Nova Ren Sum’s 17 & GONE comes out today so you should totally go buy it (like I am tonight!). In honor of the book about a girl who is haunted by ghosts, Nova asked Twitterverse, other writers, etc, what haunted THEM at 17. She’s got some amazing posts up at her blog you should go read. After reading Libba Bray and Malinda Lo‘s posts in particular, I decided to jump into the fray.
At seventeen, I was haunted by desire. Not only desire to be loved and touched and wanted, but desire to make a name for myself, to be wild, to be known. I was desperately afraid of not being known.
At seventeen, I walked out of a classroom for the first time. It was AP Biology and we usually got time to finish our take home tests at the beginning of class, time that I usually used. One day our teacher decided to collect them at the beginning of the class. Mine wasn’t done and faced with the realization that I would have to hand it in and take a failing grade, I lost it. I threw a tantrum complete with tears and stormed out. I sat in the girls’ bathroom on the first floor of my school, underneath a sink with my back against the wall. I watched a girl reapplying her lipstick and another girl do cocaine off a toilet seat. I hadn’t brought my backpack with me (the first sign that that was the first time I stormed out of a class) so when the bell rang, I had to return to AP Bio to collect my stuff. The teacher held me after class and said, “Katie, you’re like a rollercoaster. You go up and down so fast.”
What was I supposed to say? He was right. I did go up and down incredibly fast, even for a teenager. That happens when you don’t eat. Your mood swings are extreme and wild. You are unable to cling to any middle ground. Your blood sugar rises and plummets, just like your blood pressure. Your heart beats erratically in your chest, echoing your own grasp on reality and your life.
At seventeen, I wanted desperately to be impulsive and wild. I also still desperately wanted to make everyone happy, get straight A’s, get my Crush for most of HS to like me (he didn’t. He hated me and went out of his way to make my life miserable). Being wild, crazy, impulsive, and loved by parents and teachers were not things that could all happen at the same time. This tortured me. I wanted it so badly, and I hadn’t learned yet that you can want something with every aching inch of your body and still never attain it.
I was obsessed with the death, but not in the way that I wanted it. I sat in classes and imagined what would happen if a shooter came into the cafeteria or the library. I wanted to know if I would be brave, and if bravery meant stopping the shooter or saving others or saving myself. I daydreamed and wrote stories about people coming into my math class and pointing me out as Someone Very Important, and all of my classmates being surprised. I wanted to be special. I wanted to be Known.
I think that still drives some of what I write. Not that I want to be known, but that my characters frequently feel obscure and overshadowed in their life. External events bring them into the spotlight.
And I don’t think I’ll ever stop being haunted by my often conflicting desires: to be known, but not to the center of attention, to be seen but invisible, to be loved in a way that I find safe and acceptable.
“What should I do about the wild and the tame? The wild heart that wants to be free, and the tame heart that wants to come home. I want to be held. I don’t want you to come too close. I want you to scoop me up and bring me home at nights. I don’t want to tell you where I am. I want to keep a place among the rocks where no one can find me. I want to be with you.” –Jeanette Winterson, LIGHTHOUSEKEEPING