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.

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