This is Part II of a two-part blog post. In Part I, posted yesterday, I describe how listening to a rebroadcasted episode of This American Life, titled “Home Movies,” while walking my dog one morning prompted me to begin searching for, and trying to understand, my childhood relics.
With my family’s home movies destroyed in a mid-move mishap, I’m resolved to search for what tangible items may remain.
Instead of getting to work when we returned home, I rushed to my closet and pulled out a thick stack of CDs, each one carefully sealed in a square plastic case. Some were labeled and some were not. Identifiable were mix tapes from high school boyfriends, every album released by my favorite band, and a DVD of a championship high school cross-country race. The mysterious blank discs were, presumably, the laptop photos.
Because my new MacBook Pro doesn’t have a disc drive (thanks, planned obsolescence) I popped the mystery CDs, one-by-one, into my mom’s old desktop Mac. I copied the files from them to a spare USB drive, which I quickly plugged into my MacBook. Then I rapidly began pulling files from the drive into iPhoto. I carried out the whole operation quickly, as if I was running out of time. As if the universe and all its advancing technology was conspiring against me, trying to make it impossible for me to preserve my childhood.
On those mystery CDs were photos, and movies. The movies were not from my childhood per se, but my teenage years. And, besides one brief cameo made by my mother, they did not depict anyone in my family besides my brother. Instead of my father, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were high school friends.
Together we made improvisational comedies, news broadcasts, dramas and loud music videos made to loud punk bands like Green Day and Weezer. We made our own sound effects and special effects, put together cohesive costumes and used artsy camera angles to tell stories.
While watching myself act as a stuntwoman to execute one particularly epic and slightly dangerous special effect—riding a “flying carpet” (a doormat on top of a skateboard) down a short but steep hill—I can remember the tremendous effort it took to create those films. My friends, brother and I would hold filmmaking powwows in cloth beach chairs in the garage, snacking on pretzels and sipping Capri Suns. There we’d share ideas, hash out characters and plotlines.
Like a family sharing the same blood we worked together to solve logistical problems (i.e. how to make a flying carpet fly), applied decision-making skills to major decisions (such as should perform the most dangerous stunts) and resolved conflicts (usually who gets the lead part) peacefully by listening to each other’s point of view.
In the films, I appear both in front of and behind the camera. In the earliest film I’m fourteen, a high school freshman (discernable by the presence of silver braces on my teeth and varsity track sweatshirt), while in the most recent film I’m seventeen, a high school junior (I can tell by my amber highlights—a short-lived experiment in hair-dying). Save for the highlights, from freshman to junior year, I look almost exactly the same—the same wide, perceptive eyes...the same long runner legs...and even the same casually cool ripped-up jeans, track sweatshirts and concert tees.
I’ve stayed the same today. I even have the same jeans from ninth grade to prove it, and they still fit pretty well, thought today they have a lot more holes in them than they had in ’06.
I didn’t always possess such a distinctive and enduring sense of self. In fact, before I hit high school, my mom tells me I was timid, quiet. I remember keeping mostly to myself in elementary school. It was only when I hit high school, when my real family’s drama was becoming all too much, that I found myself. It was then I started running. It was then I started directing and starring in my own films.
After an uncontrollable childhood, having control as an athletic and artistic teen—and in each case being part of a functional “family” team—helped me realize who I was. It instilled in me the imperative values my real family failed to. It gave me the freedom to make creative decisions without worrying about what my family would think.
In Home Movies, Glass interviews Darren Stein and Adam Schell, childhood friends who, like my friends and brother, worked together to make movies during their teenage years. Stein, who has continued to create films as an adult, describes what is perhaps the crux of this sense of individuality I saw myself grow into as a teenage filmmaker.
“When you’re a kid,” said Stein,” “it comes straight from your id onto the film.”
Poring over my MacBook that Monday morning, I saw my id—my true uninhibited self, the person I am today. I wonder how long it would have taken me to find that person if I didn’t start making my own home movies.
Lingering thoughts for you, my reader:
- Would you rather be behind the camera or in front of it?
- What activities defined your identity in high school?
- Do you have any "classic" mannerisms? One of mine is perfectly captured in this still frame.... ;)