Friday, January 17, 2014

My So-Called Inspiration (Jennifer Castle)

It was fall 1994, and somehow I was back where I started.

In the five years since college, I'd moved to Los Angeles and gotten a job, a boyfriend, an with all the trimmings. Now I was home in New York. In my parents' house. Sleeping in my old room, in my old bed, on my old floral periwinkle Laura Ashley sheets. Even though it was just a self-inflicted four-month break so I could recover from a lingering Crohn's Disease flare-up and spend some intensive time writing, it actually was as depressing as it sounds.

My parents were driving me crazy and I kept running into people from high school, and I had a lot of Questions About My Life. Where I'd been, where I should go from there. Who I was. What I loved, and how I loved it. What I'd learned. What kind of stories I should be writing, and for whom. I had to keep reminding myself that I was 26, not 16.

Then this happened:

Angela and Rayanne. Patty and Graham. Rickie and...Rickie.

Jordan Catalano. Good God, Jordan Catalano. Sweet dreamy overlord of superhot lost boys everywhere, Jordan Catalano.

And Brian Krakow. I was the weirdo who also loved Brian Krakow, because I've always been the weirdo who loves the Brian Krakows. (The one episode narrated from his point of view? Brilliant, and my favorite.)

Rather than word-fumble about why I still adore this show, how it hooked and moved me, I'll just share a handful of moments:

"School is a battlefield for your heart. So when Rayanne Graff told me my hair was holding me back, I had to listen. 'Cause she wasn't just talking about my hair. She was talking about my life."
-- Angela

"My dad and I used to be pretty tight. The sad truth is, my breasts have come between us."
-- Angela 

"Seeing a teacher's actual lunch is, like, so depressing. Not to mention, her bra strap."
-- Angela

Rickie: "If you were about to do it, okay, what would you want the other person to say, like, right before."
Rayanne: "`This won't take long.'"
Rickie: "No, seriously."
Rayanne: "`Do I know you?'"
Rickie: "No, like, for real. Like, romantic."
Angela: "`You're so beautiful, it hurts to look at you.'"
Rayanne: "`It hurts to look at you?'"
Rickie: "How'd you think of that?"
Rayanne: "Where would it hurt?"

"It's amazing the things you notice. Like the corner of his collar that was coming undone, like he was from a poor family and couldn't afford new shirts. That's all I could see. The whole world was that unravelled piece of fabric. It's such a lie that you should do what's in your heart. If we all did what was in our hearts, the world would come to a halt."
-- Angela, on Jordan

"Sometimes it seems like we're all living in some kind of prison, and the crime is how much we all hate ourselves. It's good to get really dressed up once in a while and admit the truth -- that when you really look closely, people are so strange and so complicated that they're actually beautiful. Possibly even me."
-- Angela 

Jordan: "Why are you like this?"
Angela: "Like what?"
Jordan: "Like how you are."
Angela: " am I?"

"Sometimes someone says something really small, and it just fits into this empty place in your heart."
-- Angela 

Rayanne: "You wanna have sex with him."
Angela: "Who?"
Rayanne: "Who? Jordan. Catalano. Come on, I'm not gonna tell anyone. Just admit it."
Angela: "I just like how he's always leaning. Against stuff. He leans great. Well, either sex or a conversation. Ideally, both."

"My So-Called Life" showed the hovering-precariously-between-new-adulthood-and-real-adulthood me that we never stop coming of age. That sometimes, the more realistic a piece of art is, the more it captures our imagination. That the big issues of the teen years -- like identity and love -- are the big issues of life at any age. And that writing in a "young" and "authentic" voice can be gorgeous and powerful and strike you to your core.

Not long after the show went off the air -- a cancellation that should go down as one of the biggest TV tragedies ever, in my opinion -- I started writing teen protagonists. I stopped with the pretentious slick bullshit I'd been spinning and began writing from my still-confused, painfully evolving heart. Needless to say, I'm happy about where that's brought me.

And the book I'm writing now? The one about the girl with the obsessive crush and how that crush eventually leads to something real? It has no relation to Angela and Jordan. None. Zilch. Zippo.

(Oh, Jordan...)

(He really did lean so freaking great.)


  1. Ah Jordan... I was totally in love with this boy! (So stoked to see Jared Leto on the Oscar ballot this year!) This show remains one of the most under-rated and brilliant bits of teen drama ever created. Thank you for those quotes - it took me back to my tween years! And happy writing!

    1. I remember almost breaking my VCR because I was always rewinding the best Jordan moments to watch over and over. And yeah, Jared has taken a rockier career path than Claire Danes but glad to see him have some spotlight again!

  2. Wow. I have never seen this show. And now, jeez. I want to see it. Great post.

    1. Complete series available on DVD. Go bingewatch!

  3. I love that you had this epiphany because of a television show. Sometimes we get so into the idea of what we should want to create that we totally suppress what we actually want to create. Getting addicted to My So-Called Life just seems like a bonus way to realize that. :)

  4. These quotes from My So-Called Life made me smile and laugh and tear up (again). That show is YA perfection. Thank you for writing about it in your wonderful post!

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  6. Ahhh! I loved this series!

    But it was Brian Krakow (not Jordan!) who was my favorite character. :)