May 7th, 2007

Influenza

When I was very young, I read indiscriminately–Christopher Pike, Louisa May Alcott, J. D. Salinger, Joanna Spyri, Francine Pascal, whatever you handed me. This is not terribly different from how I read now. However, the stuff one reads when one is very young is far more likely to become deeply embedded one’s literary consciousness, and resurface again and again, perhaps especially if one takes to writing for oneself. Or perhaps it’s just me.

Anyway, my literary foundations are equal measures literature and tripe. Sometimes when I read my own writing, I can hear faint echoes of things I thought were brilliant when I was ten. Some I still do admire–it’s hard to shake that early hero-worship. And it’s really really hard to convince myself that I’m not John Updike, or that it’s not at least worth trying to be.

Anyway, an influence far more viral, though less venerated, than Updike is Sassy magazine. At least, it was in the years between 1990, when I discovered it at Hy & Zel’s (don’t tell me you don’t remember “the supermarket drugstore”) and 1994, when it was purchased by the Peterson Publishing company rapidly transformed into Teen‘s “If boys don’t like you, what’s the point?” twin.

But until then, great days. The fact that I was in grade school, a member of the Fido Dido fanclub, buying magazines at Hy&Zel’s because of Sunday shopping laws, and growing prize-winning squash for the fair did not seem to me to be in conflict with the Sassy ethos of Doc Martens, dyed hair and alternative music. CGBG sounded good to me, and so did Manic Panic, vegan, Olympia, indie, and all those other nice words they used.

It was the words that got me; they do it every time. I never really got the bands they promoted, the clothes, the makeup, (though I did get myself some Manic Panic at one point–chaos ensued). I liked the magazine for the way it seemed to be written as a girls club where all the writers wrote primarily for each other as audience. Readers like me, who didn’t live in New York and didn’t know underground from inground, were welcomed to the readership like partygoers being ushered into the room.

Linguistic jokes, like using “rilly rilly” to be emphatic about something silly, “alterna” as the just-a-bit-better adjective to alternative, “yo” as emphasis…I loved being in on those jokes (note that those are things I still do–worrying?). I also started writing, for the high school paper, as editor of the yearbook, in letters, emails, um, this blog, as if I were part of a large and unruly staff of writers. Ever since I made my first PA announcement from “We here at Yearbook Central” I have liked that tone. So much so that when the magazine first altered and then (swiftly) folded, I didn’t know what to aspire to. Would my “staffer” status eternally be imaginary?

Apparently so. I think Sassy did change women’s magazines–it made them self-conscious, more willing to use the first person pronoun in articles, to refer to writers’ lives, complexions and sexual experiments, to make the content about the character as Sassy did. But the love for the reader gradually leeched out of it, and made those articles just little exercises in self-empowerment–“oh, I’m so embarrassed about it, let me tell you, and tell you, and tell you.” As I say too often, self-consciousness is the new ego. If you constantly talk about how embarrassed/inadequate/confused you are, you are still talking about yourself. Not that I see anything wrong with that–is Rose-coloured an unself-conscious venture? Hardly. But I really did think there was something community-building about Sassy, and I loved that. The idea of writing in concert, not necessarily sharing every opinion but sharing a voice, is quite alluring to me. It probably wasn’t as great as I imagined–I was, after all, a hick kid, and anybody who didn’t have to take the school bus every day had some mystique to me. But I still rilly do think about Christina and Margie and Jane and Mike and Diane–when I put on the Docs I got when I was 23, or the Hole cd from when I was 21, or a lot of eyeliner, anytime.

And I still want to be John Updike.

I’ll tell you about the Manic Panic sometime.

I’m floating in and out of disco
RR

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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