Welcome to the Party by Kathleen Lane
When I was young, I was frequently run over by cars. Mostly buses, sometimes motorcycles. At every railroad crossing my shoe stuck in the tracks. In every pool a shark made off with my leg. Some nights my bedroom would fill with water, all the way to the ceiling until there was no space left for me to breathe and I would have to take a deep breath, dive down to the window and hope that I could kick it out. Sometimes the window broke, sometimes it didn’t. Funeral to follow.
I don’t remember ever hearing the words anxiety or OCD so I never thought twice about my imaginings, or about my need to eat my peas in even numbers, or my impulse to undo a thought by thinking the opposite thought twice. “You were just,” as my mother later said, “a little weird.”
Do I think I am uniquely weird? No. I think you are weird too. In the most wonderful way, we are all a little weird. I also believe that much of our misery and loneliness comes from denying those wonderfully weird parts in us or thinking that we’re the only ones who feel this way.
Pity Party is meant to be an invitation to young people—to all of us—to show up to the party just as we are, in all our glimmering weirdness. To find company in our misery, a little humor in our humiliations, and some comforting recognition in characters who are as imperfect as we are. Because maybe we haven’t died of embarrassment like Elena, but we’ve all come pretty close. And maybe we’ve never had a new and improved version of ourselves shipped to us in a box like Gio, but most of us have had our moments of wishing for one. Have you ever been tripped up by an odd number of steps or chips…or peas? Maybe not, but oh, if only I had known that there was a Julian out there.
All that wishing to be different, all those times our inner voice tells us we are too much of this or too little of that, until those inner whisperings turn into the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. And those stories matter—they have power, they become our truth. C.S. Lewis, he knew what he was talking about when he said, “We are what we believe we are.” If we believe we are weak or broken, that’s how we show up. If we give our energy to everything that’s wrong in us, we miss all that’s right. And the truth is, it’s so often in our weirdness and worries and difficult moments that we find our unique gifts and powers. It took me until only very recently to recognize the connection between my anxious spinnings and my writing. Those stories I used to make up, that left my heart pounding and sent me flailing for the edge of the pool, were my earliest works of fiction.
That realization was the inspiration for a program I started a few years ago called “Create More, Fear Less,” which creatively engages young people in redefining their own relationships with worry. And all of the delightfully weird students I have met through that program was the inspiration for Pity Party. I have seen in them what can happen when young people move away from seeing themselves as worriers to claiming their creativity, wisdom, and courage, and it is powerful.
There is no getting through this world without tripping. We are absolutely going to say the wrong thing. We are going to be let down and left out. There is no avoiding it. What we can control, though, is our relationship with our fears, worries, and wobbles. We can be a little friendlier toward our imperfections. We can appreciate the creativity in our anxious spinnings. We can celebrate our courage each time we make it through the “absolute worst day of our life.” And we can find comfort in knowing that we’re not the only ones.
So if your kids or your students are having a hard time right now, please tell them, from my heart to theirs, that having a hard time does not make them weak, it makes them human. And the fact that they keep showing up, day after day, despite all that this world is throwing at them, that makes them courageous. And if they are lying in bed at night imagining all the many ways their young lives could come to an end, well, they might one day write a book.
And anyway, isn’t that the stuff that connects us? Not our accomplishments, not our perfect moments, but our trips and falls and fruit loops in our braces. Our utter uniqueness. Our brilliant weirdness. That’s the only party I’m interested in, the kind where we all awkwardly dance to the off-key tune of our imperfect but beautiful beat.
Kathleen Lane is the author of PITY PARTY and THE BEST WORST THING. She lives in Portland, Oregon, where she writes, teaches, cohosts the art and literary event series SHARE, and runs the Create More, Fear Less program (https://createmorefearless.org) that helps young people channel anxiety into art.