Living the Dream?
This is a piece that emerged from a narrative medicine class in the winter of 2019. You can read my post about the class and the inception and evolution of the essay.
This is from The Sun magazine, published in the February 2008 issue.
I am albino, which means my skin and hair are paler than pale, and though I have partial vision, I’m legally blind. I grew up in a town where it seemed everyone worshiped at the same handful of churches and was white and voted Republican and wore the same clothes. I was white, but I was too white. I was an agnostic atheist, a bleeding heart, and I dressed like the grunge-rock musicians I admired. I didn’t even fit in with the delinquent kids, because my parents were too strict and my grades too good. I felt like the town freak.
Nothing emphasized my feelings of alienation like a school dance, where I’d sit at the back of the cafeteria and eat chips to numb myself. One time I tried to mingle, but a girl I’d ridden to the dance with told me to stop following her around like a puppy. I went back to the food table and tried to disappear.
Parties became more painful as I got older and developed crushes. I watched the boys I was attracted to dance with other girls, girls I would never resemble. I didn’t even know how to dance, and I hated the music the djs played. Often I just sat in a corner and tried not to cry.
Now twenty-six, I feel a little more comfortable in my pale skin, but parties still scare me. I don’t always know how to approach strangers, and I suspect they don’t know how to approach me. I’d rather drink champagne with the older women in my writing group than go to a party with people my own age. I still prefer heavy rock music to dance beats and deep intellectual conversation to small talk.
Every once in a while, though, I’ll go to a social gathering and find it bearable, even a little fun. Inside me the little girl who wants to be like everyone else battles with the rebel who says, “Fuck what everyone else thinks.” I hope someday the two sides of me can live comfortably together.
Warding Off Eclipses with Sex and Music
This is third chapter of my memoir, Moonchild. The manuscript focuses on my freshman year of college, but there are a few chapters in the beginning that give some snapshots of my life at different stages before leaving for college. This piece looks into life at fourteen, what I always thought of as my music heyday. It was published in a small lit mag. It’s long, so I’m putting an excerpt here, and a link to read the whole piece.
Warding Off Eclipses with Sex and Music
In school, without Randy and the neighbors who were still in junior high, I was quiet. I went to my honors classes and doodled lyrics on notebook covers. I had no chance with those fresh, clean kids. I identified better with rock stars who dropped out of school and shot heroin.
At lunch I sat by myself and tried to write song lyrics. I wrote songs about loneliness with dark imagery I hoped was original, material Kurt would love me for if he was still alive, words that came from a place only people who knew soul-crushing darkness could go.
I got interrupted when a crumpled up milk carton flew by my head and landed on the floor near my table. I was used to spitballs and nasty notes but the milk carton was new. I wondered if it was supposed to be a reference to my milk-white skin.
The lunch lady came over and asked me who did it. I didn’t know and didn’t want to admit that to her, remind someone that I couldn’t see, so I just mumbled that it wasn’t a big deal. After she went away, a boy from a nearby table came up to me. “Jeff wants you to ask him out,” he said. I had to try not to cry. I sort of liked Jeff but I was used to this routine. I shrugged at the boy and turned my head away. He ran back to the table and told them I was going to come over and ask Jeff out. All the boys screamed in horror, then laughed.
This was my first entry into the “I’m from Rolling Stone” writing contest. The assignment was to write about your local music scene. “Island Orcastrations” was named as a finalist, then chosen as an honorable mention by Rolling Stone editor, Joe Levy, who had this to say:
“This was the only one that made me actually want to check out the place being written about — not because the music sounded so interesting (it doesn’t, which [April] knows), but because the place itself seemed so weird.”
To get to Orcas Island in Northwest Washington, you have to take a ferry. Many of the 4,000 year-round residents come from the fringes of society—hippies, ex-hippies who settled down and had “indigo children,” drug addicts, recovering addicts, organic gurus who live off the grid and prepare for Peak Oil, retirees, healers, felons, millionaires, artists, and other assorted misfits and runaways. In 57 square miles there’s not one record store or regular concert venue, but music on Orcas permeates the atmosphere and is as soft around the edges as its characters.
At solstice parades, local ceremonies and the Farmer’s Market, performers range from saxophonists and a cappella groups to a World Fusion band called Orcatraz. In summer, there’s “Music in the Park” every Sunday night and “Brown Bag Concerts” on the green every Wednesday at noon. Both feature insipid feel-good fare. There’s always reggae at the Oddfellows Hall, where local dances and holiday festivities happen. And now, for the second winter in a row, the island is having its own Orcas Idol contest.
Moving away from the center of town, people are scattered throughout the horseshoe-shaped island. In these patches are drum circles, spiritual gatherings with sacred singing in foreign languages and bonfires with jam music and more reggae. Don’t forget to show off your dreads.
It can be heartwarming to see all this music come out of such a remote place with such a small population. We’re rich in reggae, in hippie, in save-the-whale soulful songwriting but we’re lacking in the hardcore, hard-hitting passion and vigor of rock, rap and metal. For a rocker chick like me, when it all gets too heartwarming and happy and wholesome, I think about unknown patches and have faith in the felons.
— Rolling Stone