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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Rugrats, I've had a few

A good way to end a conversation with me is to say that you have no regrets. Lord knows I try, so very hard, with this blog and reading to understand the way other people see the world, but I can't get on board with this "everything happens for a reason" talk. Yeah. Sometimes the "reason" something happened is because I was weak and/or an idiot.

What I'm saying is that if I'm given a time machine and said time machine has a set limit of how many times I can use it and it says expressly that you can't use it to kill hitler because it only works on things that happened in your lifetime to you and even then I try to stop some major terrorist attacks and Saved by the Bell from ever happening just to see if I can and let's just say it goes bad, well I would use that time machine right up.

I would use it to fix a few friendships I tarnished by saying mean things behind their backs because I was petty and jealous. I would go back to the times I didn't think a girl's friendship was "enough" for some reason, as if "just" friendship isn't something to cherish for one's entire life. I would take back a handful of just cataclysmically bad decisions I'd rather not talk about due to various statutes of limitations in the domains of assorted potentates and dictators (listen if you see Canada please tell them I'm sorry about the mounties thing.)

But maybe the first things I fix are these: I would go to see Rage Against the Machine and Incubus in concert.

Listen. I never played Dungeons and Dragons but one thing about that game that really resonated with me was the concept of alignment. You could be good and evil, but there were gradients to this. Lawful good, for example. Or even lawful evil. Like, lawful good is your neighbor who makes sure his weeds never extend beyond 9 inches and he'll mow your lawn for you when you're not looking. Lawful evil is like a Multi-level management company in Utah County. Evil, yeah, but all above-board legal.

Anyway, the thing that stuck with me was this: chaotic good. Chaotic good is like Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes. He wants to do the right thing most of the time, but doing the right thing is really hard. I, as a teen, was trying my hardest and often knew what the "right" choice was and often made the wrong one. So, in a handful of examples when I did something difficult because the correct choice was so obvious, I was very pleased with myself.

Like when Rage Against the Machine was playing in concert. I bought the tickets because they were like my favorite band. But they were playing in a tiny town that didn't like songs like F the Police being sung in their hamlets. This generated a significant amount of controversy to the point where church leaders and seminary teachers were buying tickets from poor unsuspecting Mormon kids who were going to have their minds rattled and sullied by the devil's own mewling.
"Residents said they feared the lyrics that will be heard well beyond the fairground's wooden fences as well as the rocker fans that would be there and the potential for injuries that one man who favors the concert said would likely result. Others expressed concern about lawsuits that could result if someone is killed or injured during the concert. They also fear a discrimination lawsuit if the concert is canceled."
-Deseret News

It's the beats and the lyrics they fear.
 -Rage Against the Machine, "Take the Power Back"

This drama was heightened by the fact that there was a Seminary party at a park at the same time. Everyone would know if I wasn't there, and they might surmise why. By everyone I mean girls.

I felt bad and sold my ticket.

Many years later I bought a ticket to see Incubus. Only to find out that it would be held at the exact same time as the ultimate in father-son pilgrimages known as the Priesthood Session. For non-LDS folks this is twice-yearly 2-hour block of talks about why grocery stores should cover the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue with black plastic boards. It is considered bad form to miss it. Especially to watch a band extoll the virtues of mushrooms in a darkened stadium. I remember girls who, if you asked them on a date on that sacred Saturday, not only would they say no to that date, but all subsequent date opportunities.

So I didn't go.

Wait, some of you may say, you regret these choices? They were the right choices. Some of a small handful that I can even remember making. Except I don't remember anything that was said during that Priesthood Session, and the only thing I remember about the party is that a girl I liked spent the whole time with another guy and my friends weren't there because they were at some concert.

Do you know what I do remember? Every single concert I went to as a teenager. I saw A Tribe Called Quest open for the Beastie Boys. That's a cool thing. I saw Oingo Boingo's last tour. I watched Weird Al in a fat suit. I remember where we ate before the shows, and what I ordered at Hardee's well after midnight after the shows. When I talk to people about great acts I saw play live I yearn to say that I was in the same room as Rage Against the Machine (ok, it was a fairground) and yet I was not.

You know what I regret? Letting someone else tell me what was right, not based on what's best for my well-being, but because it was a narrative I'd been taught my whole life. If the choice is between going to an internship or girl's camp, nobody votes for internship when you're in Sunday School. One brought blessings, the other brought something unknown and scary. One might be styling each other's hair in a time-share. The other a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

There are lots of seminary parties, and they were fun. I went to as many as I could. There are a LOT of Priesthood Sessions. I had a pretty good record of attendance, even at my most chaotic good. There is ONE Rage Against the Machine. There is sometimes only one chance for a life-changing trip or opportunity.

Why am I telling you this? What message do I have to impart? I don't know. The world's a weird place. Complicated.

Breath, Eyes, Memory, by Edwidge Danticat, is about regret. It's also about doing what you think is the right thing but that has lasting, and devastating outcomes. There are three generations of Haitian women here. And the way their lives interact and influence one another's is fascinating and sometimes terrifying.

The youngest is Sophie. Raised in Haiti by her aunt, Sophie is sent for by her mother in New York City. She's never met her mother, who left when she was a baby to provide for her family in the richer soils of the USA. She goes to a strange country and lives with a strange woman. She learns about her mother's past and her own. She grows to an adult and contends with this past. She has a pig for a little while.

Lately I've been reading a lot of books that say Oprah's Book Club on the cover and I dunno, guys, maybe it's a good book club. We should join forces. Somebody get her on the horn.