Luckily we stayed in one place all through high school. After that, it was off to college and yeah, the letters went with me to my dorm room and my apartments. I lost a box of things that had, I think, trophies and some love letters from the boys. I don’t have those anymore. No sequel. It’s probably best, truly, that I don’t have it because those are probably much better in memory.
How did the opportunity to adapt part of the book come to you?
FX reached out. [Originally, it was going to air on the FXX adult animation anthology show Cake.] I had met with them just to talk about animation and I gave them a bunch of my things. Megan Reid said, “I think your memoir is a great space for animation. You can really play around with this voice.” Originally, they were talking about it in the way that the book is presented, where there’s a current-day me and young me. I did try it that way at first, but it always felt like I was judging myself and inviting the audience to think, “This girl is already doomed or dumb.” And if you could see current me, you kind of knew I ended up some version of fine. After I saw Skate Kitchen and Mid90s really close together, I realized you don’t have to stand in the way of young people living.
Did you always know these were the stories that you wanted to film from the book, or was that a Megan Reid choice?
No, I recently found the email that I wrote after we first beat around this idea. So much of the pitch is exactly the same, but there are a couple of other things I threw in there like, “That’ll be a good story when we get to it.” If we get to keep making these and turn it into the series we’re hoping to, yes, there are more.
You’ve presented the film at many international festivals. It has such a strong sense of place and time, but have you been surprised that the experiences of the audience and the emotions have been so universally understood? An audience at South By Southwest is going to experience this Houston story in a different way than an audience in Iceland will, but it has resonated with both and more.
I mean, Kazakhstan! I have been surprised. But that even started happening within our own group [working on the film] because we weren’t all the same age. The first time we showed the whole thing in Iceland and they were so enthusiastic, I did burst into tears. That was an unexpected feeling: we never thought we’d see it on a giant movie screen, and in Iceland?
It wasn’t just seeing that it worked; it was also that feeling I was talking about. Everybody gets very happy, and then they get very quiet with the end. I think part of it is the way that it fades out, but it has this nostalgia that comes over everyone. It’s a private sharing of a universal feeling. And that has been really sweet. As much as we laugh through the whole thing, you do leave at the end with a kindness to your former, younger self.
I was hoping that it would make someone feel like it’s okay to not want to have sex, without saying that. It’s interesting to me when people are like, “I’m so glad she waited to have sex with Sam.” And I’m like, “They don’t have sex. They’re barely cuddling. There’s no basis for what we leave them at.”
Many people are eager to forget their high school years. This might be why it resonates so much, that people are feeling things that they haven’t tried to feel in such a long time. What makes you want to return to this period in your life, in your work?
I don’t know that I ever left it. If you think about it, I went from writing these things to writing recaps, which are just fever-pitch love letters to television episodes. There is an immediate jump from, “Dear David, the skater I only know from riding the bus,” to “Dear Gilmore GirlsI swear every word of this is true.” It made me understand fandom, which was very helpful for Disney. High school is when your heart finds true fandom for, instead of a poster, a person that exists.