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A Small Success
By Miranda Dennis
Boston shouldn’t be this hot in May. Even in the shade our clothes are heavy with sweat, though the sun mercifully has begun its descent, casting the shadow of the JetBlue sponsored stage over us while Courtney Barnett is playing.
“Who knew she was so sexy?” I ask my friends over and over. The night before we had caught a glimpse of her on Jimmy Fallon from the luxury of free cable at the Boston Days Inn, and I said the same thing, pointing out that we both have the same haircut and wondering what it meant, cosmically speaking. My two friends politely ignored me.
I’m considering texting my mom to tell her I’m gay now because of an Australian girl in jeans and a trucker cap wielding a guitar.
I text other friends: Courtney Barnett is terrifying and sexy. I text one friend just a bunch of pictures I’ve saved to my phone and say: Isn’t she beautiful. On the stage she shouts, “Thank you very much” but it comes out like thayuvermuh. I’m fascinated by this. I want to run home and play my guitar and shout, incoherent but sober, my hair falling in my eyes.
Friends text back: doesn’t she look a bit like you? You have the same haircut.
My friend next to me, also an Australian, is dressed in jeans, military style boots, an ironic tee, and an ironic baseball cap. I look to the stage at my new favorite musician and then look to my friend, noting their style so seriously mimics each other that maybe it must be a uniform for all young women from New South Wales— or the tomboys, I guess. It’s 2016, so do we even say “tomboys” anymore? It seems woefully narrow. If my friend and I, two women in a future devoid of patriarchy, had a sci-fi utopian fantasy daughter together, maybe she would look like Courtney Barnett. Maybe she would play guitar. Maybe she would yell and be bad at certain things we are good at, and we’ll wonder how we could have raised a daughter who didn’t know how to code or use pivot tables. We’ll say, Every woman should know how to code whether or not we mean it.
Every woman should know how to code and lean in, but I want to lean out. I want to excuse myself, if only briefly, from my somewhat fancy-sounding title at the digital ads company I work at and go on tour, too. Nevermind that I’m sloppy at guitar and keep writing songs about men I know who own too many houses, as if I am envious of them for the very thing I resent. Nevermind I’ve got enough student debt the size of a ranch house in middle America. “You’re underpaid anyway,” the mean but accurate tarot reader in Union Square said to me once about following my dreams, but how did she know? Was it just because women are underpaid in general, or do I have that stink of someone who knows she’s worth more but is too lazy to find out?
My first job in New York I was definitely underpaid, working as an office administrator for a company that feigned a flat hierarchy only to remind the admin on a daily basis how she was the face of the office (code for please look pretty, a thing I had never pretended to be in my life) and how if people who made three times as much money as she did messed up, she may still be responsible for cleaning up after them. I spent a lot of time crying in bathrooms and trying to undermine business casual. Once I even rolled up into work wearing a luxury bohemian shirt (for the brand conscious hippie, I guess) whose hem was beginning to unravel. My VP of Risk Management, the only man in the office nice to me, searched frantically for scissors so I could tame myself. Snip the thread, and hope the hem stays. But a woman with a forked tongue can not tame herself, nor should she, so I simply yelled a lot, cried daily, and still managed to (mostly) effectively invoice my difficult clients. All for under 40k. I remember towards the end of my tenure at this job lying across my bed, sobbing while watching the documentary The Punk Singer about Kathleen Hanna. “Girls to the front,” I quoted her, through a mess of snot and tears. “Boys, be cool, for once in your lives.”
But don’t worry— many women have informed me you’re not supposed to love your job or have it represent a portion of your identity. And it’s better you learn it now rather than later. I have yet to have men give me that same lecture, which isn’t to say that men are wiser (a thing I’ve never ventured to say). It’s simply that that every man I know is somehow doing something he’s passionate about or has at least convinced himself, most likely due to the size of his paycheck, that he’s passionate about it. To be fair, men I know are musicians, filmmakers, and bartenders and seem to have more fun than me in general, but many also believe in things like client success and IPOs. But let’s forget about these satisfied, well-paid minute for a minute— is the message for women still “keep accommodating”? Keep giving pep talks to one another that we’re supposed to be this miserable?
The WeWork space my current office is located in reminds me to DO WHAT YOU LOVE. I really love going to concerts fronted by women, and writing, and baking for my friends. I love yoga and hanging out in New Age crystal shops and petting animals. Maybe more controversially, I especially love leaving long-winded voicemails in which I sing Drake songs loudly and quite badly to people who don’t even listen to Drake. The question is how to survive in New York City— or any city— doing what you love, while your debt mocks you, while a stream of endless thinkpieces about millennials having a faulty lack of assets scorns you, while a digital ad blinks at you telling you that a company owned by major corporations wants you to buy an organic juice to clean out your rot.
But for one blissful weekend I don’t think of the work I’ve left behind or my tiny Queens apartment’s myriad defects. I become as free as myself at seventeen, and just as effusive. I walk around this festival wearing holes in my shirts and jean shorts that show off my fat thighs. I pour water on myself and try not to die. My hair is greasy, my jawline breaking out from sunscreen and sweat. I’m wearing a hat that says Cabo San Lucas Mexico from a thrift store from when I briefly lived, and burned out, in LA. One of my friends asks if I got that hat from my step-father, Larry. No, friend, but let me be a step-dad in the world for just a day. Let me get away with terrible puns and beige hats. And so in my Larry hat I wander around, in search of more free KIND bars. I daydream about which corporate sponsorships will allow me space in the world someday— Dunkin Donuts? Verizon?
I obsess over Sia, Elle King, Janelle Monae, and of course Courtney Barnett. I instagram pictures of Janelle Monae being wheeled out on a dolly, of Sia lit up like a surreal saint. I try, and fail, to capture the beauty that is Elle King with her mermaid blue hair, warmly drunk and proud, bolder than any Boston bro tripping on his own ego. I imagine myself having a side project band the way famous writers sometimes do and playing my favorite small venues in New York and having Zia Anger direct my video. I’d play songs called, “It’s Ok, That’s Just How Vaginas Smell” or “Folk Musician, Please Stop Saying the Word Lover.”
I think about loud women who came before me, who shaped me, and who will follow me. I think about becoming as loud as I feel.
After all, better you be loud than subdued.
Maybe it is far too easy to feel quietly mediocre when your brain has been aligned with certain ways of being in the world, but then your paycheck has asked you more burning questions about that way of being. If I make mistakes at work, is it because I’m lazy or dumb, as has been sometimes suggested? Is it because my brain is adjusting, snapping into some other shape it never intended to be? Do I feel ugly in a business casual dress because I’m ugly or because business casual looks like crayon drawings of business women?
Every weekday, barring no apocalyptic storms or illness, I take the 7 from Queens to Grand Central and walk 14 blocks to work, taking the time to listen to music and prepare myself for another day of radical disillusionment. I know that throughout the course of the day I may question myself, my identity, what my mistakes mean, what greater good I’m contributing to, and what’s the best way to balance my ideals and values in a world I didn’t ask for, didn’t create, never wanted. So, I center myself, not with yogic meditation, though I do that, too. I center myself with loudness, with fury and enthusiasm and joy, cranked up, all before 9 am. And when I think no one is looking I quietly mouth along the words to the anthemic “Pedestrian at Best” by the terrifying and sexy Courtney Barnett:
I must confess, I've made a mess
of what should be a small success.
But I digress.
At least I've tried my very best, I guess.
Sometimes, if you listen closely, you might even hear me singing, in between the thrum of traffic and one steady heartbeat.
#Real #PersonalEssay #ComingOut #CourtneyBarnett #Guitar
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