By Amanda Page Essays were written. We collected them and took them to the head of the English department. We handed him our short stack and waited. We waited for his reaction, for his feedback. We stood in his office, terrified, exhilarated, proud of ourselves for taking this on, scared of ourselves for the same reason.
Maybe we wanted his approval. Instead, we received, with apprehension, a question: what does rebellion mean to you? He didn’t want to disappoint us, that much was clear. But he wanted us to understand that something was missing.
“Right now,” he said, “all I’m reading is several stories about drinking in bars and meeting boys.”
It was early in the project and we were in our early twenties. Drinking in bars and meeting boys was a significant slice of our collective experience. He went on to say that we needed to have a point, a reason to rebel. We knew he was right, but we challenged him anyway. My memory wants to share a moment where one of us (Amy) dared him to see past the surface to what we were really saying. I don’t remember exactly, and it both kills me and relieves me. I want to say that he responded by daring us to do the same.
We were orbiting the point, just discovering the lesson.
I don’t remember where we found it or who gave it to us, but we happened upon the Marlon Brando quote from The Wild Ones. A girl asks him, “What are you rebelling against?”
He answers, “What have you got?”
Well, we had plenty.
It’s too easy to look back and assign ourselves things to rebel against. I also think that we weren’t rebelling against things. Our rebellion didn’t look like rebellion, which could be seen as a type of rebellion. But we weren’t protesting, we weren’t overtly political, we didn’t have one particular issue that pushed us or for us to push back.
I like to think that we were rebelling in the service of something. We were rebelling for something, not so much against. The idea was to share some instruction on how to rebel, how to live, how to be a young woman writer. We were writing it in real time.
It’s clear to me now, that our rebellion was an attempt to figure out how to live our lives authentically---how to live an authentic life. Every act of authenticity is an act of rebellion. If we rebelled against anything, it was the script. When you’re about to graduate from college, your options can feel limited. You can be overwhelmed with choices, and paralyzed by the pressure to choose. We fought against that pressure, those expectations, often from well-meaning family and friends and professors and advisors.
The most we could hope for was to make interesting lives for ourselves. And at that point, the interesting stuff was boys and bars.
Of course, there was more. By claiming any kind of power over our own lives, we were rebelling against many things: parental expectations, societal expectations, what we’d been taught and what we’d been told to expect for ourselves.
That’s where essays served us most. We claimed our power by claiming our stories. By owning our experiences, through how we wrote them, we created respect for them. I learned to respect my own stories. I learned the power in having a story, and in telling it. The YWRB project made my stories matter at a time when no one wants you to trust yourself. But I trusted my stories. I trusted Amy’s stories. I believed our stories mattered. Our stories mattered. That’s all anyone can ever hope for. That’s what we were trying to say to other young women: Your story matters.
That’s what I rebelled for.