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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6 Responses to Middle School Stages

  1. Vicky says:

    Oh, a second and third book!!! I can’t wait to see what you come up with but I’m sure both of them will be just as great as Seeing Cinderella. It’s funny how the stage setting comes back again and again but it’s completely understandable. I was the same as you when I was in elementary school – even in high school! In fact, I would still like to be invisible and I still feel that people are criticizing me when I have to speak out loud in front of my class, that everyone is watching me. I know everyone is too busy to pay attention to every word you say, but still….

  2. Middle school felt a bit like the movie The Matrix to me. It seemed everyone was plugged into this “system” of having to try to perform or act a certain way in order to be accepted. I didn’t play by those rules and I wasn’t mean to people either, but I definitely wasn’t bursting with self-confidence either. On another note, I cannot imagine how difficult it is for kids these days with the advent of social media. Middle school is hard enough without being broadcasted to the world online. Good post.

  3. Yay! Another book! So happy for you!
    You’re spot-on regarding middle schoolers feeling they are the center of everyone’s attention. In 7th grade I thought I would DIE without a pair of Jordache or Gloria Vanderbilt jeans. I mean, what would everyone think if I didn’t have a designer label on my back pocket?!

  4. Thanks everyone.!
    Vicky-Arggh! Public speaking can be brutal! And while I was more out-going in high school, I was still definitely shy.

    Ryan- Good point. I can’t imagine what it must be like when every little thing you do has the potential to end up on facebook/twitter.

    Stefanie-Thanks! I remember those days well. I went to school in an affluent city, but designer labels were far from being in my parent’s budget. I guess I can’t blame them, half the time I now buy my kids their clothes at the thrift shop!

  5. I know what you mean. Plus, being on stage and speaking in front of others is so nerve wracking for some middle schoolers, that it’s a great place to stick them for some conflict!

  6. Stephanie Hamilton says:

    Now that I think about it, I felt like I was on a stage. I felt like everyone was watching to see what the nerdy girl would do next or what weird thing I would wear next! I think you hit it on the nose Jenny with what middle school kids go through, what we all went through! Great thinking and sharing your struggles!