My elder daughter is 13.5. When I was her age, I was obsessed with taking things in. I wrote often, and copiously, in my journal—about a lot, but especially about The Feeling. This was the sensation that struck me when the wind was high, or the guy I liked waved to me while playing handball against the brick wall of the school. It made me want to write. It was a wild, strange, hopeful, hopeless feeling, and I filled pages, contemplating it. I wrote that The Feeling made me awake. It was an unsettling sort of wakefulness, because I couldn’t quantify or define it (though I tried, on innumerable sheets of 3-ring binder paper).
When I was in my mid-twenties, I discovered a show called My So-Called Life—and my god, there it was, after so many years: The Feeling. The protagonist and her best friend: the forces of change and coolness pulling them apart, then, tentatively, back together. The notes left in lockers. The tears. The huddling in childhood bedrooms, whispering promises and apologies. The obsessive and horrible sweetness of first love. The awkward, mostly unspoken love between self and parent.
I just re-watched this show with my 13.5-year-old daughter. Now, in my divorced-and-remarried 40s, I felt it all again—and then some. “Then some” = Things I Had Not Experienced, at 25.
The parents! They love each other. They’re tired of each other. They’re just plain tired. They snipe and squabble; they wear pyjamas to bed; they’re jealous of other people even as they desire other people. Their jobs suck them dry. They long for longing—the kind that belonged to long ago; the kind that might belong to a vague, dangerous future.
I’ve been the girl aching for the best friend who found other, cooler friends. I’ve been the pyjama’d wife who’s aching, just because. And now here I am, sprawled out in bed with my daughter, who’s digging at a pomegranate, her eyes on Jordan Catalano and Angela Chase. My daughter, who’s with me but also far, far away, in her own head.
We’ve watched other programs. Genre ones, mostly: Sarah Connor Chronicles; Battlestar Galactica; Buffy and Angel and Firefly; the original Prisoner. And I dozed. Without fail, about halfway through (having just thought, triumphantly, “I’m AWAKE! Look at me, so awake!”), I’d fall asleep. I’d miss explosions, uprisings, amazing special effects, heavy-duty genre emoting. My daughter would have to fill me in later, while I was putting her to bed.
My eyes didn’t close once, as we watched My So-Called Life.
I’m a lover of genre. Science fiction, fantasy—love it. And yet only this show about teenagers and their parents has kept me awake at 10:30 p.m., lying in bed with my kid and my husband and a bunch of cats. Only this show has made me remember The Feeling, in all its uncertain, unbearable, undefinable glory.
Once upon a time there lived a girl. She slept in a lovely little cottage made of gingerbread and candy. She was always asleep. One morning she woke up and the candy had mould on it. Her father blew her a kiss and the house fell down. She realized she was lost. She found herself walking down a crowded street, but the people were made of paper, like paper dolls. She blew everyone a kiss goodbye and watched as they blew away.
– written by Angela