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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Knowing who (and where) your friends are

When people (myself included) talk about my forthcoming book I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE, the focus is usually on the musical aspect of the book (along with the mother and daughter relationship). I really loved writing the rock ‘n’ roll stuff as I’ve said so many times, but what I’ve neglected to mention is how much I enjoyed exploring the friendship of Emily and her best friend Regan. It’s one of my favorite relationships in the book and I hope my readers find it as meaningful as I do and that it reminds them of that really awesome friendship they had growing up (and hopefully still have).

I’ve said it before and I’ll clarify here again, I never draw events directly from my own life for my fiction (I save that for creative essays), but certain things about my real life definitely inspire my fiction. Emily and Regan’s friendship has a lot in common with my relationship with my real life BFF, Katie. Unlike Emily and Regan who knew each other from birth, Katie and I met my sophomore/her freshman year of high school, but she has been one of the most important people in my life ever since. Like Emily and Regan, she and I both had a tough girl fa├žade in our teen years. We had a hard time trusting anyone but each other and sometimes we were so busy acting tough, we couldn’t even share our feelings with each other which led to the occasional “ick” as we liked to call it. This is something Emily and Regan face as well.

Teenage friendship and the concept of “fitting in” interests me immensely and I write about it a lot because it’s something I struggled with all my life. I usually had one or two good friends, but I desperately wanted to be a part of a group of friends, you know, like the gang on 90210 or something. But I was to weird and poorly dressed to fit in with the popular, preppy kids. I didn’t play sports or participate in clubs. In high school, I hung with a group of misfit types who were into punk and indie rock, but I always felt like I was living on the outskirts for some reason or other. I actually graduated high school early because I wanted to get out there and find my place in the world ASAP.

I didn’t find it until I was in my early twenties and I started taking classes in Columbia College Chicago’s Fiction Department (pictured above). I went back to visit my home away from home on the 12th floor of a building on Michigan Avenue yesterday. I took the day off work to attend some events at their fabulous Story Week Festival of Writers. I got up and put on jeans and a T-shirt (ie. “real” me clothes, not the stuffy office garb I usually have to force myself into Mon-Fri), grabbed my backpack (I miss carrying around a back pack. I’m one of those nerds who seriously loved school—for the learning, not so much the socializing, at least until college), and hopped on the L to go downtown. (You can read all about my love for downtown Chicago and the writing events I was looking forward to in my own blog.)

I felt a little weird at first being among students I didn’t recognize, but soon enough I spotted some friends who are either teaching now or still finishing their grad degrees. And honestly, I felt more comfortably at ease with Fiction Writing student strangers than I had many of my “friends” at high school because I knew that we both had the same wide-eyed love for books and writing and nobody was trying too hard to be someone they aren’t. And maybe that’s because it’s not high school anymore. But I like to think it’s because bookish folk are usually not judgmental. They have a wider worldview that they gained from their reading, not to mention, maybe like me, the took so much crap for being nerdy or different, they don’t like to put others down.

I enjoyed informative writing panels, feeling like a student and totally at ease. Then I went over to the building that housed the Fiction Department and I’m such a dork, but when I stepped off the elevator, I breathed deeply to take in that familiar scent, which I can’t really describe to you any better than I can describe the smell of my own home. It’s just familiar, comforting, perfect. Then I walked into the office where I spent 5 years working while in school and I was greeted with shrieks and hugs from my old co-workers and friends. The office looks more professional every year compared to the mismatched, poorly painted place it was when I started working there, but the purple couch is constant. I sat there and talked to my old friends for an hour, even kinda wished I could sit behind the old front desk (even though it was a actually a new desk and Meredith told me that for the first week they had it, no one wanted to sit there and they all edged around it liked nervous dogs). I was so giddy when Nicole showed me that they put my book cover and an article about me in the display case I can't even tell you. I sure as hell wasn't in any display cases at my high school!

So, yeah, that’s my home, my place, my people. I didn’t find them until my mid-twenties, but nowhere else on earth can make me happier because that is the place where I can be 100% truly me. And I guess it makes sense that I feel that way among fellow writers. What about you? If you are a writer, do you feel most at ease around fellow writers? And whether or not you’re a writer, tell me about the place where you feel most at home and the people that make you feel that way.

PS. I just wanna remind everyone that I have a contest running on my website that ends March 31!


Alyson Noel said...

I hated high school too-- I found it oppressive and awful and couldn't wait to get the heck out of there. I also hated the OC (where I grew up)for the same reasons. So right after graduation I took of for London, then traveled around Europe, lived in Mykonos for many years before moving to NYC, and now I'm right back in the OC--writing about high school-- go figure!
Really looking forward to reading your book!

Jenny said...

I think, hands down, even better than seeing my books in a store, is the friendships I've created with other female writers. They're fun, funny, not afraid to laugh at themselves and are always up for a cocktail. I was just in NJ with Megan McCafferty and Alison Pace and I felt like all we did was laugh. When I think of "writers" I usually think of loners who drink coffee and smoke cigarettes while they write and lament the course of life. Thankfully, my writer friends aren't anything like that. They're people I'd hang out with even if I didn't publish another single book, just because they're the best.

As for the high school thing, I didn't mind high school but I always knew it was transitory before heading off for the place that would form the friendships I'd have for the rest of my life - college.

keri mikulski :) said...

What a great day, Stephanie. And to see your cover and article in the display case. Nice!

I know what you mean about not fitting in. The only place I felt like I fit in was on a court, field, or diamond. A regular social outing, I'm all nervous and jittery, but playing sports, it's like I'm an entirely different person - me. :)

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Alyson- I too ended up back in the hometown I despised in high school. Well, I moved to the town next to it now and that makes me feel better about it, but still it's strange to have ended up back here. And yeah, I guess it is paradoxical to have hated high school and write about it too. though so far all my characters hate high school, too!

Jenny, that is exactly how I feel about my writer friends. They are definitely people I will be bonded with for life. And I love that I've had the opportunity to make many more now!

Keri- I admire the zone you get into on the field. I've never been good at team sports, but I do totally get in that zone when I am running or doing pilates or dancing on my own!

Kelly Parra said...

I am soo at home with other writers. Somehow it doesn't make me feel like the odd one out because I like to live in a dream world half the time. Most of the people in my daily life don't get books or about writing them so it's always great when I get the chance to hang with other writers!