sour girl

She was a happy girl when she left me.

I dream vividly. It runs in the family. My paternal grandmother was an avid dream journaler her entire adult life. She always kept a notebook next to her bed, and she would wake from her dreams and roll over in the night and immediately write them down when they ended. I used to love to read her scribbles. I wish I’d pocketed one of her notebooks when we packed up her place in Chicago. I found similar notes in my Dad’s papers after he died, too. Scraps of paper mixed in with his bills and other effects. He’d journal in prose. It was amazing.

Grandma was also a lucid dreamer, a skill she taught both my father and me. I havent been using it for the past year or so, though, either out of sudden onset impotence or choice. I think I am electing to check my free will at the door when I punch my card at night lately. My brain works all day. Why work while I slumber, too? Then again, I seem to be the Sandman’s bitch these days, so the illusion of any control would be a laughable prospect anyway. When I do dream, though, they’re doozies, and the dreams that stay with me all day are truly annoying.

Last night’s was a winner. It seemed to last all night. I was attending a friend’s wedding, only it wasn’t her as I know her now, it was the college version of her. Or as I would imagine her in college, as we didn’t go to school together, and I didn’t know her then. The odd thing is that the action took place in the early 90s — my college years, not hers. She’s younger than I am. I pulled her into my timeline. So, really, it was the college version of me. Or the early grad school version, to be more specific. If you really want to split hairs, it was 1994. The year I lived in that apartment on the second floor on the corner of Main and Port Republic with Mike. The year we went to the bars every night and hustled pool to pay our rent and had music playing in the background constantly. The year that he was still there. The year I didn’t get on the plane to meet him in Greece.

The dream was beautifully lit. Sunset cinematography that gave it a mood of magical realism. Gabriel Garcia Marquez in deep golds, bronzes, and purples. Seemed fitting to me for many reasons, all of them my own. My friend’s wedding was elaborate. We’re talking Kardashian expensive, only classy. The ceremony itself was religious and someplace huge that was most definitely not a church. I never saw that part. I was there. I looked right at it. I just didn’t see it. None of this fit my friend. Her family is not wealthy. She is not religious, and certainly not Christian. And even if she could afford a big, elaborate wedding, it would be the last thing she would ever want. In fact, she had a very simple civil ceremony when she did marry in real life. A marriage I either admire tremendously or that makes me utterly sad. I haven’t decided which. I haven’t given it much thought, to be honest.

After the ceremony, I noticed a huge sign on the wall reminding the guests that they were to have RSVP’d separately to the reception at her parents’ stately mansion by a specific date. As I stood there reading it, I realized I had failed to follow those instructions because I never received them. The bride walked by and asked me what was wrong. I told her. She smiled and said, “No worries. What’s another $100 plate of food for my parents? Come on.” And then she took my hand, which is weird, because we never touch. This stands out, because my friends and I are usually very physically affectionate with one another, but when she touched me in the dream, I realized tht I couldn’t remember a single instance of her flesh ever touching mine. It didn’t feel comfortable in the dream. It was cold and hard and threatening, and I wanted to flinch and pull my hand out of hers immediately, but she held me tight, her silvery wedding gown shining in the sunset. The sun reflected from her dress into my eyes, blinding me. At that same moment, another friend appeared — this one definitely too young to be at university with me in 1994. Oddly enough, both of them are related to the same place and period in my life, but have never met. Friend #2 lurched up out of the darkeness of the pew behind me, and grabbed my other hand. She begged me not to go, tried to pull me down into the pew with her. This friend has never been married — never had a relationship of any kind — and seemed desperate to keep me from following the bride. I remember thinking that neither woman belonged there in 1994 with me. I remember thinking that it was a bad sign. I remember wondering how I knew what year it was. I remember thinking that neither woman had an agenda in my best interest.

I don’t know if I let go of my second friend’s hand or if the bride won the tug-of-war, but the next thing I know, I’m climbing up a long, wide, winding stone staircase with her. When we reached the top, the reception was spread out over a huge, sweeping terrace on a mountainside in front of a large, modern glass house overlooking the Tuscan countryside below. The bride handed me a flute of champagne but never let go of my hand. She was no longer my friend. She was The Bride, and she had me in a vice grip. It was sinister. We stood there watching the sun set. At that point, I looked down and realized I wasn’t wearing anything, which didn’t bother me so much as confused me. It was at that point, that The Bride said, “so glad you could come,” and violently pushed me over the terrace railing and off the cliff below.

