Being a Teenage Girl in 2015
My cousin is in town from out-of-state, visiting. She explodes with energy. She’s a gymnast, and when she puts her shoes on, she does it like a dancer. There’s something Anna Pavlova about her, Misty Copeland. Margot Fonteyn. She tells me she wants to kill herself; she says it laughing, with each word decorated with giggles so that it feels like she’s not being serious, or maybe she is. We’re sitting on a bench, and above us in the restaurant is what looks like a massive license plate disco ball sombrero.
She says all the girls in her school want to kill themselves.
I say, “Really?”
She nods yes, her head loose, the elasticity of young tendons, as if she could flop like a Muppet out of the restaurant.
I’m mid-forties. I have an EMT’s back problems. My knees were given to the military. I sit motionless like a monk. I have the outward appearance of Thich Nhát Hanh in a Mellow Mushroom waiting area.
She says the boys all want her to send nudies, that you do it and then they forward them throughout the school and then the girls kill themselves. She says that half of the girls in her school have been to counseling, that it’s brutal to live now, that the worst thing to be is a young girl in this day and age.
She shows me photo after photo after photo of these boys with their static hair and model poses and hogwash eyes. Her phone seems filled with pictures, as if it is only meant to be a scrapbook and never used for talking. Her conversation is all Vines and Youtube and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat.
I think of Facebook. It’s like high school, painfully, has never left. I post things and pray for a like, for a share. I’m not popular on Facebook. I’m not someone who gets off on putting up offensive one-sided political comments, fishing for replies. The Internet scares the hell out of me. I think of all the different Internet-related headlines I’ve seen: “Texas teen tweets herself out of pizzeria job,” “10 People Who Lost Jobs Over Social Media Mistakes,” “13 People Who Got Fired For Their Tweets,” “Veterans Arrested for Anti-Obama Facebook Posts,” “Woman Arrested For Posting Selfie With Gun on Facebook,” “Bus driver loses job after Facebook post about student,” . . .
I have old acquaintances from my bygone standup comedy days that are still comedians. Some are famous now, some relatively famous, some not famous at all. They post things like “Leprosy cases spike in Florida—God found Florida” and “choosey moms choose Jiff. also moms that are in a huge rush and are like, ‘fuck it, let’s get Jiff’” and “I see-- @Middleditch you can’t imagine that I have a solarium and a skylight in my FUCKING SHOE CLOSET! #yogibear3D #bitch.”
I’m not even sure what they’re talking about half the time. I just wonder what it’s like to have that much freedom, to be Kumail Nanjiani or Pete Holmes or T.J. Miller and just not care anymore because you have a net worth of four million dollars according to celebritynetworth.com.
I have friends who are rappers. It’s the same. They post whatever the hell they want – monstrous marijuana leaf photos and ballsy anti-cop rhetoric, e.g. Jus Rhyme’s post this week of a detailed U.S. map of shootings with the headline of “By the numbers: US police kill more in days than other countries do in years.” Even though, ‘by the numbers,’ most of these hip-hop friends are still thousandaires and hundredaires, they seem to be bravely living the lives of free speech.
There’s a freedom in being a millionaire and a freedom in being poor. Or maybe even poverty-identified. I don't know.
I worry that my fear and my praying for work throws me in a lower middle-class category that seems to be one of subaltern.
I have an ex-girlfriend who has disappeared from social media. She got married, changed her name, and with her name change she’s off the grid. Sometimes I wish I could do that. Simultaneously, I’d love to be a DJ comedian who can post f-word rants and just not care, and I’d love to be an ultra-conservative Jesus worshipper who fades away into the woods of Utah. Because this middle ground feels like I’m being stalked by advertising. There have been times I’ve written private emails and the next thing I know I’m getting a Youtube ad specifically about what was in my email. It’s like what Orwell got wrong is that Big Brother would be controlled by the advertising industry.
I write short stories and poems and non-fiction and it gets read for the wrong reasons. I publish a poem and post it on Facebook and get ads generated to me about self-publishing. No one reads my poems. And if they do, it’s to ask me if I’m writing about them in the second stanza. There’s no literary feedback. It’s all biographical paranoia. I crave the 1960s and 70s, when the intelligentsia read lit magazines and you could be honest and not care because it was such a small controlled readership. Try being Charles Bukowski now and get hired at the post office.
I’d write about the secrets of the company I worked for in China, but I signed paperwork saying I can’t do that.
I’d write about working in cryptology in the U.S. Navy, but I signed paperwork saying I can’t do that.
I’d write about what it’s like to work in the panopticon of Busch Gardens, but I signed paperwork saying I can’t do that.
I’d tell you about my ex-girlfriend, but she told me she doesn’t want me to write about her.
The beautiful thing about tenure and wealth is that you can just create and let the lawyers sort it out. The awful thing about tenure and wealth is that so many of those writers seem to write about writing, about wealthy white writers writing.
I’m seeing a lot of safe, cookie-cutter fiction out there and stories filled with vampires and zombies. I think it’s because vampires and zombies can’t sue.
There are so many ways not to be heard now, or to be heard in the wrong way, or not be part of a social group that gives your voice any validity, or to have your words and likeness twisted into different meaning, or to have Andy Warhol’s nouveau fifteen minutes of humiliation that seems guaranteed to everyone at this point. Mine was having old standup comedy posted on Youtube. The results were nearly suicidal to my job at the time.
But maybe it’s about not caring in 2015. You send someone a nude pic and it gets shoved all over the world. Screw it. It’s your body. You’re hot. Who cares? Part of post-modernism is pornography. Someone posts a video of you falling into a pond. You look like an idiot. Who cares? We’re all idiots. Part of post-modernism is stupidity. Embrace your naked imbecility and move on.
I don’t know.
I’m scared writing this, and at the same time I don’t give a fuck writing this.
Part of me wants to be a rapper and comedian, wants to just say anything I want, wants to have the explosive energy of my teenage cousin, wants to bundle up the suicidal thought of the excommunicated and throw it out the window, because, fuck it, at least you communicated in the first place. Take the suicidal moment and defenestrate it. You can do and be anything in this world. Including, briefly, a complete idiot – even if it’s captured for eternity.
On the car ride, my cousin and I make up Christian lyrics to horrible repetitive corny secular pop music songs. She dances like an epileptic. I sing so off-key that my throat hurts. She takes phone video footage of this, the rain outside falling like Armageddon.
Ron Riekki's books include U.P.: a novel, The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula New Works (2014 Michigan Notable Book), and Here: Women Writing on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. His play “Carol” was in The Best Ten-Minute Plays 2012, "The First Real Halloween" was best sci-fi/fantasy screenplay for the 2014 International Family Film Festival, and "The Family Jewel" was selected by Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Olen Butler for The Best Small Fictions of 2015.
Lauren Kolesinskas is a Pratt Institute graduate living in Brooklyn. Brush and ink is her perpetual jam, though she works in a variety of mediums. She enjoys drawing lots of things, some of them mutated, and has worked on a wide range of projects, such as graphic novels, album covers, story-board/concept art, set decoration, and editorial illustration. Past clients include Pfizer, Fox Studios, and Jenkem Magazine, among others. View her work at laurenkolesinskas.com.