Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Perks of Being a Wallflower & Awake

"So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be." — Stephen Chbosky 

Recommended Tea: Tazo's Awake

So, my very very best friend is studying to become a teacher. She's quite good at it, I suspect. We were talking about her experiences student teaching the other day - about how being around high school students makes us uncomfortable sometimes, takes us back to those feelings that we felt when we were in their shoes. Feelings that you couldn't pay me money to experience again.  

Naturally, we started talking about Young Adult books (like we usually do). She recently attended an awesome young adult book convention extravaganza thing, and got to meet (GASP!) Sarah Dessen (we're not worthy! we're not worthy!). 

She was particularly moved, she said, by a speech that Stephen Chbosky gave about how "changing one person is like changing the world entire." (Please tell me, BFF, if I misquoted that)

"Who's that?" I asked.

"GASP!" I felt the room reply.

"He wrote The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Read it. Read it now. It saves lives."

So, I decided to check it out from the library. I've recently finished Paper Towns and Looking For Alaska by John Green, which are both BR-IZ-ILLIANT books, but I have to admit I was kind of thinking, "Hmm...are three quirky YA books about being awkward in a row going to be a little too... angsty?" 

Again, that feeling that I get when I think about high school came back. Do we really want to re-visit those feelings too much? Like I said... not enough money in the world.

But I started reading anyway. And I didn't stop until I finished it, my face wet with tears.

I have to say, I usually enjoy most of the books I read. Finishing a book makes me feel like I've gone on a journey - each has its own experience - so at times, I have a little trouble judging the "goodness" or "badness" of books. 

This time, I had no trouble at all. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is beautiful. Heartbreakingly beautiful - which is a phrase that I use often, but never has it been more appropriate.

 Rarely does a book make me feel the way that this book made me feel. 

Charlie, the novel's narrator, is such a real character. I struggle to even use the word "character" because he feels like a friend. You fall completely in love with him - and not because he's sparkly and dreamy. He is vulnerable, painfully honest, deep, intelligent. Small. My heart literally hurts when I think about him - the same way I feel when those Sarah McLachlan commercials about the kitties and puppies come on.  

It hurts to be unable to reach through the book and hold him, hug him. It hurts not to be able to scream at everyone around him, "Pay attention to this one! PLEASE tell him how special he is!"  

I found this book so relatable. Not in the "Oh, I went through that in high school. Poor kid! I really feel for you!" kind of way, but in the "I think these things all the time. I worry about these things. I feel things like he does. I'm not the only one who feels things this deeply?" 

And that's the thing that I love the most about Charlie - the way that he feels things. Here is someone who is quiet and shy, (again, "small" is the best word I can think to describe him) with more than a few communication problems, but he really FEELS things. He lives. He soaks up the world. He sees the beauty in the people around him, and he isn't afraid to care about them and to tell them so, and in a completely pure way. He cries often - but wouldn't we all if we hadn't been so conditioned not to?

The experience of reading Charlie's story is like being baptized. You are completely submerged in his world, in his head, in his feelings. After the last page, you're reborn in a way. And by "reborn" I mean that you look at the world - at the people around you - with different eyes. Moments in your life that were just moments become "infinite." Human beings become family, in that realization that we all feel. 

It reminds me of Jane Eyre, when Jane says to Mr. Rochester:

"Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? ...Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! ...I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal — as we are!"

What would the world be like if we took that word - "feel" - more seriously? If we weren't afraid to feel, to feel new things, to feel scary things, and to express those feelings, unashamed of how we look or what people think?

I want to shout as loudly as my body would let me, "What would the world be like if we all took a minute to think about the fact that everyone around us FEELS things?" 

Honestly, I think that this concept is one that we forget - one that we make a decided effort to forget. That girl you went to high school with isn't just a "diva" or a "bitch," that boy not just an "ass" or a "nerd." They are human beings with the same capability to feel as you - no better or worse. 

What would the world be like if we didn't reduce everyone around us to such soulless name-tags? 

Wake up!

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