Léna is also a Regional Manager for Writopia Lab whose mission is to foster joy, literacy, and critical thinking in kids and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing.

"Well, the question is, what do you want to believe? Do you want to live in a world where things are possible, or in one where they aren't?" Cin, Edges.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My Teen Self, Aspirations, and Madeleine L'Engle

I'm supposed to be thinking about the Empire State Book Festival and the future of BOOKS - with a look to the past at the Gala where literary lions (including my grandmother) will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. I'm supposed to be thinking about the very short acceptance speech I will give in Madeleine L'Engle's honor.

Instead, I'm wondering what I'm thinking here in this pic from 25 years ago, at the end of the summer I turned 18 before I started college uptown at Barnard. Is that a bow in my very short, but sprayed high hair? This certainly isn't punk Léna from high school, although I'm sure I am sporting combat boots on my feet. I am struck by the long fingers on my hands - the ancestral imprint from my great grandmother that my sister and I share. I am wearing a vintage dress with a sweater, so it must have been 4AM somewhere, after the club was closing down and the air conditioning was blasting, along with the house music, so those of us who worked there could get a little dancing in before going out to breakfast, or heading further downtown to dance at The Paradise Garage.

Where was there? The Palladium, summer of 1986. (Where I had my date with JBJ in December of '85) My summer job fresh out of high school was as a bathroom attendant at the Palladium. I started out downstairs, but worked my way up to the VIP room, (Mark Todd?) where I could shmooze and party with celebrities. Oh, so glamorous.

When you graduate from high school, the pervasive question on everybody's lips is: What do you want to be when you grow up?

My answer? A cool old grandma with lots of stories to tell.

Did I aspire to be anything else other than fully alive?

I was having a ball. I had broken up with a domineering boyfriend and was dating a cross section of gay men, and then men who were way-too-old-for-me. I didn't have any homework or the pressure of high school and my strange social life. I was making new, freaky friends. I was making some mad money in tips and had not had any adult supervision for almost a year (I lived by myself at the YWCA downtown for my senior year of high school.) AND the next four years of my life was set out for me. I was going to BARNARD. Dang!

Our minds flit from topic to topic, and my job as a writer is to make connections between the things I think about. Sometimes I hit it, and sometimes I don't. What is my psyche trying to tell me about my grandmother, my 18 year-old-self and my own career? I never aspired to be a writer like my Gran, although I always aspired to be a cool old lady with lots of stories to tell.  That summer I also aspired to be a singer/poet like Patti Smith, a performance artist like Karen Finley, an actress like Lauren Bacall, a torch singer like Julie London. Yet I am none of these things either.

But I am a cool older lady (A mom!) with lots of stories to tell. (My teen self would be proud of me!) And I am a writer. (My teen self wouldn't be THAT shocked.) All of these women, especially my grandmother, share a discipline and passion in pursuing their creative dreams. They have all danced close to the edge and found their own vibrancy.

The "speech" is still marinating as I connect more dots together through my mind. I will write something on Friday morning, before we drive to Albany. I will trust that the right words will find me . . . and of course there's a good chance that I won't be called upon to say anything at all. But it's always good to be prepared - then I can be free and relax!

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  1. Some day I want to hear the story of how you ended up unchaperoned for a year your senior year of high school. That is the second time I've read that and my curiosity is peaked!

  2. Yeah - it was kind of crazy! That's probably one of the reasons I was so obsessed with Luke's story!

  3. :) Will you post a copy on the blog for those of us who will only be there in spirit? Have you read 'East' by Edith Pattou or 'Ice' by Beth Durst? They have awesome bears in them. Hugs.

  4. Yes! I will post for you guys! I haven't read either of those . . . yet! I will put on TBR list. Of course there's also Phillip Pullman's Iorek from His Dark Materials too! Love bears!

  5. I just wanted to say I really enjoyed this post. It's always interesting to take stock of teen aspirations and compare them to where you are in the moment!

    Good luck with the speech!

  6. You look like fabulous trouble in that picture....

  7. Thanks popscribblings! It's a trip!

    And Hope, you called it!

  8. Met you on Twitter t'other day, Lena. @prnancarrow. Nice entry. I'm 54, and still asking what I want to be when I grow up. Other people have stopped though.

  9. Thank you for saying hello, both on Twitter and here! We're never really grown up, are we?

  10. LMAO on the "gay men" and "men who are way too old for me." This is so my high school / early college experience....

    I think this is the sort of thing creative girls naturally get themselves into... ~Jenny /StarTiger on Twitter

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