok's tale is about.  I've always scoffed at the cliques of most high school dramas.  They specialize in a certain brand of sterilization.  These kids are like this, those kids are like that, and they may change, but they always change for the better.  Or they stay the same, sterile version of bad they started out as.  The worst that can happen is you'll get made fun of if you're a geek, and some everyman will come by and help you out of the trashcanlockertoiletjanitor'scloset you've been stuck in.

I was told once that my words and a few of my actions caused someone to contemplate suicide.  My comments as a high schooler.  Of course I was told this by that friend whose relationship I value no longer, in anger, and without any proof.  But obviously I made her feel something raw if she was going to accuse me of that.  I filleted her psyche to the point that she wanted to get back at me with that.  Why?  Because our innocence was gone by then, too steeped were we in the dredges of the collective human condition.  Those dredges where your peer is no longer worthy of the same treatment you require for yourself, where humanity defines itself not by the help it affords its constituents but by the amount of outright maiming it can incur upon those same denizens.

Can you imagine the burden?  We are so infantilized nowadays, made to think we haven't experienced anything.  Yes, we're 20 and living in the first world.  We have yet to see our entire families raped and pillaged and I carry no battlescar with me for the rest of my life.  But that doesn't, or at least it shouldn't, deny us the mental damage we inflict upon ourselves and our friends.  If our luxury and modern comforts afforded us true joy, we would be the happiest nation on Earth.  We are decidedly not.  This damage isn't bad.  It isn't really a good thing either.  It just is.  And I say this with as much certainty as I can afford: scars wrap themselves around us like a blanket, guarding us against the freezing wind that is our lesser nature.  You can only swim if you've touched the water.

And Briok and his friends will undergo that scarring.  To as far and wide an extent as possible, they will be wrapped in flame and adorned with thorns to give them permanent signposts on their minds as they make their way to an as yet unforeseen destination.  Death, maturity, marriage, peace, what have you.  That's the nature of it no?  That's the nature of our lives.  Maybe not the purpose though.  I'm too young to figure that one out yet.  Until next time then.

1 comment:

  1. losing innocence has no universal standard or process. yes, it may seem shameful to admit our struggles in comparison to those who have no ownership over their lives, property, or virginity, but we all somehow endure the same obstacles in life: love, betrayal, and pain. my favorite quote on innocence, by which i have convinced myself to live and understand by:

    "Innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself." - Joan Didion