Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Forever Young by Jody Gehrman

One of the many things I love about writing young adult fiction is it gives me the power to be sixteen again. If you're one of those people going, "God! Sixteen? Why would you want to go through that again?" I totally understand. The putrid smells of high school hallways, the rigid social caste system, the longing, the angst, the gym teachers. Who would relive those horrors voluntarily?

The operative word here is fiction. I don't revisit my teen years the way they actually were. I mean sure, flecks of memory get lodged in there, tiny autobiographical moments, but the thing that keeps me coming back is the chance to be sixteen again the way I should have done it the first time.

It's one of the more seductive aspects of writing fiction in general--the power to revise history, fast forward through the boring bits. When I write my character's journal, I don't dither in the circular, self-obsessed, overly-philosophical masturbation my real high school journals are filled with. At least, I hope I don't. No, my heroine, Geena, is way too smart for that. She tells stories, she spouts pithy observations. Most of all, she keeps her sense of humor, which is something I'm afraid I frequently lost sight of when I was sixteen.

In real life I'm thirty-six, so there's twenty years between me and my sixteen-year-old self. It's an interesting stage in life to be holding a magnifying glass up to youth. Mid-thirties is the first time many of us pause to really absorb the idea that Forever Young isn't exactly an option. I mean sure, we all know in theory that aging happens, but somehow, in the dewiness of youth, it always seemed like it happened to someone else. As my thirties wear on, the idea of aging is slowly becoming much more palpable: crow's feet, weird little facial hairs, being looked through instead of at by twenty-something hotties.

Like most writers (and, come to think of it, superheroes) I live a double life. I spend my early mornings as a funny, precocious sixteen-year-old, full of fresh vitality and verve. I spend my afternoons as a thirty-something English professor trying to make writing interesting for the flesh and blood youth culture who wander into my classes. It's a strange life, I guess--inhabiting two very different people all in the same day--but it works for me. Maybe it's a little like commuting by plane. You wake up in L.A.; it's springtime every day. Then you get in your little jet and fly to New York, where the buildings are colored with age and the gothic spires reach for the gloomy, clouded sky. You can moan about the jet lag, worry about how different these cities are, or you can sit back and enjoy the ride.

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