Last week I did a reading at one of my favorite Minneapolis bars, Kieran’s Irish Pub. Reading parts of my book in a bar full of strangers feels a little bit like performing standup comedy. Kind of exciting, but I’d rather share my twisted viewpoints through the written word. I did the reading as a favor to the event organizer, a guy named Wonder Dave, without whom I couldn’t have written Chapter 12: Nostalgia. A few years ago, Wonder Dave agreed to organize a juvenilia event, in part, so I could write about the experience. Wonderful!
If pressed to think about it, I suppose Chapter 12 is my favorite part of the book because it’s about checking in with your inner child through juvenilia. So what exactly is juvenilia? Technically speaking, juvenilia is a centuries-old term that describes the early literary, musical or other creative works of a young artist. But loosely speaking (my favorite kind of speaking), juvenilia is a word for some of the crap you wrote when you were a kid.
Remember that letter you wrote to your girlfriend, apologizing for flirting with the new freshman girl in the cafeteria and begging her to take you back so you can go to Homecoming because your dad is giving you the keys to the Oldsmobile station wagon along with an extended curfew to 11 p.m.? Well, that’s juvenilia. Remember that rap you wrote to the beat of DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” chastising your mom and dad for grounding you after you “forgot” that 11 p.m. curfew? That’s juvenilia. And remember that diary entry you wrote promising the world you’d someday become more famous than Huey Lewis (or the News) and you’d tour the world with your band finally free of your parents’ lame-ass 11 p.m. curfew? That’s also juvenilia. And for accidental adults, it’s comedy gold.
If by some stroke of good fortune you’ve happened to hang onto old diaries, or eighth-grade movie scripts or letters returned by scorned sweethearts, for God’s sake don’t hide them in a shoebox under your dresser. That sappy crap deserves to be laughed at by others. Believe it or not, literary organizations, bar owners, website publishers and a host of other sadistic groups are hosting juvenilia events everywhere, offering what one group calls “personal redemption through public humiliation.” In other words, adults are encouraged to share their shame by exposing their pubescent perspectives on life, love and homemade Air Supply–style song lyrics for the empathetic enjoyment of a live audience who feels their pain—mainly because they wrote garbage like that, too. In return, accidental adults get to grab a microphone and reconnect with their younger, cooler and goofier sides. A win-win for all.