Back in the day, people knew Hannah Friedman as “Monkey Girl”. That is, until she made herself and her life “perfect”. She went to an elite boarding school. She was a member of the “Great Eight” (for popular, pretty, and petite girls only). She even graduated from Yale University.
She had all the right clothes, all the right friends, and the perfect boyfriend. But everything was wrong. Everything, well, sucked. Friedman’s new memoir, Everything Sucks: Losing My Mind and Finding Myself in a High School Quest for Cool, is a comical-yet-personal look into her life and the lessons that she’s learned along the way.
Friedman is funny but frank about the many ups and downs of her life. While some of her memories are quite dark (drugs and eating disorders), others are quite funny and somewhat helpful (conquering the college application process and dealing with her non-traditional family). From periods to the college application process, the author leaves no stone unturned, offering up an unflinching look at her life.
I got a chance to talk to 21-year-old author about her book and what she learned along the way. She also gave me some great advice about college and how to make the most of it.
How did you come to the conclusion that ‘everything sucks’?
The title is kind of tongue-in-cheek. I wrote the book proposal and that phrase just came to mind to sum up being a teenager. You have a lot of responsibilities for the first time in your life and not a lot of freedom. Everything is changing. Also, when you’re trying to be something that you’re not, it becomes very consuming and it kind of seeps into every aspect of your life. It’s a performance of looking ‘right’ and in turn, everything does suck.
What was it like writing a book after writing thousands of papers as an English major?
I got the book project right before I graduated. It was the biggest learning experience that I think I’ve undertaken because there were no parameters for it. There was no thesis. The first step in the process was brainstorming and I wrote everything that I could think of; names of my friends, incidents, etc. Kind of just a big messy list. That was the easiest part because I let my brain run free. The hardest part was editing because in college they train you to have an argument. Allowing myself to write something that didn’t have to be perfect was really freeing.
During the college application process, you knew that Yale was the school for you and the fear of not getting in consumed your senior year of high school. Looking back on that period, how do you feel about the application process now?
First of all, colleges is a business. The entire college application process is fueled by the hysteria of young impressionable people. You have to shove your entire personage into two pages of bubbles and forms. I think it becomes really damaging because people assume that if you don’t t do this right when you’re eighteen, you’re going to ruin the rest of your life. I was swept up in all of that. No place is perfect. I think that’s the problem with the application process, there’s this myth that you have to find the perfect school. There’s good at every college and there are good opportunities if you seek them.
What advice do you have to offer college students or the college bound?
Don’t worry so much about grades. That really dominated so much of my academic life and it wasn’t very satisfying. Exploring what your passionate about makes learning fun and makes it seem like the world is alive. It really feels that you are engaging the learning process instead of just memorizing Bio flashcards. I took a circus technique class at Yale, so, forget about your resume and try to have the most fun as you can.
If you have an idea (even if it’s such a small tiny idea) you should be too stubborn to quit. It can be too easy to quit and it kind of kills all of your creative impulses. There was this competition for female college undergraduates on how my summer would be interesting. We were going on tour, and I was going to play sax and bass in my dad’s band and write a book. It was a kernel of a nothing idea, but some part of me believed that I could shape it into some kind of idea. I was too stubborn to quit.
By Janelle Stokes