EPisode 1: Twilight - Was it ACTUALLY Educational?
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Hi, I’m M. Welcome to the first episode of Miscellany Media Reviews, a production of Miscellany Media Studios. In this first episode, we’ll be discussing Twilight, the 2005 novel by Stephanie Meyer. Also, we will still be trying to figure out what this show is exactly going to be. Hopefully it’s not a sinking ship. I really hope it’s not a sinking ship. I’m doing the best I can.
ANYWAY, I want to start off with a really brief and informal explanation of the thing I’m going to be reviewing. Casting aside the issue of how necessary such a thing is. So. Twilight. When you type it into Wikipedia just to remind yourself of this specter from your past actually is, it doesn’t take you straight to the page about the book series but to the page about that time of night. And let me just say, that Wikipedia article is surprisingly long and interesting. I recommend. But then to get back on track, I had to click on the disambiguation link, and under the “Books” section, you find the novel series by Stephenie Meyer right at the top. Twilight is the infamous or famous vampire romance that define the early 2000s. This first book, Twilight, was released in 2005. The rest soon followed as did the movies and a lot of related merchandise.
The series centers around the main character Bella Swan after she gets shipped off to a small town in Washington state to live with her father. And Bella… Well… Well, while it may not have been intended, Bella didn’t have any other defining characteristics besides this big shift in her life. Which is a really delicate way of saying Bella didn’t have a personality. Maybe she did—once upon a time—and she just couldn’t fit it into her suitcase. I don’t know.
But back to the summary, Twilight’s Forks, Washington is this battleground for a vampire versus werewolf standoff, which then becomes a vampire versus vampire turf war. But it also becomes a (in-quotes here) war over Bella. Edward the vampire is in love with her, but it’s unwise for him to be with her. Jacob the Werewolf doesn’t have the same problem, but he also doesn’t have the same allure that Edward does.
And maybe I didn’t need to say any of that. Twilight was a pop culture phenomenon, and I’m about ten years too late for that hype train. (Or not quite ten years, maybe?) It was still going when I graduated high school, and according to Facebook’s “On this day” system, I only graduate seven years.
But look, I’m not bringing up high school as an indirect or roundabout way of taking a potshot at Twilight or its fans. And it’s not an arbitrary time marker to orient myself around either.
You see, dear listeners, Stephenie Meyer went to my high school. Not at the same time I did, of course. And as far as I’m reasonably aware, we’ve never actually crossed paths, but that’s not the point. This weird entanglement of our lives is.
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Even years (and let’s leave it at an undefined number of years for the sake of argument) after its peak, Twilight is still a rather contentious book, evoking intense opinions on both sides. And passions being what they are, I don’t see that ever changing. Which is fine, and I genuinely mean that, but that’s a topic for a different episode. As for this episode, however, I want to put forth an argument that may make both sides a bit uneasy.
I think Twilight does have something to teach us, something pretty important. But then again, I might only thing that because of the weird role it had in my life. It’s certainly not a lesson I learned when I actually read Twilight but something I only realized long after.
Comments about her present merit set aside for now, Stephanie Meyer wasn’t a brilliant novelist or poet or anything like that in high school. Believe me, I’ve seen some of her early work. But when you’ve accomplished anything in your life, the past gets rewritten to be more reflective of the present. The legend of Stephenie Meyer that exists in my high school was one of a bookish teenager destined for this stage in her life. Granted, this was never said aloud, but the multiple shelves of Twilight books in the school’s library, the movie posters hanging on those shelves that were constantly being replaced whenever some mischief-maker who wanted to seem edgy gauged Edward’s eyes out, and the Twilight displays all over campus suggested a pride linked to that early confidence. Then there was the fact that there was always a whispering about her in the halls, which the conspiracy-prone side of me thinks was purposely propagated by the school administration to keep the aura of prestige alive. More likely, it was just a pretty cool claim to frame for an otherwise ordinary high school. Or a high school that feared it was ordinary.
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Regardless of whether or not this was true, this revised account of Stephenie Meyer was convenient for a number of reasons. For one, there was a rumor going around that a nearby high school was saved from being shut down by an alumni cutting a stupidly large check. Essentially, the unverified story goes that the district needed to downsize the number of high schools in the district for a variety of reasons, which wasn’t a great situation, but they made the best of it and rationally selected the smallest high school whose student body could be distributed easily between two other schools without overburdening either of them. But then this alumni (who shall remain nameless because I really can’t verify any of this) hears that his old high school is going to be closed and calls someone at the district to ask “How much money do I have to pay to keep my high school open?” The person on the other end of the line came up with a stupidly high sum, and that sum got paid. But this person didn’t consult their boss or anyone like that, so this check couldn’t keep all the high schools open, so a different one got shut down. Which they did.
