Just about every week, I send out an e-mail to friends and family across the world. The e-mails started about three years ago when I was out of school and serving with City Year as a way to keep in touch with the people I care about. The number of people who get this e-mail has grown, as has the scope and design of the words I send out. I’d like to share an essay taken from this week’s e-mail. It has a few sections removed from the original text, as well as some new, clarifying sentences. It is political in nature and while I certainly endorse one particular candidate, I must make it clear that this is not an endorsement by The Compass. I think that it would be a good idea to do that one day, we are just not at the level or the consensus to do so today.
Additionally, this page is in no way affiliated with City Year or AmeriCorps.
I have been thinking a lot of the past lately. Where am I now and is that where the Paul Riley of the past wanted to be? How did everything that came before today lead me here? What could I have done better then? What mistakes can I avoid in the future? I am constantly drawn into nostalgia and memory. The halcyon days of youth, the times made greater in retrospect. The past seems so much easier to analyze than the present. I have a chance to reflect; extemporaneous speech is not my strength. Rarely do words flow effortlessly and eloquently from my mouth in any kind of sensible way. Words come out like Tetris blocks in later levels - too quickly and in all of the wrong orientation until they pile up into disaster. Writing allows me greater control.
All of this talk of the art of storytelling and conversation comes because I am thinking a lot about my own artistic endeavors, especially in the context of others’. I went to the Medford Library recently - how I love libraries and the people who work in them - and found a biography of Bruce Springsteen in the ’80s. I thought it would be worth reading, especially to garner some tips on how to survive in an vapid and financially-obsessed climate. There looms before us a return to the ideals of the ’80s, when the greatest thing one could do is become rich. I don’t want that, nor do I think I can handle it alone. Bruce’s words are helping me learn how to deal.
I also recently re-listened to the podcasts released in 2007 to promote the 30th anniversary edition of Born To Run. They included interview clips of the various people involved in creating the album. A constant point made was the intention behind the album, the desire to do something powerfully and well. Then, on Saturday, James and I flew to Louisville, Kentucky to see Bruce in concert. We were there with Anthony, our Anthony - the Compass’ Anthony - a man to whom I dedicated part of my City Year red jacket because he once told me that I’ll be “bigger than Springsteen.” Was it just joyful complements from a friend? Perhaps. But maybe Anthony really does believe that - and it’s that faith in friends that is the reason he is linked to that red bomber I wore for two years.
I’ve been thinking a lot about community lately. I’ve been thinking a lot in general, I guess - it seems to be my recreational activity of choice.
I know I should hate Ke$ha. She’s a pop singer whose lyrics are about being drunk or the brief moments after being drunk. Consumed by Auto-Tune and stuttering static vocals, her music contains nothing organic. She’s trashy and sneering, giving me no reason to push past that appearance to really consider her music or personality. In that way, she’s like the characters we meet in “Fucked Up,” the story James posted this week as our Trailhead.
But there are moments in that story that are intriguing, stopping me from completely rejecting it. So too with Ke$ha. Lines like, “Brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack” from “Tik Tok” are poetry. I’ve been fascinated with this line since I first heard that song because it says so much. What kind of human being consumes an entire bottle of alcohol in a handful of seconds? More importantly, what kind of person thinks that Jack Daniels is an effective tool in preventing gingivitis and reducing plaque buildup? You understand so much about this character in one line - that’s magic.
Still, I don’t know what to conclude. Like with the writer of “Fucked Up,” I wonder whether Ke$ha is aware of what she’s doing. Is she a skilled songwriter stuck in the confines of Top 40’s need to appeal to the lowest common denominator, or does she unintentionally create a brilliant line in the same way that some people get rich with a lottery ticket, through dumb luck?
This week, I borrowed Animal, Ke$ha’s debut album from the Tewksbury Public Library (that’s what a library is for, right?). After listening to it a few times, I still don’t know. At first, after hearing “Stephen,” I thought that Ke$ha had actually let her guard down. Play the video below, but don’t watch it, and you may hear what I heard: a sugary plea for love (it reminds me of Weird Al’s “Melanie,” for some reason), a desire to be accepted. Finally! After all her bragging and swagger, Ke$ha was admitting that she, too, has emotions other than those created by a BAC of 1.
