Thursday, March 31, 2011

An Immaculate Lesson

When I was in 5th grade, I was sick a lot. It didn't help that I hated school and Mrs. [redacted], my horror of a teacher from Horace Mann elementary. I MEAN [redacted] elementary. (Seriously. She once used the word "retarded" in reference to one of her students. Which of course immediately got picked up by the other little brats in the classroom and became that poor kid's nickname for who knows how long. I think he actually did have a learning disability to top it all off).

After a long half a year struggling with hating everything about life, it turns out I just needed glasses. All the headaches, sadness, grade slippage. All of it had to do with the fact that I couldn't see the "chalkboard". (That's like a computer only with a black screen and a very dusty manual keyboard that may or may not give you cancer if you breathe it in several hours in a row for many years at a time). I'm sure it was a thrill for my parents to find this out. But I was a fat kid. And one of the least awesome phrases you can hear as a fat kid is "Congratulations! You get glasses too!".

I believe this is also the year when I decided it would be a good idea to get a perm. What was supposed to make me the envy of every girl who'd seen an Aquanet commercial or their big sister on the way to a Bon Jovi concert ended up looking like a Rexella Van Impe coif 12 years after the apocalypse when there's no more bleach to keep it blond and all the hairbrushes have been eaten as a last resort right before moving on to people.

So here I was on my way to school every day, fat with glasses and apocalypse hair. I was also really good at math. Fortunately, I had at least one pair of Girbaud pants and also this great bright yellow and green baggy pair of jeans that showcased how hip hop I was too. So sometimes I felt a little cool.

Needless to say, correctional lenses didn't fix all my problems. I still felt sad a lot and would have amputated a limb with a hot butter knife some days rather than go to school. On one such day in the spring, I decided to pull some ET shit and fake a fever. What started out as a slight feeling of guilt quickly abated, as that day brought one of the most important lessons I'd learned in my life so far.

See, once upon a time there was a television station called MTV. MTV stood for "Music Television" which you would never know now if you turned it on. But back then, this station was the beacon of hope for a new generation of music fans who wanted little stories told with their favorite songs. (And also I hear, the harbinger of death for the so called "radio star".) When they had a big star ready to premiere a new video, it was all bells and whistles. All day video marathons, mini biographies and interviews with that star to help build anticipation for what was to come.

This was one such day. And the star in question was none other than Madonna.

Now, I'd heard of Madonna before. My babysitter in grade school's daughter used to stand on the picnic table in the backyard and scream "MUPPET DON'T PREACH!" over and over again at the top of her lungs. And I think I may even have somehow acquired a copy of The Immaculate Collection at this point as well. But nothing could possibly have prepared me for what I learned that day.

There were so many sides to her! She romped with lions, rolled around on the beach, rebelled, sacrilegeized, wore men's clothes, wore terrible clothes with a fuck off attitude, sang in "Spanish", had all kinds of different hair colors, had tender father/daughter moments, was glamourous and trashy at the same time, danced, laughed, made people uncomfortable all the while singing some *great* tunes and wearing the most fabulous underwear you've ever seen. She was everything a girl imagined out of life, all in one package. This was like nothing I'd ever seen before.

And suddenly…it came to me. I wanted to dance. I wanted to sing. I wanted….to be a pop star. It was right there, right in front of me. But it was so unattainable. And then something even more magical happened.

They showed photos of her in grade school.

There she was. Awkward with bad hair and a gap in her front teeth (like I used to have!), uncomfortable in photos, and a little sad. She went through it too! This person who had the whole world at her fingertips, an entire day dedicated to her on MTV (!!) and stadiums full of fans was a weird ugly kid at one point!! She was from Michigan!! AND SHE HATED THE NICKNAME MADGE!!!!

I can't describe the feeling I got at this moment. Some people see pop stardom at an early age but it takes them years to see the part where those pop stars started out just as clumsily as the rest of us. I got it all at one time. And it went straight to my head.

When the above mentioned elementary school revamped their band program, I abandoned my violin and started playing the flute. Why? Because it was popular and offered more competition. In 6th grade, I rose to the top. I played November Rain at my recital. I started Junior High right in that first chair. I was on my way.

And that was how I learned a coping mechanism to get through the shittyness of the years to come. My taste in music changed drastically over time. I abandoned Madge for other bands and anti-pop stars. But the idea still stuck with me. Knowing I was the best at *something* and believing that I could stay at the top doing something most people couldn't was a powerful ego boost when I needed it the most.

Obviously, I'm not a pop star. And I'm still weird and awkward. But I haven't abandoned everything I learned from the woman who introduced me to a whole new world of possibility. I still believe I can be something great when I grow up. So my favorite pop star, from one Madge to another, I can't thank you enough for that day in 5th grade when you changed everything for me.

Don't EVER go for second best, baby.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Several things happened to start my day yesterday:

1.The super secret mission I've been on to make my life less miserable brought several rejection emails this morning which
2. Resulted in me using the fact that I was out of toilet paper to take a lunch break at Target and spend $120 on shit I don't need. Considering the last few times I've been out of toilet paper, I've just taken one of the stockpiles of spare roles from the handicapped stall in the women's restroom at work that no one uses, I think that sort of justifies this spending. With the money I've previously saved, it probably evens out to be about $115.40 or so. Rather than $120.

