Do You Remember Your First Kiss? (Of Course You Do.)
I’m tempted to say that early summer is prime nostalgia season, but I could (and probably would, or maybe even will…) make that argument for every season when I’m in the middle of it. Still, there’s no denying that summer has a particular set of unshakable associations—things we were trained to anticipate when we were kids and can’t really unlearn, that feeling of freedom and possibility that we can still smell in the air along with humidity and freshly mowed grass, but which now feels sort of like a punch to the gut.
I thought about this while I was reading “First Kiss,” a zine put together by Marisa Meltzer (author of “Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music”) and style writer/blogger Elizabeth Spiridakis. It’s pretty irresistible: a good-natured, high energy, nostalgic-by-definition collection of some fifty stories about the seminal moment when your lips first meet someone else’s, and all of the drama and humiliation and excitement and disappointment it always involves. There’s just something summery about the idea of first kisses! Even though my own actually took place in the winter, I guess my sense of it these many years later has ended up having more to do with long, sweltering nights and a relaxed curfew than with heavy sweaters and sleet.**
But even though “First Kiss” celebrates individual memories and experiences, the zine is really a form of group testimony, full of statements from people who mine their formative years as a kind of creative outlet. (That seems to be a particular subset of journalists/artists/hipsters, by the way, and I’d have to be in deep denial to pretend I’m not among them.) Inevitably, some of the stories here are better told or more memorable than others, but that’s basically beside the point—it’s the massing of them that really matters. Meltzer and Spiridakis put out a simple, alluring request for people to tell their own version of a story everyone has, and pulled them all together in a zine that’s pretty much designed to be read and relished and squealed over en mass. Predictably, they had no shortage of submissions.
Of course, the reality of a first kiss doesn’t have all that much to do with the looming cultural idea of one, culled from movies and songs and endless speculation at sleepovers. There’s what we thought it would be like at the time, versus what it was actually like, and what we want it to feel like in retrospect versus what it turns out to feel like for real. Which makes it sort of wonderfully weird that the zine includes a contribution from Tavi Gevinson, the much buzzed-about 14-year-old fashion blogger, and actually kicks off with a story from her friend Spencer Tweedy (yes, son of Jeff). Tavi’s first kiss was just last year, and, she writes, “I can’t fully REFLECT on it now. It’s too soon, and it’s still too middle-school, and besides, I haven’t had a kiss since so I have nothing to compare it to other than the scenarios in John Hughes movies.” At a reading for the zine, Tavi and Spencer (in absentia) screened a video they made where they slumped next to each other on a porch swing and pretended to be old people reminiscing about their glory days. “Do you remember the days of our youth?” Tavi asks Spencer, trying to speak with her lips pulled over her teeth so it looked like she doesn’t have any (apparently being old also gives you something of a British accent). In character as an old man, Spencer doesn’t have much to say except to express bafflement at Tavi’s fond memories of “web-logs.” Then the two of them reenact their “First Kiss” stories using puppets and plastic figurines.
In general, though, there are patterns to the way the “First Kiss” stories are told: Many of the writers puzzle over what truly counts as their first kiss, sometimes offering more than one anecdote to cover their bases (very first first kiss, first decent kiss, first kiss with someone I actually liked, first kiss with a girl after realizing I wasn’t into boys). More than one writer mentions “Stairway to Heaven,” and the popularity of the urban myth that two people’s braces can get stuck together is repeated several times. Many first kisses took place at summer camp. Almost everyone seems to think they were abnormally old at the time of their first kiss (which means, of course, that they weren’t).
But Tavi and Spencer’s video really says it all. Here are preternaturally mature 14-year-olds pretending to be really old for the purpose of poking fun at the nostalgic tendencies of everyone older than them. But they already know what it’s like to be nostalgic, and half-ironically use kiddie toys to act out a story of something they know is formative, but which just happened. They’re star contributors to a project premised on the nostalgia of people a decade or two older than them (which they are vaguely jealous of; witness Tavi’s fascination with Sassy magazine and other nineties staples), and are so well-versed in the inevitable course of memory that they can anticipate and make light of their own.
** It took place in a closet during a Truth of Dare game when I was fourteen, with a skater boy who proceeded to “ask me out” and “date” me (perhaps on a dare itself, it was never really clear) for the next 12 hours and then unceremoniously dump me before the group of us went on a heavily chaperoned ski weekend, during which time he was very mean to me. (I did not then, nor have I ever skied, nor were we actually the kind of people who went on group ski weekends. Very little about it made sense.)
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