Nobody does cruelty and savagery like teenagers in high school. Especially those in their early to mid teens. I was thinking about this in the wake of Kimberley Peirce‘s Carrie, about a teenaged girl with exceptional powers being picked on by venal female classmates, and the recent suicide death of 14 year-old Rebecca Sedwick, the Floridian girl who jumped to her death after being bullied online about some inane matter. (Her taunters, one or two of whom are now being prosecuted, were apparently ragging on Sedwick because she had been seeing somebody’s ex-boyfriend.) I was also thinking back to the grief I went through in high school because I was “different” in my own way. What a joyful experience that was! I remember the taunting and the cruelty like it was yesterday.
Unlike Carrie and Rebecca, I asked for the grief I got. I was a malcontent and an against-the-grainer. I had an alcoholic dad, low self-esteem and a sense of absurdist humor about things. I was bored with school. I didn’t want to flunk out but I didn’t care about grades because I didn’t respect the curriculum and I much preferred watching films. I definitely didn’t want to be someone like my father (a grumpy advertising guy), and so I was looking for attention by being a cut-up in this and that way. I was looking to validate who I was and wasn’t. Plus I was miserable about not getting any girlie action.
When I was in tenth grade I said “fuck it” and began writing a little satiric news sheet (my first journalistic enterprise) and circulated it among my friends. It was partly vulgar and pornographic (i.e., typical teenaged-boy material), and when the high-school authorities got hold of it they naturally seized on the language. My father had to come in and meet with the principal, which he was hugely pissed about.
Everything I got from parental and authority figures was “no, no, no…wrong, wrong, wrong” and everything I got from the high-school guys who gave me shit for being an attention-seeking twat and malcontent was “you’re going to pay for this, Wells…you’re going to pay for being an attention whore.” My basic response to both these groups was “fuck you,” “fuck you” and “double fuck you.” Okay, it wasn’t all bad between myself and my “friends” but some of it was awful. It was a very diseased culture.
Not once did anyone say “the instincts that led to this little satirical news sheet are basically good…you have a voice and the passion to put your feelings into print…all you need to do is channel these instincts into something a little more impressive than a crudely written newsletter…you need to get a degree in journalism and up your game.” So I spent some time being a pissed off nihilist and doing nothing. And a couple of years being a mediocre freelancer until things finally began to break for me in the early ’80s.
Life is brutal. You can’t just be talented or semi-talented — you have to be tough enough to keep getting up and trying again and again after being knocked down over and over. And even if you have that moxie odds are you’ll wind up in a bad place anyway due to alcohol or bad luck or a wrong choice or two. Sometimes I can’t believe I made it out of the mud pit and up to some kind of hilltop where I can least see a few things and breathe occasionally.