Middle School Stages

Last week I sent the first draft of  Plastic Polly, my new book, off to my editor. (Wahoo!!!) Although this book is vastly different from Seeing Cinderella, it does have a pivotal scene where my main character finds herself standing on a stage in front of a bunch of people.

While I’m waiting for my editorial letter, I decided to brainstorm ideas for a third book. I had a Shiny New Idea I liked, until I realized it involved a pivotal scene where my main character stands–yep, you guessed it–on a stage in front of a bunch of people.

I decided to scrap the idea, since there were too many similarities to my first two books. Instead, I’ve spent some time asking myself why stages (of the theatrical variety) insist upon making an appearance in my books. It’s not like I have a background in the performing arts. I don’t sing (and trust me when I say you don’t want to hear me try). I don’t act. I don’t play a musical instrument. So why does the idea of performing come up so much when I write?

After thinking about it for a couple of days, here’s what I’ve figured out: In middle school, I always felt like I was on a stage, speaking/acting for the benefit of others, hoping they’d find my performance acceptable.

In the first chapter of Seeing Cinderella there’s a passage that reads:

I wanted to tell Dr. Ingram all the things I couldn’t say to anyone else…That I felt nervous about starting middle school–especially since I’d gotten stuck with drama for my elective. How I worried that, just like elementary school, Pacificview [Middle School] would be a place where I didn’t fit. How I felt like there was some all-seeing eye fastened on me–just waiting for me to screw up so everyone could laugh at me.

Although I didn’t realize it on the day I first wrote the above paragraph, this sums up perfectly how I felt in middle school. I was certain everyone was watching me, and that I’d been tried and found guilty of being the big dork I felt like on the inside.

It took me a long time to realize that most likely the only person privately criticizing me–was me. That most people are too busy with their own lives to nitpick at every little thing I said and did, and that those who did enjoy tearing others down weren’t worth my time.

But these were lesson I hadn’t yet learned in middle school, and so I stayed safely in the background, as far back from “center stage” as I could, watching others and trying to understand how to live a middle school life.

I’d like to think I really am the confident, emotionally healthy adult I believe myself to now be. (Or on my way, at least.) But when I write from a middle schooler’s perspective, it’s all too easy to remember back to the days when I felt like I lived life on a stage, with my classmates as my observers/critics.

What about you? In middle school, do you/did you ever feel like you performed on a stage for others? What about now?

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