The Best of YouTube Parawriting

I’ve gotten really terrible at Facebook and Twitter and Instagram—out of anxiety I overthink things and as a result end up posting like once a month—but YouTube remains one place I do post with total abandon and nary a flying fart for what people might think.

A couple months ago I said something about this in my monthly Facebook post, about how much interesting writing I do, and also read,  in the comments section of YouTube. It’s a kind of marginalia, I wrote. Or even a kind of latrinalia—a writing on the bathroom wall that no one will ever read—and, at the same time, which everyone will read. Weird.

Probably the cleverest thing I ever posted to YouTube was a parody of “Here I Dreamed I Was an Architect” by The Decemberists:

here i dreamt i was in grad school

and i listened to decemberists

and i recall in spring

the black horn rims and skinny jeans

i’d wear to seminar

(It’s funny if you’re familiar with the Decemberists’ brand of maudlin literary intellectualism OR if you’re familiar with grad students of any humanities stripe.)

Now, my most popular post, not only in terms of the numbers of likes it gathered (663 as of today) but also in terms of the number of date requests I got from guys with depression, was the following comment on The National’s NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert:

I’m such a sucker for sad men.

(prompting Miguelito the God to sigh, I wish you lived in Arizona than but I am honestly sad as hell right now lol)

But the reason for this post is that I keep getting really moving responses to something I wrote in the comments for Bette Midler’s “The Rose,” a little piece of flash autobio I keep thinking I might work into a YA novel about a genderqueer kid coming of age during the early years of the AIDS epidemic. A kind of displaced COVID fable for today’s pandemic youth.

Here’s what I wrote:

In the early 90s I was a preteen weirdo attending middle school in rural Texas. This was in the days before the schools had much consciousness around bullying, and the buses and locker rooms seemed to be controlled–from the perspective of the poor and the socially lowly, anyway–by powerful cliques of popular, mean kids from wealthy ranching families who did whatever they wanted. I did absolutely everything I could to keep a low profile and never draw attention to myself lest I be harassed or assaulted.

Maybe for that reason, I remember this one girl, Ginny, who was from a poor family and lived in a trailer but who was determined to break into the power elite of the middle school dance team. Despite the poverty of her family and the sneers and shit talk of the popular girls, Ginny insisted on trying out for the team–and she got in. It’s not that other girls weren’t athletic or couldn’t have aced the tryout. It’s more that you didn’t dare want that sort of belonging if you you weren’t from a certain background. But Ginny didn’t care what they thought of her. She seemed almost oblivious to it, because she never fronted like she was hard. She was nice, even to the mean girls who never really accepted her.

Anyway, I will always remember her standing alone in the middle of the cafeteria stage in a formal gown, singing this song for the middle school talent show, her total vulnerability–almost painful to watch for a nerd like me who wanted only to remain invisible–matched only by her fearlessness.

Most of the people commenting on this video are remembering loved ones–children, parents, lovers–who have passed. Maybe for that reason, I’ve had an unusually large number of very touching, heartfelt responses from strangers (“That is exactly the way to do it, what Ginny did! Congratulations to her resilience. And thank YOU for sharing this story with us. It’s a valuable one!”). Which makes me think I should do something bigger with that little story scribbled in the margins of  YouTube. That if Ginny’s story has stuck with me all these years, it might be something that sticks with all middle school weirdos everywhere, in every generation.

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