In 1988, I was the secret, self-proclaimed futuristic bard of my angst-ridden middle-school. For the whole year every day after school I worked on The Soap Opera, my 50-page handwritten manifesto. I spent nights hidden in my bedroom closet reading it over the phone to Amy, my confidante and best friend.
The Soap Opera takes place in a fictional neighborhood, not unlike the one I grew up in. There is a donut shop, a church, a swimming pool, a public school, a Catholic school, a pizza parlor, a veterinary clinic, and a couple of bars. I even drew a map and made a White Pages directory listing everyone’s address, occupation and the names and ages of their children. The citizenry of this neighborhood are my schoolmates – their identities thinly veiled with pseudonyms derived from since-forgotten inside jokes.
The plot encompasses the lives and times of us all 20 years into the future. In the twists and turns of who marries who and how people live their lives, my imagination runs wild. I methodically exert revenge for the relentless teasing and daily humiliations I endured for nine long years with the same hundred-some kids. Nerds like me lead glamourous jet-setting existences with amazingly talented musician husbands and beautiful children, making snide comments about the sorry fates of former foes. The popular kids are (sigh) tragically the neighborhood’s washed-out losers whose pathetic dramas play out in the local dive bar. On pages of loose-leaf from my Trapper-Keeper, I test my skills in sarcasm to create a world where a womanizing eighth grader grows up to be a polygamous Mormon, an uptight and plain kid finds his true calling as a Beatnik performance artist, and a xenophobic friend marries an Indian immigrant. Even the ever elusive heart-throb surprises us all as he turns out to be a clueless and awkward lover – which of course makes him cuter in a strange way.
As I thumb through the pages of the yellowing sheets, twenty-plus years later, I think back to how these ideas and words soothed Amy and me. How we turned sadness into ruckus laughter and how an overactive imagination and penchant for subtle sarcasm gave us hope that there was a life beyond Catholic middle school purgatory.
Looking back, I realize how much I learned from writing The Soap Opera and how it marked the beginning of my journey as a writer. Spinning this tale awakened in me a sense that I strive to incorporate in all of my work to this day – that good story-telling is a powerful, often even healing, art for both the teller and the listener.
Judi, I love this description of your ‘soap opera’. You have a way of writing that connects with other women. It’s like you are writing my experience as well. Looking forward to reading more.
i think you nailed it with the “Catholic middle school purgatory”
Thanks, Em – congrats on your blog too!