Get Over the Hump



I have the very bad habit of using coffee to get over my tired humps on particularly trying days. But it's like that high school algebra equation that I don't remember very well. Something like a + b = c, except mine is coffee + afternoon intake = midnight rendezvous with insomnia. I'm an idiot, because I know that my hump-bypass will become my actual hump later that night. But the one great thing about drinking coffee late in the day is that I can surf Netflix into the wee hours. Kids are asleep. The house is dark, and my eyes are wiiiidddeeee open without a nod of a heavy head. I'm in to watch.

That's how I found Mortified Nation, an independent documentary that captures Mortified Live stage events in various cities. (And for you Swedes out there, even a non-English speaking chapter in Sweden! Vacoolt!) It has been hailed as a "comic excavation" of the strange and humorous things we create as kids. Across the country, adults who range from the actor and writer to the pharmaceutical rep and den mother share their most embarrassing childhood artifacts -- journals, letters, poems, lyrics, plays, home movies -- with an audience of strangers and a collection of friends. (I ask you, which is worse?)

The project began in the late 1990s, 10 years after I stopped writing in my journals of youth. Creator Dave Nadelberg unearthed an awkward love letter meant for a never realized love-of-his-life and began sharing it with friends. By 2002, Neil Katcher joined the project, and the pile of melodrama formalized as Mortified. It's a franchise now with stage productions, 10 nationwide chapters, an interview series with actors on Sundance Channel, two published anthologies with Simon & Schuster, a website (, and of course the 2013 documentary film that I discovered that late night -- Mortified Nation.

As I watched these men and women ranging in age seemingly from their 20s to their 50s and heard their stories of unrequited love, fights with family, first puffs, struggles with their sexuality, questions about sex, and -- most importantly -- reasons why they deserved to marry Jon Bon Jovi, I considered the art of journaling. I wondered why I had stopped. I thought about my boys and how much journaling might help them process their adolescence and navigate their decisions. I realized how far we come from that time in our life but also how we really are just expanded versions of that nugget in time. Family issues, jealously, love, lack-of-love, wanting perky senior cheerleader's new jean jacket? Much doesn't change really. Our core desires certainly don't. We probably still want something that former perky senior cheerleader has but it now may be her car or her ability to hold a yoga pose. We still can't get along with our brother. We want a life that is over on the other side of the fence. Loves have come and gone, some with grace, others not so much.

I have joined my 9-year-old in his reading of the Harry Potter series. While he is long done with all seven, I'm still working on the fourth in the series. In it, Professor Dumbledore takes memories and stores them in the Pensieve, a basin of sorts that holds this collection. "I sometimes find ... that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind," explains Dumbledore. Using the Pensieve, he siphons the excess thoughts from his mind, pours them into the basin and examines them at his leisure. "It becomes easier to spot patterns and links, you understand, when they are in this form."

There are a million stories buried in the pages of people's journals of their lives. There are even more buried in each life, never to be recorded and recited, remembered and recounted. I have decided that I will, once again, begin a journal, hoping that my children will witness me taking pause with my memories and do the same with theirs. I have come to realize that every day navigated can be considered art, so why shouldn't we still -- all these years after the days of prom and lettering in sports -- take stock and siphon our thoughts and memories into a place where we can better identify patterns and links?

Perhaps an intake of "outtake" in the form of pen and paper rather than a cup of heated sludge is the best hump-bypass for you, me and our kids. And although we all may not be, the night remains young and we can enter it with a different kind of non-caffeinated eyes -- still wide open and able to reflect on what was, is and maybe could be. Let's see what the patterns and links reveal, shall we?

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