Yeah, it’s an absurd story, and maybe everyone believed it simply because it meant that worshipping the ground Stephenie Meyer walked on could come in handy someday. But even if that wasn’t true, she still served them a different purpose.
Stephenie Meyer is a beckon of a certain type of literary achievement. While what she wrote may not technically be good, she’s a world famous, best-selling author, whose books are everywhere and inspired another author to write another book series that is also everywhere. In many ways, regardless of if what she made was bad, she rose to the top of the authorial heap. When I was in high school—at least at my high school—there was no author bigger than Stephenie Meyer.
And that’s exactly what the figurative powers that be wanted.
And I don’t mean the principle, the teachers, the people at the district. No, I don’t mean any literal person or position. And if I’m misusing that phrase, then so be it. But there’s an undercurrent at many American high schools and universities that bends in a particular direction, one that is desperate for achievement and the prestige that comes with it. It doesn’t matter who inhabits what position. This goes beyond people. Because our high school—in the heart of the very wealthy Scottsdale, Arizona where parents could throw money at problems—wasn’t struggling to keep its head above water, we were the perfect prey.
The figurative powers that be wanted their high school to be packed full of future industry leaders, famous athletes, and high ranking government officials. In the present, these are known as the type A, over-achievers getting a head start on the rat race before the starting gun has even been loaded. Essentially, the school system almost leaches off of these achievements to justify their own ends and perpetuates their own existence. Ignore all the systemic factors that actually influence student achievement and personal outcomes, if your students are amazing, you can say that you did it. And who’s going to prove otherwise?
For that, myths are useful. Incredibly so. So if you could portray high school Stephenie Meyer (of course, back then she was Stephenie Morgan) as a talented writer to be who thrived under your careful tutelage, all the better. It’s a great story to tell to funding sources, and it’s a great way to perpetuate the current you want your current students to ride.
But here’s the thing. I don’t doubt I went to high school with those future industry leaders, medical experts, government leaders, NGO founders, or anything like that. That list of famous alumni is going to be stupidly long in a couple of years, and none of it has to do with Stephenie Meyer. She was just the flavor of the month during my four years.
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But that’s Stephenie Meyer. What about me? You might be asking or might not be. To be blunt, high school me was a hot mess who—for so many reasons—couldn’t envision her own future: she had to depend on other people to do that for her. There’s a huge explanation and story to explain that, but it’s a story for another time, or maybe another episode if you feel like subscribing. (But no promises.) But the point is, I was an incredibly insecure person, desperate for direction, who was now suddenly trapped in the shadow of a person constantly discussed, though she was both praised and ridicule. Usually ridiculed.
And also I loved writing. It wasn’t like I dreamed of being a writer, though. To me, there was a distinction.
When I was growing up, I went through dozens of iterations of “what I wanted to be when I grew up.” I wanted to be a veterinarian who also wrote books. I wanted to be a doctor who also wrote books. I wanted to be a president who also wrote books. I wanted to be a paleontologist who also wrote books. And I (reluctantly) wanted to be a lawyer who also wrote books.
Do you see a pattern here? I loved writing but not as a career choice. It was just something I did, something I always wanted to do. And because I was stuck in Stephenie Meyer’s shadow as someone who also wrote things, she became a sort of de facto role model. I mean that in the sense that role models give us a reference for what is possible, what can happen, and what we can do. And when you’re horribly insecure: they are an example of what you have to do. It wasn’t enough to just write or to write because it brought me joy. No, that’s not how this whole thing works. Writing couldn’t be an end in itself anymore. It had to be part of a larger achievement, of a stupidly large achievement. I had to be a bestselling author. I had to make millions from my book. I had to sell millions of those books. Go big or don’t go at all. There’s no go home. This is home. Home is telling me these things.
Had things gone differently, it would have been easier to dismiss her constant presence in my life. I could have gone on writing just because it was what I enjoyed rather than because I needed to achieve the cultural statue she had. But I couldn’t seem to get away from her. We even had the same English teacher. I know if you go digging for it, you could probably find who he is, but since he’s name doesn’t come up in the first page of a Google search, I’m just going to call him Mr. D for now. When I had him, Mr. D. was already pretty up in years. I mean, he was old, and while he said plenty of things that danced around that fact, he never hit it over the head. So he had have maybe thousands of students over the course of his very long career. But Stephenie Meyer (of course back then, she was Stephenie Morgan) stood out in his mind.
