A good way to find out if you should enter a teenager's bedroom is to ask yourself a single, unsparing question: Am I a teenager?
If the answer were yes, you'd already be inside.
For the rest of us, the teenage bedroom is a little like Neverland: we may remember it fondly but only a creep (or Wes Anderson) would try to go back.
And so the mystery abides: what are they doing in there?
In the case of Emma Orlow, 17, and Emily Cohn, 18, they are orchestrating the debut of a website and web video series. The best friends (who are also artists, media entrepreneurs and seniors at the Trevor Day School on the Upper West Side in New York) call their documentary project The Do Not Enter Diaries. And in weekly episodes, they promise to usher the viewer past the closed bedroom door, the velvet rope of adolescence.
It's an auspicious time for a young woman to start a bedroom industry. Tavi Gevinson, the 16-year-old founder of Rookie online magazine, seems to have seized the media's imagination like no Chicago editor since Hugh Hefner.
High school freshman Maude Apatow broadcasts her stray notions to more than 120,000 Twitter followers. And Evita Nuh, a 14-year-old girl in Jakarta, Indonesia, has been setting fashion trends out of her closet for more than four years.
Orlow was 13 when she started her blog, The Emma Edition, to chronicle a young New York she couldn't find in print. She has also published nearly 100 bylined blurbs and columns on Bust magazine's blog, The Huffington Post and Refinery29.
"I think a lot of times the media fetishises teens," she said. "It's a 50-year-old recalling memories of being a teenager."
On a recent Saturday afternoon, the girls were doing publicity in a workspace they use as an editing suite, periodical stack, writing cubicle, wardrobe and lounge. In other words, Cohn's bedroom.
A WizKid gumball machine stood sentinel in the corner. Another cherished possession, Cohn said, was the framed ephemera on the bookshelf: a ditty penned by her father, singer-songwriter Marc Cohn. The rest of the apartment, for what it's worth, is a "classic six" overlooking the American Museum of Natural History.
"You look at Nickelodeon and Disney Channel," Cohn said. "There's such a specific picture of a teen character. Most are aloof and goofy."
Orlow added: "They don't have any dimensions to them."
"They're an equation," Cohn concluded. "They do something and you laugh at it. I don't find it amusing."
To hear the girls tell it, The Do Not Enter Diaries will be more ambitious: an art project; a global anthropological study; a Kickstarter campaign; an advertiser-friendly start-up; a summer job; and, quite possibly, a career.
The open notebook on Cohn's desk suggested she also had calculus homework due.
Cohn and Orlow, and their teenage diarists, appear to be working all the time. They're designing clothes, planting community gardens, sequencing guitar tracks and bouncing on their beds to loud and probably unsavoury music.
"I think teens have always been creative," Orlow said.
What's new, Cohn added, is that "now everyone can be professional. I never could have had my own personal computer and editing software."
Cohn and Orlow don't have to limit their scope to helming the high school newspaper – although they're doing that, too. They've already shot a teenage bedroom in Mumbai. And the two recently received an inquiry from a teenage filmmaker and hopeful contributor in New Zealand.
As Orlow said: "I know a lot of people think you graduate high school and then you graduate college and then you look for your first job. I never look at it that way. I think your first job can be in high school."
Orlow, for her part, maintains the Emma Edition, a Tumblr, and a Flickr gallery for presenting her drawings and urban photography. She uses 8tracks to share playlists. And, of course, she tweets.
At any moment, she and Cohn may be holding distinct conversations on two of these platforms and talking on the phone, while on the way to meet each other. (Orlow lives on the other side of Central Park.)
The girls forged a bond at a fourth-grade clown camp. Orlow (clown name: Feisty) insists she was lured there under pretences. They have been inseparable for eight years. "I'm Emma and she's Emily," Orlow said, "and people
confuse us all the time," they said in unison.
They sign their joint correspondence as Em2. Yet they are hardly of one mind. The girls debate aesthetics constantly. If One Direction agreed to tape a diary, would they post it?
Cohn: "Of course."
Orlow: "We have different ideas about that."
Cohn was twirling a finger through her coiled brown hair, and Orlow began curling her own.
