a love letter to how people my age say things

Hey, friends. This book, Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date by Katie Heaney, is pretty great. It is my memoir, except I didn’t write it, which is weird. And also it is not at all like my life, but it totally is, too.

It’s like this. Katie Heaney is my age (in this book; actually, I think she’s about a year and a half older than I am) and has never dated someone. She, like me, has yet to understand how it is that two humans come to an understanding that they are going to publicly acknowledge that they hang out with each other. And accept the other person, more or less, how they are. So this is her life story, punctuated by crushes and almost-kisses and situations which totally should have made a right turn into boyfriendlandia but didn’t, all of which I am also painfully familiar with. (I should be fair and say that Heaney and I have had very different ways around this noboyfriendness when it comes to sexytimes, and also there was a four-month period in which I did have one, this one time, but it was very much out of our friends all dating each other, so it just made sense, and also, clearly it’s not one of those situations where having done it once changes your pheromones so you can become a member of the club – I am still not a member of the club of People Who Know How To Get Significant Others.)

The book is, as you would guess, funny and poignant, observant and self-centered, universal and totally race- and class-specific. It is obviously and necessarily hetero, and not in a bad way. (It just is, because this would be an entirely different cultural conversation if she were queer.) I mostly say that race part to make myself feel better because I think the ways my life has been the same as hers are also very different, because being the minority girl standing out and all of the stereotypes and sexualizing and otherizing that come with that are just going to be different, though since neither of us can live the other’s experience, I can’t really say how. Also, though I have not done enough living to know the details, I’m guessing that the class Heaney and I come from give us a totally different story than a girl from a lower socioeconomic bracket would have. But I digress.

Mostly, you can read any description of the book on Amazon or Goodreads and know right away if you want to read it. You should want to read it. I’m not going to give you a summary now.

What makes me most excited about this book is how it speaks to what my generation is and will be as writers. (By the way, I do not and have not watched Girls, and it seems like that’s an important thing to point out as I move forward.) Especially non-fiction writers, though I’d like to see it trickle down into fiction and poetry as well, and I have no doubt that it will.

So, the way we use technology has changed language. Shocking, I know. Because Internet. Right? And language is interesting, and whether you like technology or not, you have to acknowledge that it has done stuff to the way we express ourselves. Because gifs. I mean, I can’t. I got into an Internet argument with someone the other day because she said that she didn’t want to write novels with textspeak (understandable, and a death sentence for a novel), but she didn’t understand the difference between not doing it because she felt uncomfortable doing it (fair) and not doing it because she felt it was beneath her (not okay, and also, why would you write for an audience you just admitted that you don’t respect?). This type of language is discourse now, at least for a certain subgroup of the population (a big one, and one that is growing up and will help shape and define the future and shit, as it’s been told since childhood that it has the special and very unique and above average destiny to do so.

The other thing that has changed language, or at least the thing that has made me aware of how my own language has changed, is education. I’m guessing that this is my ultra millennial way of saying that I think people my age have invented irony and expression, and surely everyone in their twenties once felt that their generation was doing something new, and it was totally true and untrue every time. But there is this way we write and speak now that is at once irreverent and educated and it’s a different kind of combination that may have been a part of other generations of writers. It comes out of a group of middle class twentysomething writers who have come of age in and from this new linguistic culture; learned how to be writers on or because of Jezebel, Blogger, and Thought Catalog; and gone to liberal arts school or graduate school while living in the current sociopolitical climate. It means we can say things like “all girls obsess over boys all the time, obvs because cis/het EVERYTHING, so no, but you know what I mean,” which sounds absurdly juvenile but also acknowledges that when we express platitudes or generalizations, we’re also hyperaware of the fact that these generalizations might be totally true to our feelings and might be the best way to explain something, but we can’t turn off the fact that they make us uncomfortable. Does that make any sense at all? I love this thing about how we function. I thought it was just me and my grad school friends (Gawd, I cannot wait to read The Interestings and then to read it again in 25 years), but obviously it’s other little pockets of people, like Heaney, who did not write the sentence I just did, but essentially peppered her book with similar observations and expressions. This is probably totes liberal of me (like I care), but she knew how to kvetch while still unpacking her invisible knapsack, if you will, and that is really cool. She is also someone who knows how to say something cute while being an educated person about it.

I think that is way more interesting and useful than just being able to write professionally and academically. For one thing, I just want to point out that most American people from all walks of life write like shit, and that includes highly educated people (for example, I dunno, folks on listservs I’m on) who separate predicates from subjects with commas or who think “[preposition] [person] and I” is ever an acceptable way to use English. My point is that while many people older than I think that to express ideas intelligently precludes slang, trends, mixing, or fun of any kind, there are actually language registers (which I was forced to learn by the old guard anyway, so they should be aware of this) and code-switching, and I think people who can employ these things successfully are far more productive and useful humans than those who think that the present should have no effect on how they write, lest the ivory tower of intellectualism crumble to pieces and fall down where the hoi polloi (but really, can we talk about liberal racism/classism sometime?) can pick them up and participate. And Heaney did it well is all I want to say.

LORD, THE DIGRESSIONS. All I meant to say was that I felt like I found a kindred spirit in this book, both on the level of I fucking know, right?! Like how hard is it in a quarter of a century to find one human who might be interested in falling in love with you – it’s SO HARD and on the level of thank you for helping to usher in a new kind of writing for those of us who have things to say and talent to say it with but aren’t really into what we learned in high school English.

This really isn’t a book review, sorry. Here’s one: Katie Heaney’s book is a lot of fun, and you should read it. Thanks, Katie, for letting me pretend to review your book and instead rant (with the ultimate goal of praising you).

I’m really tired, and I’m going to sleep now.

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One thought on “a love letter to how people my age say things

  1. Pingback: the best stuff of last year for you to try this year: mind | sarah HANNAH gómez

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