Friday, May 15, 2015

Keep Track

Dear Seniors,

Goodbye's have never been my strong suit. Usually, I only have students for a semester, so it's a weird, odd feeling to say goodbye and good luck to a group of students I spent most of my Saturday's with and met a year ago this summer.

I wasn't sure what to do to celebrate the end. Cupcakes and snacks seemed cliche (and we only have 30 mins for our last class), so I thought about what I would want to know if I could go back and give advice to baby-face-me. Then, I remembered this song that came out when I graduated, and I remember thinking it was so profound! I looked it up as I'm writing this, and it is still pretty profound except now that I'm older I think, "Oh, yeah, that is totally true!"

Each of you have twenty different people telling you what to do right now. I don't want to be twenty-one. This moment is probably going to be one of the biggest, scariest moments of your life, up until now. Note, I said up until now.  For those of you already over it, (you know who you are) it does get better and worse at the same time, because you'll ask, "Why the hell did I rush so much?"

This will be (should be) the last moments in your life where fingers can be pointed and decisions can be made for you, so make sure you make good ones (or ask lots of questions). And, if they're not so good, make sure they're worth it.

I keep resisting the urge to give you advice because I want to, but some lessons you'll have to learn on your own. (Some, I tried to teach you in the last year.) So instead, I ask that when you read this you write down what you learned/will remember and keep it. Put it in a book, notebook, or places you'll find a year from now. Then move it and place it somewhere you will find three years from now, and add to it. Reread it. Keep it until the edges are dogeared and the creases so deeply etched you might need a new paper, and know the only things we take with us everywhere are the people we love and things we have learned. Keep track.

When I graduated from high school, I was nowhere near as accomplished as many of you. I'm in awe of each of you and am very proud to have spent time with you (even when I was shushing!) I look forward to all the wonderful things many of you will do.

Now, go read a book! 

Friday, May 8, 2015

April 8, 1994

This week I sat down to watch Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. In fact, we kept HBO especially to watch the documentary. (As I write this I can hear my sister mocking me.) I sat down and knew it would be sad, that I wouldn't like some parts, but I was still excited to watch and didn't realize that I'd forgotten just what 1994 had been like.

I was 13 years old when Kurt Cobain's body was found. He disappeared on April 5, 1994 and was found on April 8th, my birthday.That day, I sat in my living room on a multi-colored bean bag (it was the 90's after all) and watched MTV nonstop. Even though no new information would be released, I stared endlessly at the screen replaying parts of the Unplugged show. Kurt Loder interrupted with "Breaking News" that was really just a loop of things I already knew. I heard Courtney Love's grief filled boogery voice crying as she read Kurt's suicide letter and felt as if I was a part of the crowd shown on the TV, even if I was a million miles away in a house on the East Side of El Paso.

My sister thought I was stupid. She thought I was being ridiculous for mourning someone I only knew through music, music she didn't understand. She made jokes later calling him Kurt Gobang and made sure to mention it was "stupid" more than a few times. Now, my sister can be a jerk, (obviously) but I'd like to believe it's always attributed to the fact that she is ten years older than me. I also like to think that even though she was in her high school band and played the sax and clarinet, she's never felt as passionate about music as I have. Or, maybe just as she's never understood my passion in music choices, I've never understood hers.

As I watched the movie, I remembered all of this. I remembered feeling alone, alienated, and really just lost. I was 13, confused, trying to find myself, angry at everything and anything, (even though I was really just angry at my dad), I found a band that seemed to convey all of this, and now the artist who wrote all those lyrics that spoke to me was dead. I never went as far as to carve things into my body, shoot heroin, or slip into a deep dark cave of depression, but I did find myself in search of something. What? I didn't know.

I listened to the albums over and over. I watched specials about the band over and over. I picked up (and still have) the Rolling Stone that featured him on the cover and read the article over and over, but nothing new was ever shared with me.

Life went on, but the time, the mood, and the memories are peppered with his lyrics and the band's music.

After the movie, my thoughts went to a dark and sad place. Thirteen-year-old me was knocking and I didn't want to talk or hear what she had to say. I didn't want to remember how lost she felt at that age. (now that I'm older I realize most people feel lost at the age and some just deal with it better) I also didn't want to remember how angry she was. I don't even really remember how that anger came, I just remember that suddenly it was there. She carried it with her everywhere like the chain wallet in her back pocket sagging her pants. And, in the middle of all of this, the unwilling voice of a generation of latch key kids and single parents was dead. The isolation, feeling alone in a band of misfits, and my older sister mocking me all flashed before me, and I had waves of discomfort and sadness as I saw what she had seen for a moment. As Kurt dozed off while holding Francis Bean on the screen, I realized her mockery was because all she saw was a drug addict and not a musical messiah, and she hadn't wanted me to head to those dark places.

Before we went to bed, my husband made us watch something light and funny. I think he saw my face and how I was quickly retreating into my own thoughts.

"Was it like that for you? When he died?" I ask while we change into pajamas.

"No," he replies.

"That makes sense. Your parents are still together and things were different in Colombia," I say almost enviously.

Kurt Cobain spoke to an American culture of angry adolescents who had openly dysfunction families. He wanted to be a fuckin' rock star, not the voice of millions. In his suicide letter, he quoted Neil Young, "It's better to burn out than fade away."  And still, I wonder if he had somehow made it past the drugs, fame, and Courtney, would he say that today?