When I landed, I was on a city street in front of a theater box office at night. My left side was killing me, but I didn’t seem to be injured or bleeding. The girl in the booth was glad to see me and said that “they” were all waiting for me inside. She printed out a discounted ticket and explained that she wasn’t charging me full price because the show had already started without me. I walked through the doors to an enormous red theater with the seats filled to sold-out capacity with people I know. Hundreds of people from all parts of my life. Stone Temple Pilot’s “Sour Girl” blared overhead. I couldn’t tell where the music was coming from. It was just everywhere. I looked down and found myself wrapped in a white cotton bed sheet. It was wound around me tight like a shroud and tucked under my arms. I was still naked beneath it. Halfway down the aisle, there he stood in a tuxedo with a red rose in his lapel. His dark hair slicked back from his handsome face. He hadn’t aged a day, and neither had I. At that moment, I realized that I was at my own wedding. That had been the point of the whole dream. The tug-of-war, the climb, the push from the cliff. He smiled at me and reached his hand out for mine. I was wrapped too tight in the sheet and couldn’t move. Didn’t want to. Was too terrified.

And then I woke up.

I haven’t been able to shake the images and the feeling of the dream all day. Haven’t been able to shake “Sour Girl” from my head, either. In an effort to exorcise it from my brain, I logged onto Spotify to listen to it and found, to my surprise, that I’d already done so in the night. I had added it and a plethora of other favorite Grunge hits to my playlist somwhere around 4am. I had been busy building a 90s nostalgia soundtrack in my sleep. I have no idea why. I have no idea where any of this comes from. I have no idea what this means. Probably nothing. I have no point. No punchy ending. This is just a dream journal. I just want to wake up.


hey nineteen

Yes, it's a freaking phone. Trust me on this.

She thinks I’m crazy, but I’m just growing old.

Despite its reputation for having such a marked gender imbalance that it’s often called “Menver,” I spend more time with women than men in this town as of late. Well, truth be told, I don’t spend much time with anyone human, given my academic demands and the solitary work at hand. It’s an event when I put down the laptop and books and step outside to do anything other than walk the dog. When I am with people these days, I tend to be with one of two women in my social circle who are also in school, and therefore have similar schedules while simultaneously being able to relate to my own experience and time restrictions. Misery loves company and all that rot, only we’re really not all that miserable. It works out pretty well, actually, and it helps that they’re a couple of really funny bitches who share my quirky view of what is wrong and right in the world. The interesting part is that both women are old enough to be my daughters, which is weird to say, because, really, I’m not that old. Not even close. Honest.

Shut up. Stop laughing.


One of these friends is in her early 20’s, but has the comportment, maturity, and gravity that I have to say far exceeds my own. She blows me away daily. The other is firmly ensconced in her mid-20’s and has the blazing intellect and vision, biting wit, and sophisticated sense of humor I love coupled with an easy-going and self-aware goofiness that outpaces anything I have. And I’m a freaking goofball. It helps that I refuse to grow up in all the ways that are important. I’m no 20-something, but I remember what it feels like to be young and love to laugh.

Both women are very comfortable in their own skin, know what they want from life, and have the ambition, drive and smarts to give as good as they get. They’re fighters, they’re hard workers, they’re wicked hilarious, and they’re very well-schooled for ones so young. They’re wise beyond their years, and I’m truly impressed with both of them. And I don’t mean that in a condescending way at all. They’re two of my favorite people in the world, and I love that the age difference seems to be a non-issue for us. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t notice it, and they don’t seem to, either. From my point of view, we have a relationship of equals, despite the fact that they are just finding themselves and stepping out into a world that is their oyster, while I’m setting foot into my own middle ages and looking over the rise at the downward slope in the road. It shouldn’t work, but it does. I have just so been enjoying their company, that I really had myself fooled into thinking there were no differences in our experience. This week, however, the universe body checked me repeatedly with reminders from these friends and my students that I’ve been around a lot longer than I sometimes realize.

Nothing says, “damn, bitch, you old” quite like getting the blank stare of nonrecognition from a younger person in response to a pop culture reference that you’re sure everyone in the room will connect with thanks to a collective memory. The silence that meet the words and terms and jokes and phrases that drop from your mouth with such natural ease is deafening and time stretches out before you like hours as you realize the decades that actually separate you from your listener. I imagine it’s how a comedian dying on stage must feel.  You don’t want to follow up with condescension, but you want to explain your reference in the hope that maybe the issue is one of miscommunication on your part and not the fact that your dinner companion just was not alive or, gee, I don’t know, not yet potty trained, when whatever event, show, song, presidential debate, etc. you just mentioned happened along.

