Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ordinary Extraordinary

I remember being disappointed when I learned how to spell extraordinary and realized it was simply extra + ordinary. How was that special? That's like saying someone is super ordinary, or extra normal. Of course I later realized it meant more than ordinary, but I'll never forget my frustration.

In Paranormalcy, one of the major themes is something that I struggled with during my teen years--the desire to be special versus the desire to fit in. It's a strange contradiction. I wanted to be special, for people to recognize that I was different and, dare I say it, extraordinary, but at the same time I didn't want to stick out. I wanted to wear the same things, do the same things, be like everyone else.

Perhaps part of the problem is I knew I never would be. Most of the people in my high school knew me from at least seventh grade (many from elementary school). And, as happens, I had quickly and early been defined by...well, you have three guesses:

A) My stunning GAP and Old Navy fashion sense.
B) My ability to throw rocking parties.
C) My vocabulary, which I learned to edit down far too late.

Yes! You're right! I threw great parties! (Sad story: the one time I invited a bunch of people over to my house, not a single person came. I sat in my room and bawled until two close friends came over and we went and got ice cream. And the next day I got a 33 on my ACT, so TAKE THAT, STUPID TEENAGERS THAT DIDN'T COME OVER.) (Ahem. Umm, I'm not bitter. Promise.)

Okay, so, really I was known for being very, very smart. And for a few other things, such as being very short, and being very outspoken. Senior year I got the "Always has something to say" award, perhaps because of incidents like the time in AP Government and Politics, when, during the middle of class, I was having a discussion with a boy about sexism and racism. He informed me that he didn't think they were actual problems, at which point I may or may not have shouted, "WHITE MALE, you have no perspective!"

In the middle of class.

Good thing the teacher liked me.

However, my outspokenness and confidence masked insecurity, deep loneliness, and my struggles with depression. While I loved the things about me that set me apart, I hated that I was different.

I don't think my experience is unique. The teenage years are a quest for self-definition, with all of the accompanying tumult and emotional struggles. Fortunately, now that I am several years removed from teenagerhood, I can remember those feelings and all of the joy and heartbreak. And write them!

Paranormalcy is about a one-of-a-kind girl longing to be normal. However, as we all no doubt found out, there's really no such thing as ordinary, is there? And that is extraordinary.

24 comments:

beth said...

Ummm.....were you me in high school?

For my sixteenth birthday party, I invited my five friends to my house...and none of them showed. NONE OF THEM SHOWED. For my SIXTEENTH BIRTHDAY PARTY.

Ugh.

You book sounds amazing to me!

Natalie said...

I really should have been less shy and tried to be your friend back then, hehe.

I kind of had the opposite problem. I was totally fine being different and, um, really weird—I just didn't get why other people didn't like me!

I'd say to my mom, "I'm cool! Why doesn't anyone want to be my friend?" It never occurred to me that I should change myself to make friends, so I just ended up a freakishly secure loner...weird.

Looking back, I think people were terrified by me because I was fine with myself when few others were.

Of course, if we were bffs then, we probably would have avoided a lot of problems and thereby would have less to write about. So I guess it works out.

Kiersten said...

Beth--I think lots of teens have those same struggles! And thanks ; ) Hopefully editors thing it sounds great, too!

Natalie--It all works out in the end, right? Plus you were scared of me. Which I still find both hilarious and humiliating.

Whirlochre said...

Being a teenager is so weird (not that I'm speaking as one, of course). You have a sense of wanting to belong somewhere and an inkling that it might actually be up to you, all allied to a lack of clue as to where it might be, and, of course, zits.

I'm surprised I ever made it through, quite frankly, and I'm sure if I ever dip my bunions in the YA genrepool, like you, I'd have plenty to go on.

Adolescence is a nightmare — especially when there's a party.

Natalie said...

You have to remember I was scared of pretty much everyone, and still kind of am. Like, uh, I'm scared of Stephanie and she's probably one of the least threatening people out there.

Maybe I just can't help thinking everyone might a be ninja waiting to pounce...

Renee Collins said...

