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.