Friday, September 28, 2012

The Perks of Meeting Chbosky

Eleven years ago seems like a lifetime ago. I was a sophomore in high school and my favorite subject was English. My favorite English teacher recommended we read this book called "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by a man named Stephen Chbosky.I read it so fast and I loved the book so much. I remember reading a few pages over and over again because they made so much sense and seemed to describe exactly what I had felt.The book was about being a teenager and not ever feeling quite like anyone would understand you; that fear of perhaps never really fitting in that is so common among so many. 

Thinking about this book makes me think of where I was 11 years ago and how truly awkward and painful it all was. I had the worst boyfriend. He was never nice to me. And in the novel when Chbosky writes "we accept the love we think we deserve" it makes me sick to think that I put myself in such a place. I didn't really have a sense of style. I tried to be so many things: a little punk, a little classy, a little surfer/skater, but really I didn't have the money to dress in any of the ways I wanted. In all honesty, it was my English classes that made high school better for me. It was there that I got to read great books, write a lot, found teachers who understood me, and it was the classes in which I was most respected by my peers. It was the one place throughout high school where I felt I fit in; I felt safe.

Books began saving my life at a young age. I always knew I wanted to be a writer, but I had never met a professional one until Ms. Siegel (our English teacher) invited Mr. Chbosky to come to speak to us. To this day, I cannot believe he not only accepted the invitation, but when he came to the library to talk to all of us, he was so pleasant and kind. I remember him answering lots of questions from us. I must have raised my hand at least five times. When I took my copy of his book up to be signed, I told him I wanted to be a real writer.

The next day my English teacher pulled me aside and gave me a copy of "The Sun Also Rises" by Ernest Hemingway. She explained that Mr. Chbosky had purchased the book for me and left something special inside. Along with this beautiful note was his email address. That moment is still one of the best in my life.

"And in that moment, I swear we were infinite."

I emailed Mr. Chbosky a few weeks later and really poured my heart out to him. And to my even greater surprise, he answered me back. I looked through my old emails today, and sadly, was unable to find the correspondence or his email address. I remember telling him I felt like "the world had turned and left me."

Someone asked him 11 years ago about making the book into a movie. The occasion of this post is that Mr. Chbosky has written and directed the film adaptation and it's in theaters now. I cannot wait to see it, but I am thinking I may need to re-read the book first.

And re-reading "Perks" kind of scares me. It has been so long since I revisited this time in my life, those teenage years with all that raw pain. I misplaced all that hurt and anger and hope. And I wonder if I re-read this book, if it will cause me to see things differently, which I don't want. I always want to remember the freshness of that first time when words hit you and you know the world has in fact not left you, but rather its given you someone else who understands. I am not sure how many times in the past 11 years I have felt infinite or heard "Landslide" play. I am embarrassed to admit just how many bad boyfriends I have had and how few books I have had published. I wonder sometimes if I have let Mr. Chbosky or maybe even my 16-year old self down. I'm not sure if I'm the writer who I thought I would be. I would never have guessed that I'd be where I am now, editing magazines and not writing books to be placed on shelves.

Mr. Chbosky, if you happen to read this, please know that you changed my life that day. You've given me the greatest charge one writer can give to another: to find their voice and to share it. I've been trying to do that here and in some of the publications I've worked on. I have read "The Sun Also Rises" three times and I can still quote my favorite passage from it. I still have only read "Perks" once but I will never ever forget what it means to feel infinite. You and my Ms. Siegel have made all the difference in my life. And I shudder to think what would have happened had you not gone to speak to a group of kids that one day so many years ago. One of my favorite college professors told me that "Writing saves lives, not bodies." Thank you for saving me, so long ago. I hope in the years to come I make you proud. I hope I too can save a life.

I used to want to be a high school English teacher so I could help kids. That was my plan; and then I would write in the summers. It's funny the paths life leads us down. It feels so strange to remember all those places, feelings, and things that now seem so foreign. And while I forget so much, the words always remain. I have since devoted my life to words, and I hope to keep doing so until my last breath. I have figured out not only my style, but perhaps dwelt too much on it. I have grown to learn much from the pain and hardships of my youth; to channel them into good writing and into being kind to others; encouraging people every chance I get. I don't read as much as I used to, but I am able to get a few pages in daily. I am finally at peace with so much I was uneasy with 11 years ago. Most importantly, I have accepted the love I know I deserve; and that acceptance has set me free. But I'm not sure I have read a book since Mr. Chbosky's that stings with such truth. And I'm not sure if I've written anything in the same manner, or if I ever will. But the perks of revisiting this point in time is that it fills me with that sense of hope that is so alive when you are 16 and the world and your whole life are ahead of you. While I'm not sure if the movie will be able to measure up to the book, I am so pleased to see that question from 11 years ago being answered and to see a new age of kids read this story. Thank you Mr. Chbosky for reminding me what it feels like to let go, to be hopeful, to remember the great words I have read and all the dreams I have dreamt.I am infinitely grateful.  


  1. Beth, your post brought tears to me eyes... You have most definitely found your voice. Just as Ms. Siegel and Mr. Chbosky have made an imprint on your life, so have you encouraged and helped so many others, including me! I am both delighted and honored that I am able to be a witness to all of your greatness, thank you! P.S. Reread the book!

  2. What a lovely, poignant post, Beth...his influence was such a positive in your life. Your writing is eloquent and heartfelt. You DO encourage others, I know...because you encouraged ME. Thank you!

  3. Hi Beth,
    I just popped over to say hi and thank you for the feature. I just posted about it. Thank you!

    I loved this post. So much can hinge in a moment when someone does one kind thing. Imagine if he had not done what he did? :) I hope you enjoy the movie. I just saw the trailer ... looks good.


  4. : ) loved that you shared such a personal post with absolute universal meaning. Xo