Ah, how well you've encapsulated that feeling that I think many of us felt in High School. We wanted our talents and unique personalities to set us apart from the sheep-like popular kids, but at the same time we wanted them all to like us and include us.

*sigh* Oh High School. What a place.

btw, your story about your party broke my heart! You should put that in a story.

JaneyV said...

Looking back at my teens - thank goodness - is like remembering someone else's life. They main problem of course being that I was trying to be someone other than myself. Looking outside of myself for acceptance and acting like a chameleon depending on the situation meant that I had very little sense of my own identity at that time. When I was 12 I totally knew me, I was happy, confident and had amazing drive. Where the sudden need to be everyone else's version of me came from, I don't know, bit for a while there I was one messed up cookie.

Sarah Laurenson said...

"WHITE MALE, you have no perspective!"
This is awesome!

I know what you mean. The girls in my neighborhood formed a gang and I was not interested in joining them. Wound up creating a gang of outcasts. That was Jr. High.

Carrie Harris said...

I need a time machine. High school me and high school you would have really gotten along.

Anthony said...

I am the odd duck, it seems. I had a good time in high school past my freshman year.

I did some boneheaded things, but I always thought there is a thin red line between self-reflection and self-loathing.

It is interesting to look backwards at the mistakes we made, but conflict causes learning. Somethings just suck because they suck. On the other hand, if we aren't making mistakes, we aren't learning anything.

Lindsey Bench said...

Ah, yes, so grateful those years are over. And funny how I love to read about them in your books.

heidikins said...

I remember that conversation, and about 6 dozen other ones with similar outbursts. :o) Good Times with AP Gov't/Pol.

And, for the record, I have always thought you were super, extra, always above ordinary.

xox

H-Duck said...

Why wasn't I invited to some of these rocking parties? Anyway,I thought your vocabulary was cool. Sometimes I was jealous of the ease with which you threw around some pretty awesome words, not to mention phrases. That is too bad that you felt so insecure and depressed and stuff. . . Sorry I didn't help you out more. You hid it well.

H-Duck said...

I'm a bit worried that you might not get the right tone from the first part of my last message due to all the lacking body language and facial expressions and stuff. So I'm trying to explain. So yeah, I'm hoping you don't take it badly. I was trying to write something lighter and more joking at the start to balance the serious stuff at the end. But now I question if I did that successfully and worry things might just have come off wrong. Hopefully my explanation here helps.

Kiersten said...

I'm enjoying all of these comments, guys. I think this is why YA crosses age boundaries so well--we may not still be teenagers, but we haven't forgotten what it felt like!

And H-Duck, no worries, we both know I never had any parties ; ) And no worries, I was very, very good at hiding things in high school...

lotusgirl said...

We definitely all remember what it was like. Great score on your ACTs btw!

the Lola Letters said...

Can I just say how flipping hapy I am to read this entry and know that you are writing (and have written) YA novels?

Pretty flipping happy.

Happy indeed.

sraasch said...

If you don't use that "WHITE MALE" line in a book, I will cry. That is too funny to ignore.

Megs said...

I felt along the lines of H-duck as I read this. What a great bff I must have been to not notice any of this. Sheesh. At the same time, I felt the same way. You capture those feelings so well; and now that I'm back in high school (uh, teaching, not re-taking...) I notice it so much more in these kids. Crazy how it sticks with you, eh?

Mariah Irvin said...

I think I would earn the same award if my school gave it. Maybe I could inspire them...

Ashley said...

Sorry about the party thing. I don't remember that. I hope I wasn't one of the ones invited that didn't show up. You did really hide things well. I always wanted to be as smart and secure as you!

Kristy Colley said...

Thanks for this, I really enjoyed it.
I'm a little pukey-jealous over the ACT score.

Spinch said...

I may or may not be laughing like I'm on Nitrous Oxide (forgive me, I'm dealing with dentists right now) about the "White Male" outburst. I forgot about that one!

Kiersten said...

Ash--I was very good at hiding ; )

Spin--Ha, yeah, I was entertaining in high school.