Monday, June 04, 2012

I'm a Dirty Knuckled Sycophant

Reverb Broads Prompts for June 3 and 4, 2012

Who are your role models?

What did people tease you about growing up?

Joe and I traveled up to Omaha for the weekend. And instead of packing the time full of friends and family and the constant activity and socializing we usually pack into two days, we had a slower pace. Spending most of the two days just being with family, being outside and being together. I didn't do much writing, because I didn't feel like it. I felt like riding around in a convertible and getting sunburned and gossiping with my mother-in-law and talking about the Appalachian trail with my father-in-law and sleeping in and eating cupcakes and reading time travel romance novels. So I'm combining a couple of prompts. But I had no idea how easy that would be to do until we got home Sunday night.

Peeking out of our mailbox, as we pulled into our driveway, was a small brown box, and the minute Joe saw it he said, "Hey, I know what that is." And I suddenly remembered too. We got an email from Amazon UK on Thursday that our copy of Rainbow Rowell's latest novel, Eleanor and Park, (which sadly isn't available here in the States until next year,) was finally hitting the mail after an eight week delay. We both smiled broadly and promptly argued over who got to read it first. I won.

In case you haven't had the pleasure of reading any of Rainbow's writing, stop and do these two things: first, go buy her book Attachments, reviewed over here, it's sweet and very funny and full of characters you wish lived next door and populated with those perfect phrases that you have to underline immediately even if it's a library book, and second, go over to the Omaha World Herald website and start catching up on Rainbow's column. Yes, you're welcome.

So there's the role model question answered: Rainbow Rowell is one of my role models. She's the first author that I can completely relate to. She is close to my age. She's from the Midwest. She looks and sounds like a real person. (I've had the pleasure of hanging out with her once in real life and plenty of amusing social media interactions and she went to high school with my husband) and she's a spectacular writer, and published and successful and lovely and friendly as all get out. She doesn't fit with my version of a published writer, because I have those people up on a pedestal, far away from me as I sit over here alone on the couch holding hands with my embarrassing lack of confidence. Rainbow makes me think that if I get out of my own way and commit myself, I could become a published author too, or at the very least a writer who can be proud of what she's created. Rainbow works hard. She has a clarity and honesty to her writing that I admire. Her writing, even when dealing with a serious topic, always finds the humor. She's working on her third novel, writing freelance, writing for the newspaper, married and raising two sons. If she can find the time and inspiration and energy and tenacity to write, then so can I, if I really want it. So thanks for the inspiration, Rainbow. I promise I will not start stalking you at your books signings and asking for autographs on embarrassing body parts.

So I started Eleanor and Park last night and raced through the first 150 pages like I was being chased by a serial killer. Speeding and plunging through it. It is very different from Attachments, but it captures the cruelty and uncertainty of high school and the emotions and anticipation of falling in love for the first time. Rainbow writes it with such honesty that you'll laugh out loud, and then with an almost sparse directness that it hurts your heart to read it. Unless, I suppose, you were a very popular, mean girl cheerleader. And if that's you, then I'm pretty sure you aren't here reading this blog in the first place.

This book brought back a flood of memories for me, good and bad. The main character, Eleanor, is a big, chubby redhead who doesn't fit in at her new high school and couldn't blend into the crowd even if she wanted to. She gets teased and tormented. And while I was never teased or tormented to the degree that she was, as I read last night I immediately remembered sitting in Home Ec class in 6th grade, getting paired to work with these two shitty little jerks who proceeded to torment my friend Christy and me for the entire hour, every day, for the entire semester. It started with hiding our kitchen tools, or ruining our part of the cooking assignment, and over the weeks it escalated to spitting at us, staring at our chests while pointing and laughing, and creative name calling. Somehow I became "Dirty Knuckles."

You'd think it would have been something about being 5' 10" in 6th grade, or having developed breasts early or the fact that I tried to hide them under a hideous baggy t-shirt decorated with architectural renderings of Monticello that my grandparents bought me on their vacation, but no. Evidently my knuckles are slightly tanner than my pale hands, so I became "Dirty Knuckles." It seemed ridiculous and just lame and that almost bothered me more than the nickname. That was the best they could come up with? Really? I kept saying to them, "What are you talking about? That doesn't even make any sense." But it worked, because I found myself staring at my knuckles that night at home. Sitting there hating my stupid hands and wondering how in the world this was something to be made fun of for and what was I even supposed to do about it. I remember getting to the point where Christy and I simply didn't even acknowledge those little douches in class and that almost made it worse. It drove them to find new ways to get under our skin.

No, it wasn't flirting. It wasn't cute. It was two little bullies, in a world full of bullies, who were much shorter than me, and very skilled at finding any little difference or weakness that they could expose and then denigrate to make themselves feel cooler or bigger or smarter, by trying to tear us down. But they failed. These two shitty little jerks were very popular, cute, and relentless. And I let them get in my head that semester. But I never let anyone else do that to me again. They taught me a lesson. I hated the way I felt, crying or staring at my perfectly fine hands and feeling less than, feeling wrong, feeling ugly, feeling embarrassed, when I had nothing to be embarrassed about. That feeling was the worst. That I'd done something wrong by letting their opinions matter at all. But I figured out how to fight back.  I honed my wit and my humor into a sort of weapon and I learned to protect myself.  I spoke up. Slowly. Really slowly, but I figured it out. So that I didn't have to feel like that again. And  eventually I could get people to laugh at them instead.

1 comment:

bethany actually said...

That is perhaps the most perfect description of Eleanor & Park that I've read yet.