March 19, 2010

Adult Condescension

You know when you get a perfect storm of events that point out something in your life? It often pushes you over into epiphany ~ unwillingly, painfully, but a new knowing nonetheless.

Today, for me, those things are: 1) the Kelly Clarkson song “Because of You,” 2) a comment by a teenage relative of mine on Facebook, and 3) starting a new novel.

First, “Because of You” was written by Kelly when she was sixteen and then reworked into a hit. The lyrics say, “Because of you I never stray too far from the sidewalk. Because of you I learned to play on the safe side so I don’t get hurt.” This can be taken two ways. It can mean that the parent or lover is not safe in the relationship, that the protagonist doesn’t know what she’s going to get from that person and therefore never trusts anyone else. Or it can mean that the parent or lover is not a risk taker and conveys the world as a dangerous place. Or it can mean both at the same time. This song really moves me.

Second, a teenage relative of mine put a comment about her mom on her Facebook page that conveyed this same sense and reminded me of my feelings, especially when I was a teenager but continuing on till today. I wrote “I agree” on her page, and then another relative, an older woman and a mother, wrote that old jewel about her mother seeming pretty clueless when she was young but got pretty smart by the time she was in her twenties.

Third, the protagonist of my new novel is a late teens / early twenties woman, as are the protagonists of the other two novels I’ve written. Also many of my short stories.

I read a review of “Because of You” online and it said something like, “While the song taps into a teenage emotion, it’s an immature work,” summarily dismissing the song. Because I identify with the emotions in that song so much, I wanted to shout out in its defense. “How dare you?” I wanted to say. Feeling like you can’t trust someone in a relationship is not simply a teenage emotion, and if you think so, you are pretty out of touch with yourself.

Which was also my reaction to the one relative’s response to the other teenage relative. Though it’s supposed to be comforting I suppose, it sounds so condescending and summarily dismissed what the teenage relative is feeling. I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind all morning.

What does all this say about me? That I’m somehow stuck in my teenage years? That these are the emotions I work through again and again in my fiction? I do know it struck a chord, and I agree with J.K. Rowling when she takes adults to task for belittling kids' concerns and emotions.

What I’m Reading Today: More The Mistress’s Daughter.

PS One of my stories made the final round in a contest! Alas, though, it did not win.


Ken Olsen said...

Well said on many levels, Tamara. That risk aversion, that feeling as if one is not safe, echoes through our lives. And it challenges me as a writer. Risking myself on the page. Meanwhile, another thought-provoking post from you. Thanks for sharing these words.

Tamara said...

Thank you, Ken! Isn't it so much about fear? Sometimes, the reason someone belittles someone else's work as immature or uses their work to show off their own cleverness has to do more with insecurity on their part rather than the merits of the work itself. Yes! Risking yourself on the page is so hard and can make the difference between something that's good and something that's great. And you're even braver than I ~ writing nonfiction / memoir. I'm still hiding behind that whole "fiction" thing. :-)