Monday, January 24, 2011

My Rayannes, Emma Straub

This is one of the most perfect things I have ever read.

I heard about it via Jill D., and I should have known it would be good because Jill D. is highly intelligent and awesome and likes highly intelligent and awesome things; also, it's from the Paris Review (yes, the Paris Review daily blog, but in the world of writing and the internets this is still a big deal; it is still the Paris Review), so I knew it wouldn't be small potatoes. Although, and I am embarrassed to say this in front of other writer-y people who may read this, this is actually the first thing I have ever read which is at all associated with the Paris Review. After this, I feel like I should be checking it out much more often. Of course, I should probably prepare myself for the knowledge that not all of the pieces will be about My So-Called Life.

This piece (My Rayannes, by Emma Straub) in particular is about Angela & Rayanne, whose relationship is, clearly, the most dynamic, interesting, heartfelt, and worthwhile relationship of the show. Angela + Jordan Catalano = boring. (Okay, maybe boring is a harsh word.) Angela + Rayanne = truth, love, heartbreak, adolescence, life.

Some of my favorite bits:

Teenage girls curl up together like newborn puppies, painting one another’s toes as if they were licking one another’s ears. 

They aren’t hitting on each other, not precisely, though they are in a constant state of arousal that borders on the insane. No other love is like the love of a teenage girl, all passion and fire and endless devotion—at least for a week.

Yes. Yes. Welcome to the female friendship: the most underestimated phenomenon of all time. 

I have read a few adult novels which get at the power of female friendships, but on TV, they're hard to come by. This is not to say that there aren't good female friendships out there, that there aren't female characters who are good and kind and caring to each other, but none get down to the raw meat and bones of the kind of friendships I'm talking about. Perhaps these friendship portrayals are portrayals of just that: friendship. Angela and Rayanne weren't just friends, though; they loved each other. Love between two females--without sex--is rarely reckoned with. Maybe this kind of love is just an adolescence thing, as Ms. Straub also implied. Rayanne's mom sums it up perfectly, if you watch this clip from 16:30 on for just a minute or so:

Oh, you know kids. They find one person and they just can't get enough of them! It's like being in love, only they're not allowed to have sex. (Nervous laughter from Patti.) No, don't you remember? There's this one person, who has like, perfect hair, or perfect breasts, or they were just so funny, and, and you just wanted to eat them up. Just live in their bed and just be them. Like everyone else was in black and white, and that person was in color. Well, Rayanne thinks Angela is in color. Major color.

Man. That is why people talk about My So-Called Life the way they do.

I'd like to think this phenomenon isn't just a teenage thing; it's just that we allow ourselves to be less interesting as adults, and so it's harder to find interesting adults to fall in love with. If you do find a person you feel this way about, without wanting to have sex with them, you feel like kind of a crazy person. Like a teenager. Because teenagers are crazy. Honesty and emotions = crazy. Or, maybe it is just a teenage thing, because when you're a teenager, the only people who really accept and understand how worthwhile and real and smart your ambitions and problems are are other teenagers, hence the intensity of their friendships and love for one another. But really, as adults, we're still fighting for the same thing, we just acknowledge it less.

Back to Ms. Straub:

I was not particularly bad or good but hovered somewhere in the middle, always a plain-faced Angela Chase, too earthly for the truly beautiful boys and too vain for the pimply ones. Even at the apex of hormonal lunacy, I always possessed a stability that was too boring to be believed.

Of course! I don't know anyone who was Rayanne Graf. We were all Angelas.

It’s been a few years since I watched My So-Called Life, and I’m almost afraid to turn back to it, worried that I might find it trite or silly or less brutally authentic than I remember.

Don't worry. It's not.

Don’t even get me started about having to watch Claire Danes age into a sinewy ballerina of a woman, her even skin and taut limbs offering no proof that she was ever a teenager at all. It’s like watching a dear friend—your sister, a twin—wear a diamond ring the size of a lighthouse, move to the suburbs, and vanish forever. I say this knowing that Claire Danes (the actress) is not the same as Angela Chase (the character), but memories are no more rational than dreams.

I am still trying to get over the genius of that last line. The disparity between a character and an actress is a weird void to cross when that character has been imprinted in every inch of your mental being.

Claire Danes's lip quiver before she says, "Were you happy?" - gah! Gah! It is perfection. Heartbreaking, adolescent perfection.



  2. Thanks for the such nice words!! Also, I just started reading The Paris Review blog a few months ago, and there are almost always really great pieces in there. Spurred by this, I actually got a subscription to the actual Paris Review. I've gotten two issues so far, and loved both. I was afraid it would be a little pretentious or over my head, but it's just lovely. Def check out the blog!

  3. This is so awesome, what a beautiful article! 16 years later I still mourn the untimely death of MSCL. I always imagine what coulda been. Wow.