Tuesday, April 29, 2008

(In)Glory Days

Young America - Jump Little Children (mp3)
Teenager - Better Than Ezra (mp3)

"The Infamous El Guapo."
"Infamous? What does that mean?"
"IN-famous is when you're more than famous."
-- The Three Amigos

For most people, adolescence -- particularly high school -- is an IN-famous time. William Shatner's melodramatic acting style holds nary a candle to the minute-to-minute emotional roller coaster of the starship U.S.S. Teenager. On that spaceship, a strange odor can make a girl cry. The clearing of a throat can start fights between boys. A shirt that doesn't fit right, hair that doesn't brush right, and zits that don't pop right are among the WMDs hidden in the ship's crawlspaces. All passengers on board are required, at least one time during their service, to claim that they hate their parents.

Hormones are the engine that keeps the U.S.S. Teenager in hyperdrive through space. Many on the crew can handle exposure to lighter levels of this radiation, because they have the opportunity to release them through physical interaction with the opposite sex. Unfortunately, some of us work on the engineering crew, where we had to stay below deck, incapable of getting lai-- uh, are forced to merely absorb the radiation without an appropriate outlet for releasing it.

The strangest part is that I find myself spending the better part of my life in that world, like a Tribble that has snuck aboard the U.S.S. Teenager as a castaway. That's kinda what teachers are, I think.

Teachers are all stowaways. Not all of us really love that particular starship, nor did we all adore our time as teenagers. This just happens to be the ship that's taking us where we were hoping to go at one point or another. Some of us have chosen to remain on board indefinitely.

Not only do I work in a high school, I find myself voluntarily emerged in books, movies, TV shows about adolescents. "King Dork" was one of the most enjoyable books I read in 2007, but I also read "Be More Chill," "Looking for Alaska," and "Hacking Harvard," and at least three or four more teen-centric books. The first season of "Friday Night Lights" has me absolutely mesmerized in spite of the fact that I romanticize neither high school football nor towns obsessed with it. "Freaks & Geeks" and "My So-Called Life" are two of the three best single-season television shows ever, both very much about the miseries of high school.

I am one of the millions who worship at the altar of John Hughes, an altar all who worship him can tell you is located in Shermer, (Come On Feel the) Illinois, where Anthony Michael Hall is the Arch-Bishop, Molly Ringwald is the Mother Superior, and James Spader (left) is that Paul Bettany Opus Dei character (right).

Why is this? Why are we so drawn to that which most of us despised experiencing? Why, God -- er, Mr. Hughes -- Why??

"When you grow up, your heart dies," says the true love of my teenage loins, Ally Sheedy, in "The Breakfast Club." While that assertion is insultingly ludicrous, I totally adore the convicted fear behind it.

Most adults have been on so many emotional roller coasters, have experienced so much loss and lust and elation, that we often can manage to keep our emotional lunch down. We don't have to vomit our emotions every time that roller coaster does a loop-de-loop. When we get that Christmas bonus we've been desperately awaiting, we don't jump up and down like some overweight black woman on "The Price is Right." At 30, the dramas we need to escalate our emotions are far weightier than they were at 15. What once took a rip in the favorite jeans or rejection from the potential prom date suddenly requires a trial separation or the death of a friend.

But the fear -- and teenagers really fear this, because every emotion that courses through them is at an elevated threat level -- is powerful and obsessive. If adults fly at Emotional Mach 3, teens are almost always set for a jump into light speed. And jumping regularly.

Our hearts don't die. They just get pickier. Or, as a more cynical feller once said, The child is grown / The dream is gone / but I have become Comfortably Numb.

Working for a living surrounded by teenagers -- or even just reminding ourselves of what they're going through via books or TV shows -- can stave off this numbness. What better example of symbiotic beauty than this, to make a living by helping teens fight their fears of growing up while they help combat the numbness that can fester in our hearts?

4 comments:

John said...

Did you like Be More Chill? My ex-brother in law roomed with the author for awhile in NYC and said he was a good speaker, offering to get him to come to McCallie. Would his book be a good summer reading selection for 9th graders?

Bob said...

Of course, Billy, isn't there a potential problem when the persons we are married to (trying to be inclusive, not Mormon, with this clunky construction)are NOT "working for a living surrounded by teenagers"?

Billy said...

Yo Lambo, just got off the phone with SM, who said "Be More Chill" was first considered then rejected for 9th grade. Yeah, I read that book last May, but I can't even remember all the dozens of women I slept with last May, much less all the books I read.

But I recall it being a little more inappropriate than "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" and "Looking for Alaska," both of which were probably still inappropriate enough to get the parents of 9th graders all in a tizzy.

For our 9th graders, I would recommend "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein. Or "Go Dog! Go!"

Anonymous said...

That Better Than Ezra song is pretty good.