Friday, August 7, 2009

My Inner Geek

"As they walked the tide line, the monk told him that everything we notice, everything we think, all the feelings we accumulate don't just disappear when we get done with them. They lie submerged below the surface of our lives--anger, gratitude, beer advertisements, pride, gladness, the smell of the woodshed, dreams of revenge, the sour taste of shame. They bubble up at times we can't control, nourishing or nasty.

"So be careful what you store up, he said. Don't collect the bad stuff, and don't let anybody else leave their trash with you either. Let it flow on through, in one door, out the other, like a scouring tide."--Kathleen Dean Moore, from her forthcoming book Wild Comfort

The problem with staying in the present is that my mind keeps wanting to go backward. I'm walking down the street and WHAM! I'm back walking the halls of my junior high school. I was quite the geek in junior high. Yes, weren't we all, but you haven't seen my 8th grade picture. I'm wearing a peach polo shirt, the collar up (of course), layered under a grey t-shirt. I've stuck a big yellow clip in my frizzy hair, I'm wearing a peach shell necklace, and of course, I have braces, the scourge of all teens before they came up with the kind that you can't see. Yes, I was a late- eighties teenager (John Hughes, RIP. I saw Some Kind of Wonderful three times in the movie theater and Molly Ringwald made me feel like less of an outcast.)

I read Seventeen when I was thirteen although my mother didn't approve of the content (and I imagine that now it's much racier than it was circa 1987.) I didn't yet know how to dress myself and still quiver with horror at some of the outfits I walked around in--including a purple graphic matching two piece shirt and skirt that made me look like I was emulating a young pop singer on MTV, but getting it horribly, horribly wrong.

I was a big fan of soap operas, which my best friend Heather and I would watch at her house because I didn't want my parents to know I watched the soaps. In fact, I remember buying a Soap Opera Digest and after I was done with it, throwing it out in the dumpster behind my school, as if it were a porn magazine. Sometimes I even took a cassette recorder (this was before the advent of taping onto a VHS tape-God!) and held it against the TV so I could record the sounds of my favorite soap, Santa Barbara. Then I'd play it back later, under the covers, and relive the romance and turmoil of those unhappy rich people in California. Heather preferred General Hospital but I thought Jack Wagner was a cheeseball. I preferred the dark, brooding Latino Cruz Castillo, played by A. Martinez.

I sometimes wonder that if I had a daughter, what would I forbid her to read or watch? Would I pay lots of money to make sure she wasn't the gawky kid in the class pictures? Or would I take the opposite tact by not having a television set in the house, not letting her see anything but art house movies, and permitting her to only read The New Yorker? After all, our early experiences play a big role in shaping who we are today. All those images of rich, perfect girls and women that I witnessed and hoped to emulate were in fact way out of my league, leaving me with a lingering feeling of not being good enough. You'd think I'd grow out of this, but it somehow got imprinted in my DNA. I feel like ever since that awkward period of say, 1985-1992 I've been trying my hardest to shake those awful images. This led to some bad decisions later on, like dating a two-timing basketball player just because he was a basketball player, and therefore, a jock, and spending years wearing only short skirts and dresses, no matter what the occasion. Not to mention all those department store makeovers which I could never quite replicate when I got home.

I have a thirteen year-old Swedish cousin who I spent time with last month. She's adorable--a smart, cute blond who loves horses and Miley Cyrus (but not Hannah Montana, which she considers passe.) I was in Whole Foods the other day and saw a copy of Elle magazine with Miley on the cover, looking about 25. I bought a copy for Sara, intending to mail it to her, then took it home. My husband leafed through it, and said it was warping, and why would I want to send an impressionable young girl a magazine filled with genetically-flawless models and uber-expensive consumer goods. But it's just for fun, I thought. And she's Swedish--they're a liberal people, they don't mind racy. What's the harm in one little Miley Cyrus cover story? But is that where all the trouble begins for girls?

It must be hard to raise a daughter. You don't want to overprotect them, but you also don't want to give them the idea that the only thing they should aspire to is looking like someone on a soap opera and acting like Paris Hilton on a Tuesday on Rodeo Drive. Maybe instead I should tell Sarah to buy "Pretty in Pink" on DVD. Molly Ringwald loves her dad, makes her own quirky clothes, and doesn't let that slimey James Spader get her down. And in the end, she gets Kevin McCarthy, who from judging the final scene, seemed like a very good kisser. And Ducky was so cute when he did that dance for her in the record store--really she had it pretty good for an outcast. Or I could recommend "Some Kind of Wonderful," where the tomboyish drummer falls in love with her best friend, and the pretty, popular girl reveals that her popularity isn't all it's cracked up to be.

I don't want the next generation to be as warped as ours is.

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