Hannah Joo: Thanks for the experience
By HANNAH JOO
Kenmore Reporter columnist
September 4, 2008 · Updated 11:31 AM
Almost 12 months since I began writing for the Reporter, I am sitting in a hotel room in an uncharacteristically rainy Baltimore with more luggage than I will need for college beside me, feeling full of what I can’t wait to nostalgically describe as something like “pre-college naivete” or “oblivious innocence.”
I am thinking largely these days, and my column follows that trend. An explanation: Lately I think about my life in large swaths; I see “before college” as one, unified piece and “what’s yet to come” as another. It is easy to do this while residing uncomfortably in this in-between time after high school but before my next stage begins, the seam between the two pieces (... if you will). This column, in keeping with meta-themes, is not about any topic in particular, but about my column, the “teen scene,” as a whole.
When I began writing a year ago, I planned to address issues like drugs, sex, alcohol, racial tension, gender stereotypes and different career paths. I wanted to make sure I gave an accurate portrayal of what it’s like to be a teenager growing up in the Seattle suburbs. I hoped to give parents a sense of what it’s like, give other teens some comfort by assuring them of our commonalities, and inspire reflection and new ideas in people of all ages. What I ended up writing about was often far more personal than I had planned. I wrote about homecoming, college woes, stress and sibling relationships. I tried to write about typical “teen issues,” and felt guilty when I found myself instead writing about issues in my own life.
I realize, only now, that the columns in which I wrote about my own experiences as a teen were the most authentic, the most personally fulfilling and the best representation of adolescence. Rather than picking a “teen issue” out of my columnist’s hat and following my careful plan of top-down explanation of what it is to be a teenager, my portrayal was bottom-up, spontaneous and deeply personal. There is no single “teenage experience;” mine could just as accurately be described as a “mixed-race experience,” a “young woman’s experience,” a “student leader’s experience” or a “writer’s experience.” In my columns I tried to write about topics that would appeal to people who share only some — even none — of my own point of view. I researched, interviewed and wrote with an open mind and put my personal experience in a larger context. There are other teen experiences that I failed entirely to represent, but the stories I told and the ideas I shared came from the only “teen scene” I had any authority to write about: my own.
The way I wrote my column is the way I have tried to live my life — with an open mind and respect for the views and experiences of others, understanding that my experience is not shared by everyone but knowing that does not undermine whatever wisdom it has lent me. Thank you to the Reporter and its readers for leading to this realization, for helping me discover more about myself and about the world and allowing me to share those discoveries.
Thank you to my old teachers, especially Ms. Cox for the ideas and editing, and to all my other teachers who gave me advice and encouragement. Thank you to all of my friends; a special thank you to Matt for consistently mocking my sillier phrases and an equally special thank you to the other Matt for balancing this with the heartfelt encouragement (the two of you can fight out which one is “Matt” and which one is “the other Matt” here). A third and most special thank you to Stephanie for reading so religiously. Thank you to the mothers of my friends, which is for whatever reason the largest category; a special thank you to Mrs. Shin, the first mother-of-a-friend — and one of the first people in any category — to read and understand and praise my 8-year-old writing and encourage me to do more. Thank you to Nathan for being my partner in goofy sibling-bondedness, to my mom for not letting me stop writing and to my dad for reading every single column. Thank you to Tatevik for writing this column before me and paving the way. Lastly, thank you (thank you, thank you, thank you) to Andy for giving me the opportunity to write the column in the first place. Without you, none of this would have been possible.
Good luck to the writers who will take over this column, both this school year and in the years following. If I could give one piece of advice to you and your readers alike, it would be this: pay attention and be honest in both your writing and your living.
Hannah Joo, an Inglemoor High graduate, is a freshman at Johns Hopkins University.