I’ve been thinking a lot about high school recently, for the following reasons:
I’m in Kansas City for the weekend, and any time I come home I invariably feel like I’m back in high school. After all, that was really the last time I “lived” here. This is the place my high school friends come back to, where I sometimes uncover a long lost memory from when I was fifteen, where things don’t change quite as fast as they seem to in the rest of the world.
I unearthed my old Semisonic CD and blared the cheerfully maudlin song “Closing Time” while driving my dad’s Nissan Altima. Instantly I was transported to the summer after my freshman year in high school.
I just saw the film American Teen (which I highly recommend), a docu-drama about contemporary high school students in Indiana. It’s like a more-real version of Laguna Beach, set in the Midwest and featuring a tad bit more emotional truth. If nothing else, it’s a deeply nostalgic film, or at least was for me. High school was a caddy, laborious, soul-deadening nightmare for most of the time… but it was also the last stretch of pseudo-innocence and naiveté, which is often a stretch I long to return to. High school is a time of life when things are so tidily regimented, expectations so understood, that we have nothing better to do than invent drama and throw ourselves into it with gleeful abandon. Oh for the days when drama and pain and world-weariness were confections to consume and flaunt as if they were status symbols.
It’s Labor Day—a holiday I will always associate with being a student. This is the day that marks the end of the summer and the imminent new year of school. It’s the day when we must reckon with our sunburns and summer memories, ceding them to the routine realities of change and autumn and progress. It’s a day when we celebrate the laziness and restlessness of summer, before we have to move on and grow up.
I’m dancing, grooving. This lovely wooden floor. / The tom-toms are beating on. Eyes are so sore. / There is still sand in my suitcase. / There is still salt in my teeth. (The Walkmen, “Donde esta la Playa?”)
I love holidays that are primarily about change. New Year’s Day is the most obvious example, but Labor Day is definitely in this category too (as is Memorial Day, to a lesser extent). Change is so desperately alive, so elemental. It’s the most exciting part of life, and the most challenging. I’m getting ready to move this week from one part of L.A. to another, to start fresh with my own place, a relatively new job and probably overall new rhythms of being. On paper all the changes and challenges are daunting, but new things are nothing new, and that’s a bit of a relief.
All the years keep rolling / The decades flying by / But ahh, the days are long. (“On the Water”)
Now I am listening to the new album from The Walkmen, You & Me, which is incredibly well-fit to the sort of end-of-summer malaise I’m feeling right now (it’s also one of the best albums of 2008… buy it). It’s an album about growing up, leaving behind the endless years of partying and aimless romantic pursuits, coming to grips with adulthood and all that that entails. It’s about acknowledging but moving past cynicism, finding the good amidst failed dreams and unfounded hopes.
Oh, someday when this darkness fades / We’ll wed our girls and move away / We’ll buy some land and build us homes / And no more will we stray. (“Seven Years of Holidays”)
Here in the last days of August, 2008, when hurricanes bear down, oil prices and inflation oppress the struggling among us, politics resign to divisiveness, economies falter, and hope is little more than a catch phrase, the inevitability of change is a small, but significant, consolation. As kids everywhere return to school, another year wiser, and politicians scramble to carve out the course of history that will soon be written, and the spinning world spins storms and calamities towards humans as it always has, we all meet change where we must. It’s exhausting, to be sure, but at least we have Labor Day to breathe.
You keep replaying through the days / That have brought you to this place / You wandered down an open road / and you kept going. (“The Blue Route”)