He spoke of her fondly and often, particularly when it came time to read her books. Yes, Twilight was actually assigned reading in one of my English classes, but before, dear listeners, you flip about this incredibly specific failure of the American public school system, let me soften some of the implications of that statement. We read dozens of books for his class including Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, Of Mice and Men, Fahrenheit 451, Red Badge of Courage, The Grapes of Wrath, Catcher in the Rye, and that was all in the first nine weeks. Mr. D piled on the reading while assigning us hours of sentence diagraming, and twenty vocabulary words a week for his weekly examinations. Yes, we had a test every Friday, and yes—most horrifyingly—these tests were cumulative. Well, they start off as tests, then they become exams, and then they become into nightmarish beasts of sheer terror and dismay.
By the time we got around to reading the first two books of the Twilight series, we REALLY needed the break. Like, this was not an assignment, so much as it was an act of divine mercy. He didn’t really intend for it to be a break. Mr. D had his own reasons for assigning those readings.
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But I’ll get to that in a bit. Because right now, I’m sure the question on many of your minds is “Well what did you think about it?” Now that you have admitted to reading those books, which team are you on. Not Team Jacob or Team Edward. I mean, Team Twilight or Team Openly Mock Twilight also known as Team That Guy Who Almost Hit Bella With His Car.
Twilight famously had its detractors. Famously. They were remarkably loud and vocal about their displeasure. But Twilight’s fans were equally enthusiastic about their fandom.
SO WHICH CAMP WAS I IN? You might be yelling at this point. The answer will surprise those who know me. Because as far as they are concerned, I wear my affiliation proudly on my skin.
You see, dear listeners, I was proudly, as a result of reading it in this class, on Team Twilight.
But not Team Edward or Team Jacob, mind you. I really didn’t care either way because they both had their faults (and their strengths but mostly their faults), so it seemed like either way Bella was gonna lose. Just another aside here, I guess she always could have gone the “I’m a strong, independent woman” route and rejected both of her suitors, but let’s face it, we all know that was not going to happen. It wasn’t in Bella’s limited character, and the fans would have been in an uproar that the love story they had been so personally invested in was no longer a love story. Basically, Stephenie Meyer dug herself into a hole she had no way of getting out of.
If you couldn’t figure it out, I have absolutely no misconceptions about the quality of Twilight. And I think there’s a surprising numberof people in the fandom who would agree. The books aren’t technically good on any level. They exist but can’t make any greater claim than that. Except, they might be a hot mess, but they are an ENJOYABLE hot mess.
There’s that cliché we tell children about reading. Or I think we tell children. I grew up hearing it, but I don’t know if it’s still said. It’s some variation of “reading is a way to escape into a different world,” and yeah, I believe that. Because when you’re reading, you can escape into the plot of someone else’s life. You get the emotional adventure of all the dramas, all the ups and downs, but you don’t have to face any repercussions or put in any effort.
It was a break, is what I’m saying from, all the problems and pitfalls of my life at the time. And it was a welcome break. It was a needed break.
But that’s my perspective, anyway. To take things back to Mr. D. He wasn’t assigning these readings to be kind. He might have been the only teacher from her time at Chaparral to still be there by the time I got around. There are a couple of passing mentions of teachers in her book, but they were larger than life figures around campus in their own right, so I’m not sure if she was in their class or had just heard of them. The (quick) portrayal of one of those teachers makes me doubt Stephenie Meyer, excuse me, Stephenie Morgan had even heard rumors about that teacher.
But to get to the point, Mr. D didn’t assign Twilight as a way to stroke his own ego or as a “Oh look at what my student did, aren’t I an amazing teacher?” Mr. D wasn’t like that. And I know what I was talking about because I have had teachers who WERE-slash-ARE like that, but he wasn’t one of them. This wasn’t about him, not in a direct way.
Great teachers have a passion for unlocking the potentials of their students, but some of them have a more specialized approach than others. Mr. D wanted to make us writers, or at least, he wanted us to try writing, and those of us who had some innate drive to it could then choose to stick with it. That had always be his “thing” long before Stephenie Morgan became Stephenie Meyer who became THE Stephenie Meyer.
Once Twilight was read, Mr. D segued into our most arduous project: writing a short story. And this assignment really was about making the story. He didn’t give us a page range, he didn’t give us a prompt, and he didn’t give us a genre. He gave us four requirements and a due date. That’s it.
