The pramble to the following essay is this: I’m currently completely obsessed with ROOKIE, an inspired new magazine for teenaged girls. Seriously, if you’re not checking in with them three times daily, then you don’t know what you’re missing. Tavi Gevinson of Style Rookie fame is leading an amazing team of writers, artists and editors on this project, which seeks to speak to and reflect the REAL teenaged girl. Reading it, I feel like I’m witnessing a feminist moment; and it thrills me! I resolved in January that for 2012 I would write a personal essay inspired by each of ROOKIE’s monthly themes. Naturally, I’ll send them off to the editorial team in the hopes of becoming a part of ROOKIE; but if my work never features on their hompage, I’ll at least have let ROOKIE become a part of me. What follows is the first in this series, MADE AT MIDNIGHT, which was a response to January’s UP ALL NIGHT theme. I have no where else to share these, so happy reading!
At twelve, I resisted the incoming tides of adolescence with four other friends by forming a sleepover club. We called ourselves The Party Animals, which is both regrettable, as a painfully un-cool moniker, and ironic, considering that our resond’etre was to sit silently in darkness. Meaning, we were séance junkies.
The attic at Samantha’s house was our unofficial clubhouse because there was an unfinished, windowless, creeky crawlspace that we felt was perfectly suited to casting spells, talking to ghosts and traveling through time. Our monthly meetings would start like any typical tween slumber party with pepperoni pizza, grade-school gossip, YM magazine quizzes of the what’s your dating style? variety, truth or dare and half-baked makeovers that usually involved Noxzema astringent pads and near nuclear facial masks; but we weren’t really having fun until the house was dark and quiet, at which point we’d pile into the crawlspace with our sleeping bags, flashlights and Ouija board and wait for twelve o’clock.
Midnight is a small, sacred space that is neither today nor tomorrow. On the twenty-four-hour clock midnight is marked as 00:00, and so it’s easy to infuse it with the promise and mystery of timelessness. Consider Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, which sees Owen Wilson as the American protagonist wander into the city’s golden expatriate past during a late night stroll. The film’s plot pivots on the idea that midnight, also known as the witching hour, opens sealed portals for time travel and ghostly encounters.
Knee to knee we’d sit in our ceremonial circle. The first order of business was to appoint a medium or leader, whose principle job was to recite some variation of a script fragment that we’d lifted from the séance scenes in Now and Then (1995): “Guide us in our pursuit of the spirit world and keep our circle safe from those who promote evil and seek to harm. Dear [insert name here], we summon you.” Our paranormal pajama parties were born from Now and Then, the favored movie model for girlhood fun and friendship at the time, which follows a girl gang working to uncover the circumstances of a mysterious death that is revealed to them during an eventful nighttime séance.
As devotees, we felt compelled to assign each member of our crew a corresponding character in the film. This was slightly problematic as there were five of us and Christina Ricci, Thora Birch, Haby Hoffman and Ashleigh Aston Moore formed a resolute fab-four; but we’d encountered this difficulty before when we’d formed our The Beatles air band in the fourth grade, and so we knew the power of The Fifth Beatle principle. Of course, no one liked being The Fifth Beatle, and I like to cite our utilitarian devotion to the greater good as proof of our true love for one another. Above all, we were desperate to be close and to share in something that would transport us, change us –- like a visit from John Lennon.
After deciding upon our medium, we’d brainstorm a list of possible ghostly guests. These conversations always revealed our different fascinations. I was partial to personalities tied to tragedy. This I attribute to Earnest Hemmingway’s A Farewell to Arms, which I’d read prematurely as an eleven year old whilst on vacation with my family in Florida. The oversized tears I’d shed at its end tightly bound death and passion together in my heart and mind for some time afterward. As the author of my despairing daydreams and the victim of his own suicide, Hemmingway often made my list. So did Virginia Woolf, whose drowning I imagined in the style of Ophelia or the Lady of Shalott. Of course, I’d not read Woolf, Shakespeare or Tennyson; but I knew enough to feed my imagination from popular references like the CBC adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, which sees Megan Follows as Anne reenact Elaine’s watery death on a flat bed lined with paisley blankets.
The romance of tragedy wasn’t lost on the others, thanks to Leonardo DiCaprio. In the flickering dark of Toronto’s now derelict Westwood Theatre we’d sat as one, with arms tightly linked, and watched Leo sink beneath Kate Winslet’s makeshift life raft after the sinking of the Titanic. My mum still mentions the vision of us standing under the bright marquee, wailing and holding one another. Leo had wrecked us for the first time the year prior as Romeo to Claire Danes’ Juliet: “Shall I believe that unsubstantial death is amourous?” Neon light, angel wings, poetry, poison and Hawaiian shirts. We were undone.
Romeo and Juliet once made the cut, as did other fictional characters including some of our own making. For example, we’d imagine the quintessential pioneer girl or Grecian goddess and then ask her to join our circle. As Jessica Mitford writes so honestly in Hons and Rebels, “a thirteen-year-old is a kaleidoscope of different personalities, if not in most ways a mere figment of her imagination.” We accepted the idea of summoning made-up characters because we were aware of being caricatures of ourselves. We were composites, put together from pieces picked up whilst watching movies, listening to music, reading books and looking through magazines.
On the day’s edge we were well poised to consider the space between those pieces and to look for the true self that lied therein. It was a scary exercise; but we knew it was necessary for moving forward. Midnight was a symbolic time for measuring our fine balance between grade-school and adulthood. It seems obvious now that our obsession with death was related to our own interior sadness over the passing of our childhood selves and the anxiety of falling face first into the void beyond. Our ritual lent some of the romance we craved to our ending by establishing an eternal sisterhood. Though we were about to be torn apart by different schools, cliques and the like, it felt like we’d be friends on some plane of time and space forever because we’d tried to transcend both as a group.
Sitting together in the dark, talking about death, love, movie stars and magic, was our first flight from home. Four-square tournaments, peanut butter and honey sandwiches, class notes, eight hour bike rides and five cent candies weren’t yet rose-tinted by nostalgia, and we were anxious to know what would happen next. In the navy dark we expanded beyond our neighborhood, reached to the past, looked to the future and felt full of electric possibility. It seemed that séance was the only key we held, and we couldn’t help but turn it inside the lock that we felt was keeping us from fighting on battlegrounds and knowing adventure. What we couldn’t see then was that we were already fighting wars and exploring new territory inside of ourselves.