Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Beverly Cleary and Electronic Hickies

The other day I was handing out papers when I noticed one of my female students was sporting a large maroon hickey on her neck. I cringed, but not out of shock. I can name several constants in my life, and highschool students with hickeys is one of them. Yet, as much as things stay the same, they change all the more.

When I was in sixth grade I read Beverly Cleary’s Fifteen and loved it for several reasons. I was infatuated with the idea of a wall-flower type of girl gaining confidence and attracting a cute, nice guy to be her boyfriend. But I also liked that it took place in the 1950s (or was it the early 1960s?). They wore skirts and high heels on dates. They went to soda shops. The way they talked and acted was at once quaint and glamorous.
I was a child of the 1970s and a teenager in the 80s.  Nowadays, that era seems as foreign to the students I teach as Beverly Cleary’s era seemed to me.

And with good reason. When I began writing Following My Toes I didn’t own a cell phone. Sure, I was late to the party on that, but my characters don’t use them either. In fact, an answering machine serves as a major catalyst in the action of the story. I could never get away with writing that today, just a handful of years later.

Looking For Ward centers around e-mails sent back and forth between friends. Today they would Tweet, or check their statuses on Facebook.

Starring in the Movie of My Life takes place in 2006. I made sure to specify so the pop culture references would make sense. Little did I know how important that would be. Melody, an eighteen-year-old, leaves sexy notes in her crush’s locker. Today she would just be “sexting him.” I read in the New York Times that sexting is actually a status thing now, an electronic hicky, if you will. Kids like to have proof of their desireability and experience.

This is terrifying, if you consider the legal issues, the privacy issues, and the potential this holds for destroying a kid’s self-estem. As both a teacher and a parent it weighs on my mind. But as an author, I have to wonder: How quickly am I becoming irrelevent? This question assumes that I was relevent in the first place; to be sure, I’m no Beverly Cleary. But if some day in the future a reader finds the world I describe (with its lack of technology) to be at once quaint and glamorous, well that would be pretty cool. It’s a world I wouldn’t mind returning to, now and then.

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