Nostalgia, Young Writers, Experience, and Toy Story 3
For the last six months I've been in this fragile place where I cry easily. It happened when my baby turned 5. It's not that I don't want my kids to grow up, I like toddlers better than babies, and small children better than toddlers. I don't think I'll even mind them being teens, though my daughter (I fear) is going to be a frightening teen. It's just that everything goes by so fast. Their babyhood is a blur. Their toddlerhood is a memory. I fear their childhood will be the same. Then I'll be like Andy's mom in Toy Story 3, boxing up their childhood.
I'm afraid to watch the videos of them as children, because I'm afraid I'll be more upset by what I missed than what I captured.
Warning. This post is going to make me look old and sappy, and not at all like a person who writes teen girls in first person present tense!
Okay, so back to Toy Story. I always thought of Toy Story as a sort of revamped, shiny, and hilarious version of The Velveteen Rabbit. And this last installment cinched that impression. It's a series of stories about love, and imagination, and childhood, and how quickly the childhood part goes by...
I am in a place in my life where I am perplexed and a little bit sad about where all the time has gone. College...the first years with Lee, the first years with the kids...how can I be someone who has driven a car more than half my life? A person who can look back on this much history.
I know I'm not the person I was at 20, but I don't feel that much more. I don't feel layered. How does that even feel? Like wearing the sweater vest of motherhood over my oxford shirt of adulthood?
This is the part where I get to young writers. I work with young writers all the time. I haven't been lucky enough to have any in my creative writing class who were at a point where their work felt publishable, but I've worked with several who were almost there. And yes, some of that was a lack of time refining the craft. And some students can have a lack of depth. a certain shallowness to their work. But I imagine that's the case for everyone.
There was a time in my mid-twenties when I might have felt a little bit jealous of those who published earlier than me. Now, in my mid-thirties, I'm so far past that. I'm happy that there are young authors, it just gives my students someone to look up to. How depressing would it be to be writing at 15 and think it might take you twice your life to get to a point of being publishable, you know? Young authors are an inspiration. I remember the first time I read something by Hannah Moskowitz, I think she was like 14 at the time (okay, 15? but she wrote it at 14 probably) and it was AMAZING. Anyway, young authors can obviously write. (Hannah has so many book deals now, it's insane).
So what is it we question in young authors. Maturity? Experience? Depth?
Here's the thing that's been bothering me. I don't know to what extent I've gained any of those things. Certainly I've lived more, been a few more places, talked to more people, read more books. But how much has that changed me? I don't know, I can't feel it. The changes have come incrementally.
And all of this seems to prove to me, that age has given me something. But it isn't something tangible. And wisdom is something we all fake.
I've heard certain criticism and skepticism of young writers over the years, and I question that. Writing requires practice, and revision (more so for some of us than for others). It requires reading and thinking about the writing in what you read (again, more so for some of us than others). And it requires a certain depth that may not necessarily come from the years, more the basic wisdom/perceptiveness of the writer.
All of this brings me back to Toy Story 3. When I watch it, I empathize with Andy's mom, amazed that the time has gone by so fast. I cry, seeing the pictures of Andy from Toy Story I, playing happily with the toys, when now he's past that. I cried a lot. I took my little brother to see Toy Story and Toy Story II. He starts college in the fall. Watching him graduate, it made me feel so sad for all the times when I made him stand on tippytoes so that we could get him onto a rollercoaster. If his shoes were too flat I had to spike his hair up a little. That little boy is grown up, and my Ezra will follow him rapidly. He's going to be in second grade next year, and that's practically high school...All of which is the wrong perspective for a YA writer to take, but I guess I'm more than a YA writer. I only get into my teenage voice and mode occasionally these days. But when I do, I think I do an okay job!
So, what is age? I am different, but I am still me. I've changed, but only in ways that I can change. When I write I won't know more about being a teen than a teen writer, and maybe I'll know more about writing and more about life than some writers, than some people, but I will also know less than many people, regardless of their ages.
Check in 20 years from now. Perhaps by then I will have achieved wisdom, or somemthing. (if nothing else, maybe I'll be able to spell something! oops!)