In the past week, I have been met with the blinking look that says “Uh…huh?” in my efforts to engage on Benny Hill, Deep Throat (yes, including the Watergate version), and at least one other major pop culture moment from the 90s that everyone my age would expect everyone in the industrialized West to recognize, but that I can’t remember right now because, well, the kids are right and this bitch is apparently actually old fo’ reals. Despite wracking my brain, I cannot recall what it was. I think it was something from Seinfeld or another television show that was equally huge and momentous. Trust me, it was shocking. I had every reason to gasp at the blank stare I got — at least from a Gen X point of view. These reminders where like getting a bucket of cold water dumped on me from above, and the water was only made icier by the fact that my hike and brunch today with a 35 year-old girlfriend was a series of each one of us easily and effortlessly picking up what the other was laying down as far as references went. Our quotes varied from Ivan Drago to Dr. Peter Venkman without missing a beat. It was pretty delicious. A conversation like that is on par with good sex with a long-term intimate partner even when it’s with someone you just met. Hell, like really hot sex, sometimes it’s even better with a stranger. But anyway…

Ok, so maybe my generation lives in the 80s, but we know a good pull when we see one and rarely miss an opportunity to jump in and make one. The pop cultural tete-a-tete is a rush for all of us and can often parade as instant intimacy. And that’s just the thing. Therein lies the defining difference between my generation and the one who came after. Generation X makes its meaning in being referential. It’s how we communicate with each other. It’s how we form our own self-identities. Everything boils down to shared experience. In the words of Blackalicious’ Gen X anthem Make You Feel That Way, “Rakim? KRS? Hey, I had that tape.” We all seek that recognition from one another. It’s our secret handshake. The fact that my friend can drop a line from Rocky IV and I can reply with another from Ghostbusters and be understood without so much of a blink of an eye is the essence of the Gen X experience. It’s what we’re all looking for from each other, and it serves not only as a bonding ritual for each of us as we sniff each other as we each seek to build relationships with adults whose wheelhouses are similar to our own, but it grounds us in an era that has seen more rapid technological, social, cultural, political, and economic change than any in nearly a century. It helps to have a touchstone when you’re screaming through the universe at a million miles an hour. Pop culture is how we cope.

Granted, Generation X did not invent the importance of pop culture references or shared experience. Our Boomer parents most certainly defined the concept of  lived generational identity as is captured with comedy and poignancy in the 1989 film Parenthood when Diane Wiest’s character Helen is shocked to learn that her teenage daughter is pregnant upon returning home from a date with her younger son’s teacher, George Bowman:

Helen: No, no, no, no. I’m too young to be a grandmother. Grandmothers are old. They bake, and they sew, and they tell you stories about the Depression. I was at Woodstock, for Christ’s sake! I peed in a field! I hung on to The Who’s helicopter as it flew away!
George Bowman: I was at Woodstock.
Helen: Oh yeah? I thought you looked familiar!

If you haven’t seen Parenthood, put this blog down and go watch it now, so we can all continue on the same page. No, not later. Right now. It’s important. I’ll wait right here.

All done? Ok. Good. Let’s continue.

To be fair to my Millennial friends, it is not their fault. They just were not there. Why would they get all of my jokes? Why would I expect them to have been there when they weren’t born yet? They’re still young. It’s their world now, and they’re still writing the script. They’ve got their own culture. I just get that reality check from time to time, and I see the humor in their eyes and imagine the horror in my own whenever the gulf opens and I get a reminder of my age and experience. I don’t hate it, though. I revel in my place in life and wouldn’t trade it for the world. I just can’t expect to have everyone speak the same language. If Saussure is right, our language is based on the relationship between the signifiers we chose to create our signs — and references should be no different. Barthes would argue that it’s all part of our myth building processes, and Gen X gets off on the myths.

