At once laugh-out-loud funny, deliciously dark, and remarkably smart, Struck By Lightning unearths the dirt that lies just below the surface of high school.
The film Stuck By Lightning features Colfer's own original screenplay. Colfer also stars in the film alongside Allison Janney, Christina Hendricks, Dermot Mulroney, Sarah Hyland, and Polly Bergen.
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Struck By Lightning
The Carson Phillips Journal
By Chris Colfer
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2013 Chris Colfer
All rights reserved.
One more school year with these shitheads and I'll be free. It's taken almost two decades of careful planning, but I'm proud to say my overdue departure from the town of Clover is only days away. Three hundred and forty-five days away, to be exact, but who's counting?
A year from now I'll be sitting in my dorm room at Northwestern University taking notes from some overpriced textbook about "the history of ...," you know, something historical. I'll be living off Top Ramen and gallons of Red Bull. I'll barely be getting five hours of sleep a night, and that's only when I don't have to yell at my roommate to turn down his porn.
I know it doesn't sound like much to look forward to, but for this college-bound kid, it's paradise! All the suffering, now and later, is for a much bigger picture.
It's not much of a secret since I tell anyone who will listen (mostly to get them to stop talking to me), but one day I hope to become the youngest freelance journalist to be published in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Boston Globe, eventually making my way to editor of the New Yorker.
Yes, I know that was a lot of information, so take a minute if you need one. If it sounds overwhelming to you, just think about how I feel living up to my future self every day. It's exhausting!
In a decade, if all goes according to plan, things will be much better for me. I can see it now: I'll be sitting in my New York City apartment applying final touches to my weekly New York Times column. I'll be living off Thai food and bottles of the finest red wine. I'll be sleeping ten hours a night, even when I have to yell at my neighbor to turn down his porn.
Granted, I still have a year to go in high school, and senior year at that. And I do realize I haven't actually been "accepted" to Northwestern yet, but those are just minor technicalities. Since we're on the subject, I should also mention that I'm well aware Northwestern doesn't send out early acceptance letters until December 15, but, fearing that I may apply somewhere else, I'm sure they've made an exception for me. I'm positive my acceptance letter is on its way from the admissions office and will soon be in my eager hands as I write this ... right?
I wouldn't be surprised if I was the first applicant. I stayed up half the night to submit my application as soon as the admissions website opened at 6 a.m. Chicago time on the first day. Now it's just a waiting game ... and waiting has never been my forte.
I can't imagine why they wouldn't accept me. When they read my transcripts they'll see I'm a very liberal-minded young man in a very obstinate world begging to be rescued by means of education: a diamond in a pile of cow shit, if you will.
That and the fact that I'm one-sixteenth Native American and one-thirty-second African American (okay, that part I can't actually prove) should make me an admissions jackpot!
Even if that doesn't work, my high school career should speak for itself. I've kept my grade point average at an impressive 4.2 since freshman year. I've single-handedly edited the Clover High Chronicle since sophomore year, and I've managed to keep the Writers' Club alive after school despite its apparent death wish.
Not bad for a kid in a town where the most common intellectual question is, Will he actually eat the green eggs and ham?
I'm kidding (sort of). Look, I don't mean to constantly harp on my hometown. I suppose Clover has some good qualities too ... I just can't think of any off the top of my head.
Clover is a place where the pockets are small but the minds are even smaller. It's tiny and conservative, and most of the people are really set on living and dying here. Personally, I've never been able to hop on the bandwagon and have been publicly chastised because of it. Having aspirations to leave makes me the black sheep of the community.
I'm sorry; I just can't muster up pride for a town whose most cosmopolitan area is the Taco Bell parking lot on a Saturday night. And although I've never lived anywhere else, I'm pretty sure normal Sweet Sixteens don't consist of group cow- tipping.
When they built the first movie theater here, people lost their damn minds. I was only three, but I still remember people crying and cartwheeling in the streets. The line to see You've Got Mail circled the town.
I pray we never get an airport—who knows what kind of cult-sacrificial suicides might occur?
Yeah, I'm a little bitter because I'm one of those kids: bottom of the food chain, constantly teased, despised, an annoyance to everyone around them, most likely to find a pile of flaming manure on the roof of their car (oh yeah, it happened), but what prevents my life from being a sad after-school special is I don't give a shiiiit. I can't reiterate enough, this town is full of morons!
Whenever my pen pals from the online Northwestern chat rooms and forums ask me, "Where is Clover?" I'm usually forced to say, "It's where The Grapes of Wrath ended up." And that's putting it nicely.
