News of the weird: Justin Bieber has a deal with HarperCollins to publish his memoir. When I heard this from a friend, I had to shake my head. For those of you who don't know (and if you don't know, my respect for you has skyrocketed), Justin Bieber is the 16 year old singer who makes 12 year old girls swoon and who dominates the trending topics on Twitter (although strangely, none of the people I follow ever mention him).
I cannot be counted among the legion of Justin's fans. I'm not 12, and it kind of squicks me out when I hear him talking to his "baby." When the 19 year old daughter of a friend told me she liked Justin, she lost all her cool points with me. (Seriously, Steph, just say no.) I heard Justin do a radio interview, and he was so precious it made my teeth hurt.
I'm not hatin' on boy singers (okay, maybe a little). I have a son Justin's age. I teach kids who are Justin's age. Nothing makes me happier than seeing teenagers excel at what they love...especially artistic endeavors...especially writing endeavors. I have to be honest, though, after hearing Justin's interview, I have doubts about his ability to pen an entire memoir.
I have some experience with teenagers and memoirs. Part of my core content is personal expressive writing. Every year, I read between 120-150 personal narratives written by teenagers.
It's painful, people. Really, really painful. Ask any English teacher.
The pain starts when a student has to decide what moments in their short lives are meaningful enough to share with someone else. Many of them swear they have experienced no such moments, and sometimes, I'm inclined to believe them.
I get vacation stories which are kind of like looking at your friend's vacation slide show, and that's if you're lucky because sometimes, they're about a whole day at King's Island. Kids frequently fall off of things...bikes, horses, ATV's, motorcycles, fences, rooftops, skateboards, tree limbs, someone's shoulders, and so on and so on. There's always a coming of age moment in the woods with a gun and some poor dead animal, usually Bambi.
Worse than the mundane, cliched stories, are the death stories. Death is by far the most frequent topic, and these stories are the hardest to read. Even when the writing is not great, you feel the child's pain. The loss of grandparents, parents, siblings, best friends, and even beloved pets have made me cry. It can be emotionally exhausting. These stories force me to put the stack of papers down and walk away for a bit. These stories also make the teaching of personal narratives worthwhile. When a student finds an outlet for their pain through the writing of it, then I feel like I've made a difference.
A few glorious exceptions to the painful personal narrative stand out in my mind. The young lady who wrote about her dad stopping on a Himalayan road in the middle of the night just to show her the mountains in the moonlight was so good it made the hair on my arms stand up. Another student wrote an almost Hemingway-esque piece on the unbearable ennui of writing a personal narrative. Brilliant. Then, there was the story of a hiccup during a trombone audition that had me laughing from beginning to end. Unfortunately, those memorable pieces are few and far between.
All of which brings me back to Justin's memoir. I realize what I heard on the radio might not be indicative of the real Justin, but he doesn't seem to have the emotional or intellectual heft to write a publishable piece at this stage in the game. I envisioned an endless version of the vacation story..."My Really Awesome Concert Tour."
I did some more investigating, and my unpublished writer's envy is assuaged (because honestly, isn't that what this is really about?). As it turns out, Justin is publishing a "photographic memoir." It's a picture book...and he didn't even take the pictures.
Justin is in all the pictures, so I'm sure his "memoir" will sell like hotcakes. They should call it "My Really Awesome Concert Tour" and give me royalties on the title.