Then I watched the video, and saw, once again, Ke$ha employ sarcasm and outlandish behavior as a barrier. I’m left where I began: completely unsure of what to make of her and her music. Maybe you think I’m making too much of this — but then I’d say you misunderstood what this whole week was about.
What do you think?
“Stephen” by Ke$ha
P.S. In case musings on Ke$ha (who uses punctuation in her name, honestly?) don’t float your boat, here is a bonus link!
I’ve been listening to Beelzebubba by The Dead Milkmen this week. This song is my favorite discovery:
There were no links this week. My post is not on time and for that, I apologize. I am still going through this transition from lazy student into whatever it is that I am becoming and it is very difficult to find time to actually sit down and refine some thoughts within the time limitations we have here at the Compass. That should be changing soon; expect reform but until then, things like this may happen.
This is officially Luke’s week now but I am going to make my post now since I actually have the time with the long weekend.
Sorry for the lateness and thank you all for understanding. I love you all.
City With No Children
So I just sit here now. Pretend like things are ok. There are no windows here so what else really matters besides myself right now? When the week starts, I’ll put on my uniform, smile when I need to, yell when I need to, look through books and magazines and movies and albums for inspiration during my planning period, and then come home reeking of middle school and go to bed satisfied? ”Don’t bring your work home with you.” We are a little past that point.
I exist in this city only for one reason. That is my job. To get in my subway car and stare at the silent, unhappy, dying faces until they slowly walk out. Towards my station, towards Congress Heights, no one is left but me and one or two other people. I walk past the projects and a cemetery to my school. A school that was just tested by the system to see if it should stay open in the following years. Reading and math comprehension. In less than five years, all the work I am doing could be for nothing but everyday I put on my name tag and go in there fully prepared that very few people will listen.
Some of my students need glasses. Some need medicine. Some need parents. There are some who haven’t seen a grade higher than a “D” in their lives and the system passes them every single year. In my class, in the 6th grade, some of my students can’t read. These kids are the future. Their lives are in their own hands. It isn’t just here though. My shitty school in Southeast D.C. isn’t the only one that isn’t properly preparing for the future. We are at 14 schools in the district in several different wards. There are 23 versions of us all around the world. The human race is in danger, specifically the people who live in the United States of America.
I serve because I am scared. Because when I ride the metro, no one smiles. We all know what is going to happen but no one is doing anything to stop it. Cars passing up a crash on the expressway. An elderly woman struggling to find money in her purse. A lost child in the mall. A pigeon with a hurt foot. The homeless man in the doorway in the tunnel. Black smoke on the horizon. An empty building where a bookstore used to be. Fights in the school stairway. Helicopters overhead. The stunted buildings of downtown Washington. My alarm every morning. I serve for the one day where I don’t have to wake up and say the word “Fuck.”
Two weeks ago I made my way to the national mall where the Library of Congress put on a national book festival. When I hopped on the metro, people were talking to each other. No one was in a suit. There were kids. I haven’t seen kids outside the classroom in so long. They were happy. I talked to a minister from North Carolina while I was in my Bad Religion shirt with the crossbuster. Mentally, I conflict between science and unknown faith all the time. Humans just want to get along. They do not want to worry about the politics of our society. They just want to exist without strife. But D.C. is all about politics. At the book fair, I saw children. I saw kids reading. I saw adults reading. Thousands of people gathered there for only one reason: they like reading. I listened to Dave Eggers, one of my favorite authors, speak about the power of young people and cannot reiterate enough, if you can find something to write with, do it. You don’t even know how much power you have with you at all times.
Everyone has the potential. Everyone has the ability to express his or her thoughts or emotions whether it be through the written word, graffiti, visual art, music, photography, public speaking, sculpture. Anything really. Don’t ever fucking give up. You are making a statement. Last week I walked past Occupy Boston by accident and saw what this spirit can actually do. Everyone in this country deserves equal rights. I saw none of my students at the National Book Festival because most of them do not have the financial resources to get out of their neighborhoods.
Occupy wherever. It doesn’t even matter. Wherever you go, make a presence. Whether it be on Wall Street or Boston or even here at Freedom Plaza in D.C., let the world know that the future is important. Let the world know that every single life is worth recognition, that no one person is better than the next. We are equal and we are love. Serve. Always.