Stay Punk (from MRR #320)

um, it's a banksy, obvs.

Everyday I sprawl on the lawn before class, pretending to read, but actually scanning the courtyard for punks or near-punks, somebody to relate to, to give my already re-read and well worn new issue of MRR.

I finally saw them. A couple with matching green splotches of hair in the “its cheaper to share dye, even if we’re all matchy after” kind of way, which is adorable in small doses. As they got closer I saw they were shinier and cleaner than they first seemed, with matching white creepers and Horrorpops shirts (BTW, who the fuck are they? Anybody?), I gave them the nod. Punks are punks, right? He arched a brow at my faded Dystopia shirt and rolled his eyes. It was out of a movie about high school. I know it’s never cool to be the new kid, but really?

I suddenly found myself the crotchety old punk wondering about what punk has come to. “Who are the punks these days? Seems like we can’t trust to find each other on the street anymore. Some people look punk but aren’t down; some people don’t look so punk anymore, but are.” I grumbled on this way all the way to class, disappointed.

“Lyra, are you punk?”

“I don’t know, mommy.” Lyra is slouched way down in her car seat trying to pull one of her little cowgirl boots off. Her mom, Kristina, smoothes a loose lock of her hair back into a barrette. “Yeah. I know what you mean kid, I don’t know either.”

Lyra scrunches her little face for a moment then looks at us seriously and says, “We’ll see when I’m bigger.”

Kristina is a wide seven months pregnant, with sneaky eyes and a bright smile. Last time she was pregnant she used to make me laugh by drinking water out of tall cans at parties and seeing how many dirty looks she would get. We’d laugh even harder when no one gave her shit for it. When she got pregnant the first time, she moved back in with her parents in Orange County. So she knows just how I’m feeling right about now.

My decision to become a nurse, though it has felt right, has wreaked havoc on my life. I am living in the house I grew up in with my cranky, aging father, in a town I once swore to hate for all time, away from almost everyone I know, and am daily forced to battle the boredom and bureaucracy that is community college.

“I don’t know, I just don’t feel that punk sometimes,” Kristina continued, “I was dating this kid, and he was so obsessed with being punk, he had to print designs on his jacket and fill it up with patches before he could wear it out. I don’t know, it just seemed so stupid. How are we punk? I mean, I know we are — we don’t look it so much these days, but we are right?”

Tina may not feel so punk anymore, but she’s more punk to me now than she was a few years ago as just yet another wastoid in Oakland. She’s studying to be a librarian, and is getting really into Chicano Studies, interviewing her friends and fellow activists about racist gang-injunction legislation that targets brown people. She is a mom in a time when I can’t imagine trying to hope for a future.

This is the age, the point in life I feel like most people lose touch with punk. Insecure because school, or motherhood, or a new life situation has pulled their community out from under them, they become lonely, or resentful that punk has not grown into their new more complex life with them.

I am here to say that you’re still punk, even if you don’t feel like patching up your jacket anymore, even if you don’t only cut your hair when you are black out drunk anymore, even if you don’t recognize all the names on the cover of this rag anymore. You can participate as much or as little as you want to. Just because you want something else doesn’t mean you have to stop being punk.

It is society that has branded punk a youthful rebellion, as a passing phase. It is society that has told us that punk is a kid thing, something you grow out of if you want to do “important things” or “grown up things.” Just like with every other assumed truth society at large has dictated, I call bullshit.

We need to redefine punk to encompass who we are as whole people. So you don’t need to be a punk-hyphen. Punk-mom, punk-lawyer, punk-yogi, punk-chef, punk-whatever. Punk should be big enough to include all these ways of being and to represent us at any age.

If you see your friends drifting away, feeling cut off or dissatisfied with punk, make them a mix tape, remind them it’s less about how we look and what we do individually, and more about who we are and what we care about and do as a community. When I’m feeling cut off and punkless, which is a lot lately, I just think about all of my inspiring friends and all the things they are gonna do to change the world, and to change our idea of what a punk is and can be. I think about all the punks I know, or know of, who are working toward something better. Working as teachers, community organizers, herbal healers, doulas, women’s choice clinic phlembotomists, and those going back to school to become public interest lawyers, nurses, doctors. I feel good knowing that somebody else was bitten by the same bug.

I think of Lyra becoming bigger, deciding what she’ll be. I think of all of the punks in my community I just haven’t met yet. We’ll find each other. I’ll be in the dirty Dystopia shirt (seriously, most of the time). And I think of Ivy the last time I saw her, singing at the at Clarion Alley block party sagely reminding us that “what we want is what we’ll get.”