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So at this point, right, I’m sixteen, and defensively, I’ve adopted this sort of bravado about my writing. That yes, I was in fact a writer in whatever sense you thought that word meant. I wasn’t published yet, but I was going to be, and I was going to be better than you, better than Stephenie Meyer, better than anyone. I was going to figuratively own the world, and that was that. I had already started, you know, on some levels, because I was constantly writing. I handwrote all my first drafts, so everyone saw me do it. Well, that wasn’t the point, it was just an unintended consequence of the way I did things. I had an image of being a writer, and that’s all I had going for me in high school.
It was just a front though. My insecurities were rapidly growing, and writing was a crutch. It helped cover up my insecurities, and it helped me work through them through a self-administered pseudo-narrative therapy.
Consequently, the stakes going into that assignment felt pretty high. I was presenting myself as the best writer, I was subtly being told that I needed to be the best writer, and I was trapped in the shadow of a standard I didn’t particularly agree with or like. It wasn’t a good situation. Of course, it didn’t help that I’ve never been particularly good at short stories. I preferred novels, just because I’ve always been a long winded person. Short stories don’t lend themselves to that because—you know—they kind of have to be short.
But nuance didn’t matter. If nuance had ever mattered, I wouldn’t have been in that mess in the first place. Now would I? I needed to make not just a great short story but the best short story. Bonus points if Mr. D said it was the best story that had ever been written in his class. However, it had to be the best of the class at the very least. That was non-negotiable.
Was I delusional? Probably, but I’m more inclined to use the word desperate. And this fire was fueled by all those who kept telling me how excited they were to read my story, even though I was notorious for keeping all my work private.
With all that in mind, I got right to it, right? I… I hit that notebook hard and started working. Nope. Super nope. I procrastinated like the assignment was to procrastinate. And even at the time, I knew I shouldn’t have been doing that, but I can’t really explain why I was doing it. I can’t remember enough of that time to piece together a sturdy explanation. The only one I have is that maybe it was a defensive reaction. That the only surefire way to not fail is to not do.
I don’t know, but I do know that I waited until two days before the deadline to actually start. I frantically handwrote the first draft, typed it up, did a few cursory edits. All I all, I think I spent maybe twenty hours on something that had the ability to define my whole life. (For the record, I had given it that status, no one else had. Fully taking ownership). It might have been more time, but admittedly, I was working on it during passing periods, car rides, and a couple of minutes in class when we weren’t doing anything else. It’s hard to track all those spare minutes, so I might be wrong.
For all my work (quotes or not), I ended up with thirty pages double spaced and absurdly proud of that. And while, that might not be something I should be SUPER proud of, it was an objective type of pride. I had in fact written thirty pages over the span of two days, and there is nothing that could be said to undercut that. Because that statement has nothing to do with quality.
On the other hand, I was also absurdly proud of my (in quotes) deep and profound symbolism. You know the kind. The kind where you throw a character’s name into Google translate if you want to see what my convoluted point was or which singular trait I wanted to use to define the character as a whole. And even then there’s still not enough in the story for you to figure it all out on your own.
I thought I was being clever because only the truly astute would be able to see what I was getting at. [Pause] Hey, we all do stupid things in life. And in my defense, I see now that this was a specular failure relative to what my perceptions and expectations were. But in the moment, I genuinely thought I had made something vaguely reminiscent of a masterpiece. And look, he gave me an A. Because, it did meet the requirements.
But I didn’t get the praise I wanted. Instead, I got thrown out of this throne I had never been seated in. And in—what felt like a very real descent—my plummet ended in a very hard landing.
Because, you see, the best story of the year was in the class. It wasn’t mine but that of a girl who sat two rows over who—up until that point—had never shown any interest in writing. And yet, she had outdone me. It stung, to say the least. And when the class wanted her entire story read aloud, my wound started burning. AND just as a final nail in my coffin. Her story was fifty pages, beating me on that front, too.
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Whenever we had a few minutes to spare at the end of class, Mr. D would pull out her story and read a little bit of it aloud until the bell rang. And to his credit, he had a remarkable talent for it, like he should have gone into audiobook narration. He missed his calling. But I couldn’t enjoy the show. This was such a loaded topic for me that all I could do was be miserable.
