Triadica and the Intensity of Teenagers
Two videos for you today, Gentle Reader. The first is from Ze Frank, and features Rainn Wilson. The second is from my sister, and features me and my best friend at sixteen:
I can definitely relate to what Rainn Wilson is saying in the first video because, at sixteen, immediately after viewing this 8mm film by my sister for the first time, I was hopelessly embarrassed by it. I had known that my friend and I had been a bit geeky–making up songs about our kingdom in the woods, chanting, inventing elaborate mythologies. But it was a little painful to see it writ so clearly across our living room television.
Now, I just want to give sixteen-year-old Phoebe a big hug. It was a difficult time for her. As alluded to in the video (and then dodged), once my friend and I had had a third best friend–that’s where we got the name “Triadica.” He decided he didn’t want to hang out with us anymore, and while, twelve years later, you have to respect choices such as those, at the time, it hurt so, so much. Was it because we were dorky, weird? And what was to be done about such dorky weirdness? I’m still friends with Nicole, the girl in the video. We went to see Brave together just last week because, eff yeah, girls in forests with bows and arrows. While we’re no longer chanting, while we’ve learned to channel our crazy creativity in more socially acceptable ways like writing and cosplaying and crafts, we’re still pretty strange. We still go for long walks in the woods together and talk about anything and everything.
But at sixteen, I was convinced that I’d never quite figure it out. Funnily enough, though I was a person whose personality and interests were undergoing rapid shifts at the time, I assumed that my problems were perpetual, constant. I couldn’t see beyond what was right in front of me: spring break, the end of the marking period, summer and summer jobs and the boy I had a crush on at that very moment.
Someone asked me recently why I write for teenagers, and this intensity is a lot of it. Some adult readers of YA scoff that the problems of the world often rest on one girl’s shoulders, decided by which of two boys she finally deigns to kiss. For me, such plots feel self-evidently realistic for teen characters. When you’re sixteen, your love choices are the whole wide world. It makes YA a natural fit for science fiction and fantasy, I think–because if you can conquer the problems of your love life, your friends, and school, then you really are conquering the universe. I mean, of course teenagers seem dramatic. But that’s what makes their perspectives unique, interesting, and rich fodder for books.
I’ve been at Readercon for the past few days, and one of the panels yesterday touched on this. It was called “Through a Lens Dystopianly” and featured YA authors Leah Bobet and Alaya Dawn Johnson (whose first YA novel, The Summer Prince, comes out next year–and sounds fantastic). At the conclusion of the panel, the authors touched on this: that perhaps so many YA novels feature teenagers saving themselves and their society from the perils of a crapsack world because we, as adult authors, want to tell teenagers, “It’s okay; you can do this. You are tough and resourceful and smart enough to weather this storm–you will come out of adolescence whole and alive and, in the end, will be surprised by the strength you never knew you had.”
And maybe that’s why I write for teenagers, too. Because watching “Triadica,” that’s exactly what I would tell sixteen-year-old me.