Let's be honest: Go to the corner of Nothing and Nowhere, make a left, and you'll find Clover. It's one of those cities you pass along the side of a freeway, home to barely ten thousand citizens, that makes you ask yourself, "Who the fuck would live there?" Well, if you've recently asked yourself this in a car, the answer is, This fucker. Hi, I'm Carson Phillips, if I haven't introduced myself formally.
I read once that all great writers have issues with their hometowns; guess I'm no exception. You can't let your origins bring you down, though. You don't get to pick where you're from, but you always have control of where you're going. (That's a good quote; I'll have to remember to say that if I'm ever receiving an honorary doctorate one day.)
But this all just fuels my fire even more. Ever since I was eight years old and got asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and replied, "The editor of the New Yorker," the looks I'd receive after the declaration—as if I had said "dragon slayer" or "transvestite golfer"—always pushed me a little closer to a metaphoric exit sign.
Perhaps that's why my issues with Clover started at such a young age. I was constantly shot down by nitwits who couldn't think outside the box—especially in elementary school, aka the first place they try to brainwash you in a small town.
I remember my first-grade teacher was giving a lesson on subtraction.
"When one thing takes another away, what do we call that?" she asked my class.
"Homicide!" I called out, so proud of myself. I wasn't technically wrong, but the look she gave me for the following three minutes made it appear that way.
The same year we had Founding Fathers' Day, and I remember it like it was yesterday. I walked to the front of the classroom, clutching the report I had spent hours on, and told the class everything I had learned.
"Most of the founding fathers were closeted homosexuals and slave owners," I said. Needless to say, I wasn't allowed to finish the report.
That day after school was the first day my parents were called in for a "meeting." It was the beginning of the complex relationship I have with the public education system.
"He's eccentric, so what?" my mom told the teacher.
"Mrs. Phillips, your six-year-old son told his class the presidents who founded this nation were homosexual slave owners," the teacher said. "I'd say that's more than eccentric behavior."
"That might have been my fault," my dad said. "He asked me for a funny fact about the founding fathers, so I gave him one."
"He was asking for a fun fact, you dipshit!" Mom scolded him. "I told him to ask you! No wonder he's having trouble in school—his father is a moron!"
"Actually, Mrs. Phillips," the teacher said, "on the first day of school he introduced himself and told the class you had told him he was named Carson because Johnny Carson was on television while he was ... conceived."
To this date, I've never seen my mother gulp so hard.
"Oh," she said. "Well, I take responsibility for that one."
That was the last time my parents were seen together in public. As you may have guessed, I'm one of those cynical kids from a broken home, too.
Until I was ten and saw a friend's parents interact, I never realized that people got married because they wanted to, because they loved each other. I had always thought it was more like jury duty: You got an envelope in the mail telling you when, where, and who you were required to reproduce with.
There was about as much love between Neal and Sheryl Phillips as there was between the squid and the whale. At least they had an ocean to share and not a three-bedroom, two-bathroom suburban home.
I'm pretty sure their wedding vows went something like this:
"Neal and Sheryl, do you take each other as your awfully selected spouse; to reprimand and scold from this day forward; for better but mostly worse, in counseling and in therapy, in anger and in frustration, to hate and then resent; from this day forward until death that you cause?"
Maybe at one point they loved each other, or thought they loved each other. But once you reach a certain age in Clover all that's left to do is get married and have kids. It may not have been the best idea, but it was what was expected of them, and they were victims of the pressure.
My mom was definitely in it for the long haul, always trying to make things work between them. Their marriage was a constant pattern: My dad was unhappy, my mom tried to fix it, my dad was still unhappy, my mom resented trying to fix it, there would be a massive argument, and the cycle would repeat.
Unfortunately my dad didn't want it to work; he had wanted out as soon as he got in.
At one point my mother quit her job as a receptionist at a doctor's office because my dad was, and I quote, "tired of picking Carson up from that fucking school." Not that his job as a real estate agent kept him working late; he just tried avoiding as much fatherly responsibility as a priest in a whorehouse. (I'm sorry, super proud of myself for that reference.)
Sometimes I swear I can still hear them yelling in the kitchen. Whether it was over a missing fifty bucks in their checking account or just a dish left in the sink, from nine to ten o'clock every night they were sure to be arguing. At least something was consistent in my childhood.
Our next-door neighbors used to watch from over the fence every night. I tried selling them popcorn one time but they didn't go for it.
Our Titanic of a family sank deeper and deeper as time went on. But in a sick way, I'm almost glad it did. In my desperate attempt to escape it, I was led to the greatest discovery ever: words. I was fascinated by them. There were so many! I could tell a story, I could write about my day, I could write about the day I wished I had had instead.... It was an endless power!
