I wasn’t nervous to read my letters in front of the crowded YukYuk’s basement on Elgin St in downtown Ottawa until my name was called. All of a sudden, my hands were shaking. What had I gotten myself into? Reading unsent letters that I had written as a tween… they were unsent for a reason! Just as my mind realized that I was sharing a private piece of my angsty childhood years to a room full of strangers, it was my turn. No turning back now…
Since February 2016, I’ve been eagerly looking forward to writing this article, and experiencing this tangled rush of fear and excitement. In October, I finally got my chance. Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids (GRTTWaK) is, word for word, what you’d expect: a group of adults reading diary entries, school assignments, letters to Santa, poems or song lyrics, and the occasional short story, written when they were kids. I first discovered this veritable treasure trove of nostalgia when it popped up as a recommendation on iTunes a little less than a year ago.
From the first episode, I was hooked. It’s impossible not to crack a smile when you hear about someone’s embarrassing first kiss, laugh at a youngsters’ nonsensical short story, or feel empathy for brave souls facing personal struggles. You can delight in the magic of sharing “the good, the bad, and the awkward parts of growing up” either at a live show in any province in Canada as well as two territories, or, in the comfort of your own home via podcast. This simple yet incredibly entertaining concept is the brain child of Dan and Jenna Misener, a husband and wife duo who travel the country on a quest to share the literary time capsules of Canadian livelihoods. Above all, Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids is a sobering reminder the challenges of growing are universal.
I sat down with Dan and Jenna before the show in Ottawa on October 23rd. The interview has been condensed for length and clarity.
Claire: Could you explain to our readers how the idea for the podcast came to be?
Dan: In 2006, Jenna and I were visiting her parents for the holidays at Christmas. At the time we were in our 20s, and her parents had asked her to get rid of some old stuff. So we were going through old boxes and found Jenna’s diaries from age 12(ish). We spent the entire afternoon reading these out loud back and forth to one another, and it struck us that we couldn’t be alone with weird stuff packed away. Inspired, we booked a room, at the upstairs room at the Victory Café in Toronto, in early 2007, and we invited some friends. It was originally intended to be a small gathering where we’d invite people to dig up these childhood writings and reflect on it with some friends and drinks. We’re still basically doing exactly that, but with a little bit more structure.
Claire: What is your favourite thing about traveling across Canada and hosting these GRTTWaK shows?
Jenna: My favourite thing is meeting people from all across Canada. Our show is about bonding over juvenilia, bonding over the fact that we were all awkward kids. It’s kind of like group therapy, almost. Meeting all these people from every province as well as the Yukon and the Northwest Territories… I feel like we have a network of friends everywhere we go. Seeing readers come to our shows do something that’s scary for them, but leaving the stage exhilarating, is unlike anything else. They come off the stage and say “I can’t believe I just did that”. It feels like we know them intimately and we can celebrate in their bravery.
Dan: That’s right. A lot of our show is about positivity and trying to lift each other up in this recognition that we were all awkward. We just get to meet the greatest, nicest and loveliest people. This show operates on goodwill and bravery, and the archival talents of mothers across the country. The people who work up the bravery to share their writing are courageous and generous. I think a lot of us carry the younger version of ourselves all around us. That person is still inside of us, and I think that, what happens when your onstage, is that you get to peak through the adult version of someone and see the part of someone who’s a little bit nervous, or awkward, or vulnerable.
We are all a lot more alike than different
Claire: Is there a lesson in particular that you’ve learned from hearing adults read pieces of writing they wrote as kids?
Dan: I think I’ve heard more childhood and teenage diaries than anyone else in this country, so I think it’s safe for me to draw a few conclusions. We are all a lot more alike than different, and it’s through sharing this kind of stuff that we realize it. When we take these parts of ourselves that were secret and private and, in a very brave way, open up and share that, then we realize that we’re not all so different. When I look out at the crowd, and I see people nodding their heads, then it just proves that other people can relate to these universal experiences. I think we learned something about how this kind of material can be used to people. Part of the value of looking back and seeing who you used to be is creating a sense of self. It can be reassuring to know that you got through some stuff in the past and you made it out OK. These childhood and teenage writings can kind of hold us together, and not just inform us of who we are, but reassure us that everything will turn out. Sometimes you have this moment when someone is reading something and it directly resonates with you and then experience this moment of “oh, I wasn’t so weird after all”.
Jenna: Haha, or maybe, “I was weird, but I wasn’t the only one”.
To hear the podcast recorded live at YukYuks Ottawa on October 23rd (matinée) click on the link. My unsent letters, including hate mail to math, are at the very end.
You can find Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids on Facebook, Twitter, iTunes, Soundcloud and at their website.