In any case, one of the items that fell into my cart is a copy of Black Swan. This is unusual for me, as although I've loved every Darren Aronofsky film I've seen, they've also left me with deep shock and PTSD leaving me no choice but to never see them again. Someday, I'll talk about the time I went to the Lagoon theater in Uptown not knowing what the hell I was doing to see Requiem for a Dream because the Kronos Quartet was playing the soundtrack live along with the film. It was only about 10 years ago though, so too raw yet.

So I might as well start this out with a confession. When I read my first reviews of Black Swan, they were all glowing and wonderful but each contained a "THIS BITCH IS CRAZY" paragraph, which made me even more eager to see it. The more traumatized the reviewer, the more excited I got. So my friend A and I parked ourselves in the theater ("Everyone loves ballerinas!"-A) and I carried with me the hope that I would leave deeply traumatized like a good Aronofsky film does to a person.

But I was not. And worse than that, I came out of that theater with the overwhelming feeling that I identified with the main character in a big way.

Let me explain.

Some of you already know I went to music school. It did not treat me kindly. The single most oppressive thing I experienced in my time there was the constant need I felt to be completely perfect in every way. Achieve something great during rehearsal? Don't feel good about yourself because you still need to lose 10 pounds. Lost 10 pounds? Don't feel good about yourself, because while you were focusing on that, other people got 20 steps ahead of you with their playing. Feel like shit about that? Don't eat for a couple days. The thought that you've risen above basic human needs can serve as a big old sick self esteem boost. At least for a few hours until you pass out in a practice room.

(In fact, the person I had the most in common with at one point *was*a dancer friend of mine. He spent a great deal of time talking about food. He talked about how the only thing you should put on the bed of lettuce was raw mushrooms. Raw mushrooms were delicious. And raw carrots. And if you've been careful for the rest of the day, you could have some bread on the side too. He and I talked about food this way all the time. You know why? Because we were fucking hungry. And knowing the dancers I know now and how they eat, I just want to go back in time and hand us both a nice big juicy burger and some fries and maybe a slap across the face).

The imperfections I saw in myself became so magnified that they were the only thing I could think about when I got out of bed in the morning and every waking moment after. The twelvish hours a day I spent trying to maintain some sort of belief that I belonged there by "perfecting my craft" started to seep into my psyche. In my mind, everyone was better than I was at everything. They were better musicians, better scholars, better at coping with life. And I started to get these paranoid delusions that everyone around me knew something I didn't. They had some big secret that kept them rising up their respective ladders while I was still sitting on the bottom rung with a fifth of vodka and clumps of hair falling out of my head.

None of this was true, of course. Which made it worse. Because I *was* one of the better players there. I was in the top bunch. But this just created more pressure. Why was I there? I couldn't possibly maintain that. Not when everyone else had this secret that I wasn't aware of. Not when they were already way ahead of me in every way and gaining ground exponentially.

When the paranoia reaches its peak and you feel as though you're never going to be perfect in the little box you've found yourself in, you start to experience life-threatening claustrophobia. You scratch at the walls and when they don't give way, you become increasingly desperate to get out in any way possible. And the longer you stay there in constant panic, the less likely it is that you're going to be able to recognize the part of you that's trying to help from the part that's trying to convince you to self destruct just to get out of the fucking box as quickly as possible.

So I guess that's where Nina and I differ. Her paranoia and body destruction came from wanting to achieve perfection. She, like many artists, is willing to destroy her body for nothing other than one absolutely perfect performance. My reasons were different. I wasn't looking for perfection or glory or fame or any of that after a while. I was just looking for a way out of that fucking box.

So how do I turn this into a learning experience? Because I keep finding myself back in these little boxes, trying to claw my way out of something stifling or claustrophobic be it oh...say...a job or a friendship or relationship. But I don't want to self destruct. And I don't want to give up on these things altogether in a violent and irreversible way (most of the time).

The best I can do is to continue to try and stop myself from diving off the Nina cliff. This may mean I turn into a raging bitch sometimes. This will definitely mean that I'm not perfect. I will sometimes let you down. But you know what? No one should expect perfection out of another person. Because most of us are just trying to hold onto a little bit of sanity while we're in our boxes, waiting until the opportunity comes for us to jump out and be free.

An Introduction

I finally decided it was time to bite the bullet and start this project I've been working on for a couple of years now. What started out as a music school memoir quickly became excruciatingly boring when I stopped really caring about shit that happened that long ago.

Yet, it was still the starting point for my life as it is now. Which really isn't exciting in the least. But that isn't going to stop me from writing about it. It might stop you from reading about it. I hope not, at least some of the time.

So here it is. A few mundane details from my life now, a few flashbacks and probably a couple of stories about cats. And the chinchilla, whose life you would probably rather read about anyway.

She's so cute.