Her story was about a man who made a deal with the devil to go back to his glory days and reclaim the lost love his youthful arrogance told him to cast aside. At least, that’s what I remember, and that’s all I remember. I’m not sure if we ever finished it or if I was just absent during the grand finale. But then again, I’m missing more than the grand finale. I guess I never paid attention. The story itself didn’t matter to me. The damage had already been done.
Forget the fancy metaphors or whatever that could make this moment more climactic than it really was. I’m just going to be blunt. I decided that I had to give up writing. If I couldn’t do anything with it, then I shouldn’t do it at all. If accomplishments were the only thing that mattered and I was never going to accomplish anything with it. Then I had to let it go.
I can’t really blame Stephenie Meyer for any of this. Nor do I want to or do I want it to seem like that’s what I’m doing. The person Stephenie Meyer is nowhere involved in the story, and the abstract conception of Stephenie Meyer was no more than thing that was just kind of there, but symbols are fair game for personal hatred and feelings of betrayal. They exist in the public domain, after all or I think so. At the very least, it’s better to hate the symbol of a person I’d never meet than a great teacher or a fellow student I would spend another two years with. A relationship with a symbol is nowhere near as important as a relationship with a person. And it’s a lot easier to fix.
Anyway, I kept writing all through high school. I never wanted to give it up, but what I wanted didn’t matter. As I saw it, I could write in high school because high school didn’t matter beyond keeping my grades up, which would get me into a good university, which would come with a figurative one way ticket out of that place and to the rest of my life.
Fast forward to me being eighteen. Which is only two years, so it shouldn’t need a fast forward button, but let me have that one.
To be blunt, eighteen year old me probably would have benefited by being punched in the face. Not for any one reason, and it might not have helped at all, but it was worth a shot, I guess. I was just stuck in my own head, obsessing about idiosyncrasies no one else likely noticed, and Ididn’t have a good way of getting out of this. Writing had helped me with that, in the past, but now that I didn’t have that, I didn’t know what else would work.
But what didn’t help me was that my roommate at the time was a huge Twilight fan, as were her friends who would occasionally come by our room or hang out. And with Breaking Dawn Part 1 released during our time together... My word, I was a world away from my high school, but Stephenie Meyer had followed me that far. And I hated her for it. The symbol, anyway. It was better than hating my roommate.
The hype died down a bit in the spring despite Breaking Dawn Part 2 scheduled to come out the following November. There was the Hunger Games to think about, and so many other things that I should have had a welcomed break. But Twilight was white noise in the back of my mind, and I couldn’t seem to turn it off. Not on my own anyway.
And then he said, “It’s helpful, isn’t it?”
Everything in my mind stopped, including that otherwise inescapable static. I was just confused and scrambling to figure out what he meant. See, here’s what happened. I had just given him my exam and he had said that to me. Sensing my confusion, he gestured to the sea of pens on my desk, something that my anxiety needed to get me through exams but something that I had been mocked for by other students and even other professors. But rather than tease me or mock me or anything like that, he was kind.
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I know this was a small thing. A very small thing. It took him all of a few fractions of a seconds to say and cosmically speaking, this as well as myself are completely irrelevant. But this didn’t belong to the whole world. His remark—his kindness—was mine, entirely mine.
It got me to trust him, which was the beginning of a long process of building me up again. My perception of myself was distorted. It had been for a long time, having been beaten out of shape by various forces in my life and their lies. He couldn’t undo the damage, but he helped me to. And in many ways, I think he wasn’t the one that needed to do it. Imposing a functional understanding of the world is still technically an imposition.
So instead, he said to me, “I wish you could see yourself as I see you.”
It took me a little while to figure that out, but I think I’ve got it now
He knew I wasn’t perfect. I wrote at least one really bad essay in his class. I was incredibly anxious and neurotic, and I was very difficult to talk to. No, I wasn’t perfect, but I still mattered to him.
Mr. D didn’t teach Twilight in the same way he taught other books. There was no big lesson about themes or symbols. It just sat, stagnate as supposed inspiration. And I earnestly wished he had taken a different approach. Because there was something to learn, something that this professor taught me that I really wish I could have learned earlier.
Something didn’t have to be perfect to matter. Something doesn’t have to be perfect to be cared about or loved.
Twilight was a hot mess, and it still became a pop culture phenomenon. To call Bella a hot mess would be overly generous, but still, she had two boys fall in love with her. Edward and Jacob weren’t perfect, but—better or worse—they had their own followings.
Perfection isn’t a requirement for relevance or existence. It’s true with so much, but Twilight makes the point pretty obvious.
And that’s the lesson I wished I had learned from Twilight.
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