Every time I would hear my parents going at it, I would open up my crayon box and notebook and go to town. Suddenly, everything became white noise and nothing bothered me anymore. It's how I held on to sanity in a crazy house.
Things with my parents came to a peak after Grandpa, Mom's dad, passed away. Grandma came to live with us a year later when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
She had always been my champion and savior. Whenever I was having trouble in school she would sit me on her lap and say, "Don't let that teacher make you feel like you're anything less than brilliant, Carson. She's just pissed that the governor changed her pension plan."
It was hard to watch her slowly fade away. Even as a kid I knew something was wrong.
When she was at home she was usually in the linen closet wondering how her room had gotten so small. Our neighbors used to find her wandering the streets alone, wondering where she had parked the car she didn't have anymore.
"This is the third time she's been found wandering around town," Dad said to Mom one night at nine o'clock.
"She just gets a little confused and forgets what the house looks like," Mom said. "What's your excuse?"
"I'm serious, Sheryl," Dad said. "Either she goes, or I go!"
It was the first time I'd ever seen Mom speechless. I helped her pack Grandma's things the next day.
Although she was getting more senile by the second, Grandma knew what was happening the day we put her in the Clover Assisted Living Home. She was very quiet and kept to herself. Mom did too, feeling the guilt of it all, I suspect.
"Why are you moving?" I asked Grandma.
"Because the people here are going to take good care of me," she said.
"Can't I take good care of you?" I said.
"I wish, honey," Grandma said, and stroked my hair.
I felt so helpless, but I tried cheering her up the best way I knew how.
"I wrote you a story, Grandma," I said, handing her a paper.
"Oh? Let's see," she said, and took it from me. "'Once upon a time, there was a boy.'" She stopped reading—not because she wanted to, that was just all I had written. "Well, it's a lovely story, but it could use some development." She smiled.
"Mom said I can visit you every day after school. She said I could ride my bike here," I told her. "I can bring you a new story every day!"
"I'd like that," she said, a little teary-eyed, and hugged me. She was sad but I was so happy I could give her something to look forward to. And to date, I've never missed a day.
Despite my mom's final attempts at making her marriage work, Dad eventually left when I was ten.
The whole neighborhood remembers that night. It was the series finale of The Neal and Sheryl Show and started at nine on the dot and stretched into the early hours of the morning.
"You can't leave now! We just started going back to counseling!" Mom screamed after him as he went to his car. He didn't even pack, really; he just grabbed as many things as he could on the way to the door, including some Aztec decoration off the walls. Not sure what he was going to do with that.
"I can't spend another second in this house!" Dad yelled back at her.
He drove off, tires screeching, into the night. Mom ran after his car, screaming, "Go! You can't come back! I hate you! I hate you!"
She collapsed in the front yard and cried hysterically for another hour. It was the first time I realized just how much she cared about him. Thank God for the sprinklers; otherwise she might have been out there all night.
It's been me and Mom ever since. Well, there was that one time Grandma escaped the assisted-living home and wound up back with us for a day or two, but mostly it's been just the two of us.
Life without Dad was very different, mostly quieter. Even though Mom did try to pick her nine o'clock fights with me for the first couple of years, the house became pleasantly peaceful.
We found ways around having a grown man in the house. Mom never figured out how to put together the Christmas tree or lights, so she just told people in the neighborhood we converted to Judaism. There's no one here to fix things, so small things have been broken for years around the house (and I'm certainly not gonna take a screwdriver to anything).
Mom's never really recovered from the whole thing. She never went back to work, deciding to just live off the money Grandpa left us. She never dated or remarried, replacing my dad with wine instead. (And oh, what a love affair it's been!)
She mostly spends her life on the couch these days watching Judge Judy and Ellen. She showers weekly (if I'm lucky) and has become known in town as "that lady who grocery shops in her bathrobe and sunglasses." Perhaps you've experienced a sighting?
I've only seen my dad twice since he left; once on my twelfth birthday and more recently at Christmas two years ago. Yeah, he's a real winner. He makes Carmen Sandiego look super reliable.
"Where the hell have you been?" I said the last time I saw him, not able to hold it in.
"I moved up north to the Bay Area," he said calmly, like he was telling me what he'd had for lunch.
"Why?" I asked.
"To find myself," he said.
I tried my best not to laugh at him but a smile broke through. "Still searching?"
He never responded.
I've spent a lot of time being pissed at my parents over the years. I've never understood how someone like me could come from people like them. I guess ambition is a recessive gene.
Excerpted from Struck By Lightning by Chris Colfer. Copyright © 2013 Chris Colfer. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
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