Plus, Thoughts on Eighth Grade
ME: Did I tell you about the dream I had last night?
ANNA (Who knows I typically only have really, really boring dreams): No, you didn’t.
ME: OK. So you know how I’ve been looking up and watching a lot of British shows lately? As research for the Fake BBC Show thing?
ANNA (Probably thinking back to the time she asked me if she could count Mr. Bean’s Holiday as her favorite action movie): Yeah…
ME: Well, I think it got to me. I had a dream that was kind of a mash-up of a bunch of them. It was kind of like Hitchhiker’s Guide meets Red Dwarf, and it wasn’t a British show, but there were all these British actors there — like, Robert Webb from Peep Show was in it? And maybe Alice Lowe from Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace? There was also this pretty half-alien woman with pink hair — like one of those classic rubber-face-prosthetic aliens from old sci-fi shows, you know?
ANNA (Who doesn’t know, and who got the Hitchhiker’s reference but probably not the rest of them): OK…
ME: Anyway, in my dream I was watching this show, and it was about all these humans — mostly women, actually — who’d gotten sucked into a time warp, way, way into the future, and they were stowing away on a spaceship. But they started asking questions about the future, about space travel and such, but then it got it weird.
ANNA: Weird how?
ME: This is embarrassing. Like, they started asking question about reproduction, if it was still the same. And it mostly was, but then one of the women asked about periods, and the pink-haired alien lady said “Yes, but now they’re scheduled to happen between one and three o’clock PM.”
ANNA (Not embarrassed at all): Ha! That sounds great! Just be like, “Hmm, I guess I could pencil that in…”
ME: Yeah, but then one of the other women onboard said, “Wait, one to three PM? What time is it now?”
ME: And the pink-haired lady said, “How should I know? We’re in SPACE!”
ME: Then there was a huge studio audience laugh, and then I woke up.
ANNA (Still laughing): Wow. Why are your dreams funnier than you are?
I saw Eighth Grade the other night with Anna and my friend Ariana. I thought it was very good: a sweet, heartfelt movie about a teenage girl. I’d heard how true to life it was, how it got the pubescent girl experience just right (which was unusual, because it was written and directed by a man, and it can be tricky to write outside your own experience.) But it didn’t really feel like my experience.
About halfway through, I realized why: Kayla, the main character, was quiet. She was shy. I was never those things. When I was thirteen, I was angry, I was loud, I was desperately trying to get people to think I was funny. Taking up space and making noise was how I covered up my own doubts and anxiety. And it still is, though mercifully, to a lesser extent.
It made me think back to My Mad Fat Diary, both the book and the show, and I why I love them so much. In both, the main character Rae Earl is loud, angry, and a complete smart-ass. She is frustrated with being obese and the cruelty from others it brings, and she’s dealing with severe anxiety and depression. She wants to be seen as beautiful, demure, and feminine, but that just doesn’t ever seem possible. When she meets boys who seem to like her as she is, she can’t believe it.
I brought this up with Anna and Ariana after the movie. Anna obviously knew me as a teenager, but so did Ariana, whom I’ve known her since I dated her brother in preschool. They both liked the movie, and Anna especially related to it.
“You know, I don’t want to pit two of the only good recent movies about teenage girls against each other,” I said, “But I felt Lady Bird spoke to me more.”
“Right,” said Ariana, “Because she was a theater kid!”
She may be right. At some point I’m going to have to write a longer piece here about what makes a theater kid a theater kid, and why everybody hates us. In the meantime, I guess I’ll just say yes, I know, we are the personification of unrestrained emotion and overcompensation. We’re loud, and we’re needy. We take up space.
“Kayla was a band kid,” Ariana went on. “Do you remember what the band kids were like?”
“They were either really quiet and shy, or they were having a lot of sex with each other,” I said.
“Exactly,” said Ariana. Not that Kayla has a lot of sex, or any sex at all, but her relationship to sex is one of status, a way to prove herself. Maybe it was that for some of the band kids we knew. I always thought they were simply a lot more liberated than the rest of us. But nothing is ever simple for teenagers, is it?
I still would recommend the movie, because it’s good. Also because, — and this is something I think is very important, and something a lot of us forget — not everything is for me. Not every work of art needs to be something that relates to me, personally. Or any one person, or even a group of people. You can often get more out of work that doesn’t speak specifically to you. Besides, there needs to be more art out there that’s true to the teenage experience for all kinds of teenagers. Shy kids, loud kids, theater kids, band kids, sports kids, choir kids, girls, boys, those who don’t fit into any of those categories.
Still, I’m selfish. I want to see some more loud, angry, yet deeply insecure, teenage girl characters out there. Maybe I just need to write them.
Stuff I did recently: I had a great time talking about bad malt liquor drinks, Magnolia Park, and the stuff Marina Shifrin and I didn’t want our dads to read in our books on Jordan, Jesse, Go! I also talked about Allison Mack and this very substack on Conversations with Maria Menounos!
Fake BBC Show Title of the Week: We Are The Village Green Defenestration Society