Middle School Misery
"Good morning Hank it’s Tuesday. So due to tornados, and broken airplanes, and a chain of events too complicated for my exhausted brain to unravel. I have visited airports nine times in the past one hundred hours, and I am very tired. And resonantly I unexpectedly found myself, alone, on a train, in New York, the city where Brotherhood 2.0 began for me. And also the city where earlier this year we played a sold out show at Carnegie Hall, a dependant clause that I will get tired of saying, when-never. So anyway, there I was on the train blinking a lot, because my eyes desperately wanted to be closed. And I kept thinking about this Tumblr message I had received earlier from a middle school student, whose currently attending the very same school I attended in Seventh Grade, and who has one of the same teachers that I had. The message read in part:
“Miss (Name Redacted) and I were talking, and she told me that you were a quiet, unique, and miserable boy in middle school. She also told me you were bullied because of your awesomeness.”
It didn’t feel like awesomeness at the time of course. At the time I was just miserable. I mean Hank you’ll note that this teacher didn’t say I was a good student, because I wasn’t. I wasn’t merely a nerd. I was, or at least I felt like I was, a stupid nerd. Which is like the worst kind of combo. I take that back, pizza combos are the worst kind of combo’s, they are an insult to pizza.
But anyway. I almost never think about middle school now Hank, but the message really forced me to remember it. And also I was on a train, which inherently makes you kind of nostalgic. So yeah, it was true that I was miserable, and that I was bullied. And in fact I would often fantasies about hurting my bullies, or holding a gun to their heads and making them apologize, making them feel as scared and powerless as I felt. But of course that isn’t the way forward.
I realize now that the people who bullied me were not evil. They were kids living with their own fear and pain. Some of whom were dealing with trauma and abuse that I could never of even imagined. Now that doesn’t justify their behaviour, but it does help me to understand, that it really wasn’t about me. Their treatment of me was not a reflection of my value of a human being. And while it was very difficult of me to feel anything but miserable in those days, in retrospect, I survived middle school because many people were in fact quite kind to me. My parents, teachers, fellow nerds, and even popular strangers who wouldn’t stand for bullying. We decide collectively what kind of behaviour is acceptable, and while ‘The Lord of the Flies’ would have you believe that like adolescence will always descend into mere cruelty. My experience of social orders has been much more complicated. I’ve found that sometimes, often even, kids are capable of tremendous kindness and generosity. In fact that’s been the hallmark of the nerdfighter community for more than seven years now, and I’m proud to be a nerdfighter, in part because I wish so much that I could of been one in seventh grade. There are always nerdfighter’s in our pants (link in the do billy do) who will listen to you if you also listen back, and that is truly awesome!
Right, so anyway Hank, there was this moment on stage at Carnegie Hall during the sound check, when Jon Darnielle of The Mountain Goats said into the mike “This is a message for sixteen year old me. Not only did you survive, you are playing piano at Carnegie Hall”. Now I’m not going to tell you like everyone who has a tough time as a kid ends up at Carnegie Hall, but the idea that those years have to be the best of your life is ridiculous. So to the young woman who wrote me. To myself stranded far from home, in an endless string of airports and train rides, I call up the great Robert Frost quote, “The only way out is through. You will get through. I will get through”. Hank, I’ll see you. Hopefully from Indianapolis, on Friday.”
19th November 2013
Thoughts 29th June, 8:33am
-bought a CX bike earlier this week. necessary purchase
-left for my bike ride today, another cyclist heading in the opposite direction shouts ‘nice bike!’. it is a nice bike.
-got hit by a van shortly after.
-low impact, driver was pulling away from a stop sign and didn’t see me crossing in front of him. head didn’t hit the ground, fell mostly on my elbow and my soft pillowy ass.
-driver happens to be a 30-year veteran/competition cyclist. offers me a ride back to my town, and offers to pay for the repairs on my bike if necessary.
-driver also a Contractor who ten years ago built the bike shop i bought my bike from earlier this week.
-dropped the bike off at the shop. guy who remarked on my bike earlier in the day happened to be the owner of the bike shop.
bike is undamaged save the front wheel which needed to be trued. if i had to get hit by a car, it couldn’t have gone better.
Living on my own seems to have been one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life so far.