Put paper letters in a bottle and throw them in the garbage, you’ve got a better shot of it getting to me that way than with the ocean.

Nice Tits (from MRR #319)

yep, that's a Barbara Kruger.

Kristin and I have ventured to the Black Castle in Inglewood for an epic dose of metal. None of the band names are familiar, but with the wildfires, community college, and missing everybody in the bay, I’m in a dark mood, a metal mood. It’s $15, (yikes!) but the interior is perfectly familiar, a barewalled converted old warehouse space with a slapped together stage and exposed rafters. I feel blissfully at home.

The metal is technical, flashy, and the hair is whipping at a phenomenal speed. It’s not really what I was looking for, not the darkness I wanted, but it’ll do.

The first person to speak to me of the night, that is not Kristin, is a young heavy set dude, with long hessian locks, in a crisply black shirt with a pretty unremarkable and dumb band name on in like Nightskull or Zombie Death, or something like it. But I’m still pleased to maybe make a friend, being new in town can be rough.

Instead of leaning in to say hi, or something equally friendly and expected. He looks me full in the eyes and jockishly says “nice tits,” with a menacing kind of friendliness in his air. Everything in his manner says ‘If your cool you’ll say thank you and wink, if you get upset, you are an uptight bitch.’ It’s an approach that risks nothing and dares you to get upset. One I am too familiar with.

I want to punch him, or at least get a good solid slap across his face. To keep from doing so I lash back with the first snide and cutting enough response I can think of.

In tight but even tones I say, “you too” and mock wink. I haul myself to the other side of the stage before he can respond.

It feels good to have something cold and bitchy but funny to say at just the right moment, but it feels hollow too. I’m reduced to making a joke about his size to defend my self and my sex.

My small victorious high wears off entirely by the time we are leaving. I am wondering if I handled things as well as I could have, when a dude from one of the bands standing outside hollers at us wanting to know if we wanna be their groupies. As we keep walking down the street there is the faint sound of the word “bitches” on the breeze. I sigh.

Sometimes it’s so hard to know what is worth expending energy on, and what is best left unanswered; what fights are worth fighting. It’s something I’ve been thinking about and struggling with more lately.

I remember standing around Nick and Rhi’s kitchen this summer in Brighton after our show, holding a beer in each hand while heather sat on the countertop. We took turns complaining about young dudes saying and singing fucked up shit on tour.

“Ugh, I mean they are teenage dudes I keep expecting them to know better, but they don’t. “

“And they were so stereotypical too. ‘this song is about my ex-girlfriend’ then every other word in the chorus is bitch. We walked out, and were gonna tear them a new one, but it just didn’t seem worth it.”

Nick didn’t agree. He thought it was important to challenge people everytime, call them out. “it’s important” he said with a warm smile, and he was right.

I know it’s important, I do, but most of the time I am just too tired to really deal, too overwhelmed. I roll my eyes, mouth “fuck you,” but ultimately let the offending incidents go by unchecked. I make excuses for people, I invoke cultural relativity and tell myself that I didn’t understand the situation right, that it’s different here in London, or Arkansas, or San Diego, that I can’t really know or judge their cultural climate or intent. I tell myself these things so I don’t have to fight every inch of everyday. So I don’t have to cause conflict, so I don’t have to rock the boat, so I can I just get on living life.

But isn’t that what punk and radical politics is all about? Rocking the boat, challenging all the unbelievable bullshit we see and experience in the world, even in our peers, maybe particularly among our peers.

While that is true, letting things go can be necessary sometimes too. I only have finite energy to battle the forces of thousands of years of gender based bullshit, and it’s not my responsibility to take every sexist asshole I meet and read him the riot act and instruct him how to not be an asshole.

There has to be a balance, a compromise between the two.

I’ve decided to try something new. No more pretending not to hear shit, no more declaring war sporadically. I want to be the kind of person that reasons with people, that lets them know when they say and do fucked up shit, and why I think it’s fucked up.

I don’t have all the energy in the world, but I can do this. I can talk to people, I can try to stay calm, I can reason it out. I can try.

So, to the random metal head in Inglewood: Sorry about the tits thing, you had something coming to you, but making fun of your size was not it. That said, I see you again and you talk that same shit to me you are in for a real long lecture about how saying shit like that makes you an asshole, and why you shouldn’t be one. But be careful, I’m new at this, you make me too mad, I still might just knock you out.

No new PO Box yet, sorry. Save up all those letters and send ‘em at once, drown me in paper.