I have to give the Millenials in my life credit, though. They try very hard to understand me and where I’m coming from, in fact. They’re eager to learn, in fact. Some of them even seem to worship our references and use them as the basis for their humor. Talk to any Family Guy fan in his or her 20s, and you’ll see what I mean. That show is wall-to-wall Gen X pop culture references, thanks to the masturbatory writing style of its creator Seth McFarlane, and the Millennials just eat it up. They are craving a shared experience that their generation has been denied through the individualizing and niche-ifying media and technology of their youth. They’d trade their iPods for what I have in a heartbeat, and in my experience, many of them are dying to rub up against me. Want to understand what I have and maybe even get a little of it for themselves. It’s why my past classes almost invariably included a discussion about what a rotary phone was and how it worked and what it was like to use one whenever the image of one came up in a documentary I showed in class. The conversation goes from rotary phones to television with dials to what it was like to drink Coke out of a glass bottle (it’s like drinking beer out of a glass bottle). It’s why screening this to put this into proper pop culture and historical context always lead to a class discussion that caused my students to want to discuss it and other references like it for a week in my office, on my AIM chat, via email, and anywhere else they could find me because they had always laughed at the latter without ever having seen and understood the former. Getting the whole story changed them, and I appreciated that. They wanted to learn. Wanted to learn. Wanted to soak it all up. Most importantly, they wanted to use and apply the myths. That’s been a lesson for me, too.

The lesson is that bullshit debates like this are useless wastes of time that don’t get us anywhere, except to get me pissed off. Generational infighting seems to be a new thing, and it’s stupid. It’s a lesson that makes me consider who I am and who my friends are and how we can better communicate. It serves to drive my research. It also causes me to laugh at myself when I realize that I’m not as young as I used to be, and that’s ok. I’ve got my Millennial friends to help keep me on my toes and to help keep me from growing old without a fight. And every time some 20-something asks about my research and replies with “Generation X? Why would you want to study those old folks?” because she thinks I’m one of her tribe, I take it as a compliment, despite my own fervent generational pride . Thank you, 28 year-old. Thank  you.

she’s a very freaky girl

A tale wherein the students have become the teachers…or at least my teachers.

Words cannot describe how good it feels to be back in the classroom. Everything about this semester is clicking along like a well-oiled machine and has me walking on a cloud because I’m so happy and in love with my research and everything else I’m doing, but teaching again is by far the best part. I honest to God stroll around with this smitten look and stupid smile plastered on my face like I’ve got some kind of crazy schoolgirl crush going on because it just feels so damn euphoric to be doing what I am meant to do. It’s true what they say — if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life (even though I’m working my ass off here). And the difference clearly shows. I have friends and even strangers commenting left and right that I glow. My hair, my skin, my clothes, my everything apparently looks better. I’ve been asked if I’m in love or pregnant more than once this week alone.

I am serving as a TA in preparation to take on my own courses as a GPTI next semester. It was my adviser’s idea to fight for me to be placed under her supervision so that I didn’t have to start at zero doing recitations for the 1001 class. I appreciate that she recognizes my level of experience and doesn’t want to see me set back and bored when I’ve taught lecture classes of 250+ students at a one of the largest research universities in the country in the past. She wants to make use of my talents and hone them. I am anxious to be fully at the reins again, and she made it clear in our meeting today that she’s going to get me back there as quickly as possible. I’m taking over writing the quizzes and tests for the class and will start doing a good bulk of the lecturing, too. I can tell that she’d hand it all over to me, if she could. She has such tremendous faith in me and is as eager to mentor me as I am to learn. She has much to teach me. We’re an amazing team, and our already-good relationship has rocketed to a new level in the past week. She’s caring, supportive, challenging, and a good boss and friend. She trusts me, and she gives a damn. Her tutelage combined with that from past mentors and my basic God-given gifts of instruction will make me freaking unstoppable by the time I’m doing interviews. It’s perfect. I’m high on it.

The best part is our students. We have a class of 40 upperclassmen. Some have taken classes with my adviser before. She has groupies, and with good reason. I’m one myself. She knows how to structure a good course, and she’s amazing in front of the classroom. The room is an odd, open, long meeting hall in a building that’s used for advising more than classes, and everyone sits at a long rectangle cobbled together from several tables that takes up the entire room. The class is overbooked, and there are more students than the room can actually hold, so there are a few kids sitting in corners and in chairs along the walls. They don’t care, they just want to be in the class. It’s kind of sweet, actually, and it should have tipped me off to their level of enthusiasm about and involvement with the content of the course.

Thursday was my first chance to really see the students in action as part of a discussion. Prior to this point, we had just had class business and lecture. This afternoon we really got down to business, though, and wow. Goddamn. I was impressed.