"Our idea of fun is not the quintessential idea of fun," Orlow said. "Playing Bananagrams until two in the morning" – that would be a night well spent.
"For our friends it would be going clubbing, which I don't think has any purpose," Cohn said
The girls participate in enough extracurriculars to make Rushmore Academy's Max Fischer look like an idler.
"I woke up at seven o'clock today," Cohn said. "That's natural for me. I don't set an alarm."
Orlow said: "I wake up at the same time."
"I hate not being productive," Cohn said.
A sceptic might look for the stage-parent choreographing this show. Don't bother. You can barely detect the presence of a chaperone. The girls field their own media inquiries and they recently retained a lawyer. What is a teenage art project, after all, without an 11,000-word terms-of-use agreement to settle future consumer complaints?
Their parents paid the $US3000 fee. This covered the publishing rights for the song snippets that open each four-minute diary episode.
"This isn't our parents giving us money as a gift," Orlow said. "This is a loan. Even if they don't remember, we're paying them back with interest."
Cohn agreed broadly but equivocated on the details. "My mum isn't going to require interest," she said.
Langston Sanchez performs many labours in his bedroom. But cleaning is not one of them. The room was cluttered when Cohn and Orlow dropped in to shoot his video segment. And since then, its condition has deteriorated. "I really don't care," Sanchez said. "It can be however messy it wants to be."
Sanchez, 18, was born here in a two-bedroom flat. there is a futon on the floor.
A few years ago, when he was a serious soccer player, he snapped his anterior cruciate ligament, twice in the same knee. During his recovery, he could not climb his ladderless loft bed.
"That is definitely my favourite thing about this room," Sanchez said. "No matter how clean or dirty it is, there's always space on the futon."
It's a good place to meditate on his latest film project, a documentary about New York children with a multiracial identity.
"When I was a freshman, I played soccer," he said. "I hung out and did my homework. That was really easy; I just did it. But I felt like I was in some ways neglecting this artist in me."
Sanchez received a $1400 grant from the Tribeca Film Institute where he and Cohn are youth film fellows.
Sanchez is a senior at Urban Academy, a public school on the Upper East Side, and has classmates from the city's more rarefied districts.
The status of a home, Sanchez believes, can be seen in the location, the lobby and the furnishings.
But "bedrooms are supposed to be people's private space," he said. A bedroom represents your true self.
In the autumn, Tatiyana Jenkins, another bedroom diarist and teenage filmmaker, will move to Appleton in Wisconsin. She has won a full-tuition Posse Foundation scholarship to Lawrence University.
Her collection of Beanie Baby bears will remain at home, in a three-bedroom apartment in Harlem. More than 100 of them occupy a viewing platform her father made. "I'm a little bit nervous," she said. "I just know that my bears can't go anywhere."
One Saturday evening, Jenkins and her friend Aisha Ndiaye, both 17, were preparing for an ugly sweater party. The girls, classmates at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, had raided a thrift store. Now Jenkins was daubing fabric paint in a pointillist, van-art constellation to create what she termed a "galaxy jacket".
Ndiaye said: "Galaxy has been a really big thing for a long time." Jenkins concurred: "Yeah, since, like, this summer."
Cohn and Orlow have applied to different colleges. For the first time in years, they will have to discover the square root of Em2.
"This isn't going to be a project that's going to end in high school," Orlow said. "It's only beginning."
Cohn is devising a plan.
"We could find two other people," she said, (teenagers, of course).
Orlow played with the scenario. "They may take over in some ways," she said. "But we won't ever dissociate ourselves from it – the business end, making creative decisions."
The partners could hire an intern. "Having people find teens for us – the nitty-gritty stuff."
Cohn: "The production stuff."
You might wonder where a 17-year-old finds a junior production assistant.
Yet the girls have been meaning to feature some younger adolescents in The Do Not Enter Diaries.
"People go through different journeys trying to find themselves at different times in their lives," Cohn said. "Someone 13 might be more interesting than a more confident 18-year-old."
"We want to find out what the next generation after us are thinking," Cohn said.
One day, inevitably, you forget to ask what the youth think. And then it's too late – you're old.
The New York Times