I wake up in the morning and am solely influenced by myself. Not what’s on tv, or what the cool kids are doing. Nor am i influenced by what’s deemed as socially exceptable or what I once thought I “needed”…
p.s. I am serious.
I have never seen a nocturne that comes close to the night-in-paint that I see in my mind. I have seen landscapes done by daylight that come close to the image in my head (Lopez Garcia) but I have never seen the color and shape of night in paint. Certainly it is a shifty space, from earthy purple to dense blue contrasted by the unholy incandescent light of street lamps and windows but it is the untouchable density of colorful black that overwhelms me. Shifting shadows and silhouettes that you can almost grasp but the edges move just when you try to observe them. Flat gradations describe the most expansive of spaces. Night space is usually used to describe an emptiness, a void, a fear of unknowing. I believe the night space is a fullness of unknowing - this formless form, this color-full blackness. Maybe touching the void has always been my obsession and night is my most recent touchstone for it. My earlier subjects describe it, while night becomes it. The nighttime is closer to me, more internal. My new goal is to make a night painting, not directly but slowly overtime, trying to absorb the experience until it plays out on the canvas. Conceived through other images and expressed in other ideas, but ever present.
One of our last nights in Pittsburgh, we stayed up all night filming in this beautiful church. (Readers of the book will know the scene.) Around 4 in the morning, the crew had to set up for a new shot. Ansel and Nat sat down at the piano and began improvising together, a sad and beautiful song that filled the church. Shai and I were crying when we took these pictures, as was much of the movie’s crew. It is my most vivid memory of our wonderful time together filming the movie, and I’ve been thinking back to it a lot the past few days. The Fault in Our Stars movie was made by people who cared about the story and cared about each other. I’m so grateful to them, and to everyone who is now seeing the movie and responding to it so deeply. #tfios
i love the part where he actually writes. i look over and I’m like HOLY SHIT I MARRIED A WRITER
The thought of another night alone was too frightful to imagine so I bought three bunches of chrysanthemums and went out for a little human contact.
I wish I could muster an overarching message for this post. Some poignant, beautifully phrased comment on the human condition. I wish I could let my brain think that thoroughly right now but I’m denying it that for the moment. Thinking leads to over-thinking which leads to thinking the worst these days. I’m simply a body with a pair of eyes- observing and writing what I see and feel.
As I stepped on my crate, I suddenly realized the extent of my exhaustion. For the last few weeks, my mind had distracted away from the lack of it’s lack of food and sleep but now I felt every tremor. My eyes were dry and no match for the cold wind assaulting them. Thankfully, it began to rain after a few minutes of agony, I decided I could get down for a minute and find some cover.
As I set up amongst a huddled mass of people seeking refuge out the front of the art gallery, a man walked towards me, watching me closely. He was dressed in some kind of ancient fleece, thongs, and appeared not to have washed in a substantial time. After I greeted him, he reached into his pocket and presented me with a crisp $100 bill.
"What’s that for?" I asked.
"I’m giving it to you."
"I don’t know."
We stood like that for a few moments- him clasping more than a week’s worth of my rent in his right hand which he seemed more than happy to part with. Still, I found the whole situation extremely troubling.
"I think you should save it for a rainy day. Another rainy day I mean, ha."
I immediately regretted my feeble, panicked attempt at humour. He smiled vaguely into my eyes and shuffled off in his sodden, filthy shoes.
Little did I know that in an hour, I would find my phone drowned in the puddle that had swelled beneath me as I statued. I didn’t realize I’d spend the next week a wreck, unable to connect any dots or make sense of where I find myself these days. All I know is I’m alive and I’m writing and waiting. Why? I don’t know.
I saw a documentary on this Korean ecologist who dug a hole in middle of Siberian wilderness to observe tigers for months.
The way he stayed inside that hole, waiting for these graceful and terrifying creatures with barely no human contact, reminded me of my teacher’s idea of painter.
He said painter is one of the lonliest professions. You have to be vigilant until the moment of sublime appears on you. Until then, you have to wait in that hole for months and months.
Koreans think of tigers as demi-god or devil. It is an animal that is possibly closest to the idea of sublime in my culture. Unutterable but devastating beauty of sublime….
So painters are waiting for tigers. They might experience sublime or get devoured. But they wait in wretching lonliness, hoping for the best.
A dead man, and Jo Brand.