While there was certainly a minority that sat there slack-jawed like deer in the headlights because they either hadn’t done the reading on the sexualization of popular culture or because their minds were blown and groins made uneasy by the explicit music videos we were all sitting in the dark watching together. Their chairs were pretty close together, so it’s not like they had much in the way of personal space as we watched Madonna play the dominatrix, Nelly slide a credit card down the crack of a stripper’s g-stringed ass, or Katie Perry clumsily ape and fumble her way through the cartoonish and wide-eyed part-time bisexual slut role in her offering. I felt particularly bad for the poor sophomore guy who had to share a little table in the corner with me. My proximity clearly made him a little uncomfortable, and he had a hard time sitting still. Nonetheless, he was nice about it, and I tried to give him a little room to shift around in his seat.

The majority of the class was right there with it, though, sitting on the edge of their seats, soaking it all in, keeping pace intellectually and applying what they’d read in the week’s assignments and elsewhere to the text and subtext of what we put before them. Practically salivating at the thought of self-expression, they could barely wait for each video to finish before they jumped right in with their sharp analysis. They weren’t very nice to Katy Perry when they did it, either. As much as I’m not a fan, I almost felt sorry for her as I listened to these 19 and 20 year-olds rip her performance and general pop persona to shreds. I won’t lie, though. Inwardly, I was fist pumping with satisfaction in the knowledge that these kids had two brain cells to rub together hard enough to create enough friction to generate some real heat. It was a truly lovely surprise coming off of my experience in the graduate version of this course last semester with a cadre of master’s students whose heads projected ocean sounds to those standing too close to them on a mildly breezy day. They led me to wrongly underestimate the undergraduates.

The best part were the young women in the room. They easily outnumbered the guys 4 or 5 to 1. Add two female instructors to the mix, and you’ve got a regular estrogen brigade on your hands. While there are certainly some girls who looked overwhelmed by the subject matter, the vast majority of them attacked the discussion with gusto and slid right into the driver’s seat of the class. They came prepared, not only from the assigned class readings, but from their accumulated knowledge from their other courses and just general keen life observation. It was inspiring. They were bold and fearless with their academic analysis of the videos we watched, but even moreso, their grasp of sexuality and sexual politics was really sophisticated for their age. Some of the men were right in there with them and had astute and clever things to say, but the majority of them appeared to be more intimidated and out of their depth than the women and needed to have a picture drawn for them on concepts like BDSM and dominatrices. Sexual experience and exploration were clearly in their futures more than their pasts. The women, on the other hand, were right there to do the explaining.  They also had amazing contributions to offer on strippers’ agency, straight female performances of bisexuality and homoeroticism, and the historical context of sexual controversy in the media its resultant censorship.

The part that really blew my mind and schooled me was the students’ (both male and female) feminist approach to the discussion. They were unafraid and unembarrassed to have frank discussions of sexuality, and the women were not shy about sharing what they knew on the topic — even when it came to concepts that might be considered perverse, non-heteronormative, and not appropriate for public discussion. They weren’t scared to be “freaky.” They are so firmly ensconced in third wave feminism and its constant insistence that all things are relative, that the battle is to be fought where you find it, and that compromise is an acceptable option. They do not see the world as a place where they are oppressed at all or that they should be personally offended by anything. The term “sex positive” was used over and over again as a measure of the media, particularly with relation to women’s agency in the examples we watched. Their take on everything was so firmly in contrast to my own second wave- and postfeminst-influenced ideals, that it really made me sit up and take notice. They were able to justify and rationalize and find upsides to things I couldn’t and didn’t see before.

I cannot say I agreed with everything they said, but I cannot say they did not make me think. The third wave feminist is a force to be reckoned with and a puzzle to be solved for the Gen Xer. My eyes are opened, and now I see things I’ve seen a million times in a new light. I am humbled and view my students with a new depth of respect, too. I couldn’t help but think, “Right on, sister” more than once as they contributed to the conversation. This is not only helpful for my research on the intersection of generational identity and the media, but also will improve my skills as a teacher by reinvigorating and challenging my approach to pedagogy with this group and others to come. I have work to do when it comes to negotiating the waters of the third wave and reckoning with the brave women it. They will push my envelope with their openness and unabashed willingness to share…everything. There is a gap to bridge, and I can see I will learn a lot from my students this semester. For that, I am already grateful.