Monday, May 7, 2012

Aches & Pains and Grown-Up Nostalgia

Since I write primarily for teenagers, I probably shouldn't write a blog post about feeling old, but yanno... I have that whole honest-to-a-fault thing going and until I have an outlet for writing about grown-up type things (which I'm looking into both in terms of freelance and I still really, really hope my adult book AKA the Bartender Book AKA Getting Back To Nowhere sells) this is my space for babbling about everything, so yeah.

These thoughts are stemming from two places. The first, unfortunately, is physical pain. I spent most of last week in such terrible back/shoulder/neck and knee pain that it made it almost impossible to concentrate on writing. You see I was always this flexible kid who could do things like sit crosslegged in an office chair all day with no problem. Now, at nearly 33, this along with my ability to snap back from a hangover and my drinking tolerance in general has diminished considerably. I've developed really bad habits in terms of how I sit and write and I know it is going to be a major pain in the ass to break them. It also may involve a new chair and/or desk neither of which I can afford right now, so it's frustrating. And the knee thing comes from a combo of running, standing all night at my bartending job and sometimes slipping and twisting it... Not cool. Anyway, I don't mean for this to be a whine fest. I only bring it up because A. if any of my fellow writers have chair/lumbar support pillow or other ergonomic typing at desk for long hour suggestions, I would love to hear them and B. my week of grumpiness over my old age/aches & pains probably fed into this grown-up nostalgia moment I had that was really bittersweet and one of the few things I've really felt worth documenting on the blog for a while. (That is why my posts are sporadic. If I don't have anything that I really want to reflect on, I don't try to force myself to post because I have novels and freelance articles to write that are more urgent.)

So Friday morning I was cleaning the house. I'd just gotten Jack White's new album Blunderbuss on vinyl so I put it on. I haven't really followed Jack's post-White Stripes career. In fact my White Stripes obsession started to fade after Elephant, but I'd heard good things about Blunderbuss and was in the mood for that rock/blues mash-up that Jack does best, so I got it and let me tell you, it did not disappoint. It made me nostalgic for the White Stripes though, so I put their self-titled record on and wow, holy shit, hello flood of memories! But something was very strange about it....

I'm a very nostalgic person. It's a Cancer thing. It's also why I write for teens because I still have such a strong bond with who I was between 1992 and 1999, ie. 13 and 20. I love writing for Rookie because I get to reflect on that time period. I can channel those emotions for my books and my articles so easily. And of course, being me, the main way I've channeled them is music. 

The bands I'm super-attached to, the ones that changed and defined my life are for the most part from my teen years: Nirvana, Hole, Rancid, Social Distortion, The Cure. As I was listening to the first White Stripes album, I realized that they were the first band I fell in love with as a grown-up. I discovered them when I was 21, just moved back to Chicago to finally go to college and try to act like an adult. I'd delayed this for a few years. Even though I'd been emotionally messed-up in high school, I'd kept my shit together and graduated early, but after my eighteenth birthday things just fell apart. The three years that followed are a blur of booze, sleeping pills, other drugs, reckless behavior, slashed arms, lots of tears, lots of fights, bad relationships, spending all the grocery money on boxed wine.... You get the idea. (I'd love to write a book about this time period, like fictionalized, but it seems that despite this being almost as interesting and drama-filled a period as the high school years, no one is really buying...)

Thanks to an incredible mother who knew how to apply pressure using equal parts encouragement and mild threats, I pulled myself out of it. (Well, most of it. The bad relationship and alcohol abuse would continue a few more years.) I need music that was completely different from the angry punk of my high school years and the goth and glam of my late teens/first two years of my twenties. Via a music messageboard I discovered The White Stripes right before they exploded with their White Blood Cells album. I obsessed over them the same way I obsessed over bands as a teenager. I went to see them in concert every time they came to town, including once on my birthday and one expensive but totally worth it New Year's Eve show. I got posters and cut out pictures of them from magazines and added them to the collage the existing collage in my old room (because due to the pathetic way I'd been existing, I'd had to move back home to go back to school):

Also, since things had changed a bit since I was a teenager, ie. the internet had become this insanely awesome thing, I also found websites where I could trade bootlegs of their live shows. So I had like a million White Stripes CDs and could listen to them constantly. And that's pretty much what I did from the end of 2000 to 2004-ish. Then, I discovered the next obsessions (The Distillers, Against Me!, Civet and The Gaslight Anthem) and moved along, much like I did as a teenager. 

I'm used to certain bands and songs bringing me back to moments from my teenage years. If I hear anything off of Rage Against Machine's self-titled album, I'm instantly transported to fall of sophomore year, the overcrowded backseat of a black Saturn where I'm smoking cigarettes and stoned as fuck on top of my not-really-a-boyfriend's lap. Early Sleater-Kinney takes me to the smoky Fireside Bowl or a nearby apartment on Talman in Logan Square where I spent so much of my junior year of high school. The Queen Is Dead album by The Smiths takes me to my very first apartment in Madison. But it has never happened with grown-up memories until Friday morning when I put that first White Stripes album on and all of a sudden it was the summer of 2001 and I was at the pool with my four year-old niece and her mom.

My niece is not my niece by blood, but she is in every way that matters. Her mom and I have been friends since third grade and considered ourselves sisters since fifth. We've fought horribly just like real sibilings and have that same unconditional love that has carried us through. I have that same kind of love for her daughter, but it's like even more potent. I can't even explain it because the kind of love I have for that kid is like nothing I've ever experienced. At this point I can safely predict that she is probably the closest I'll ever have to a daughter of my own and I just have those mother-lion, I will kill for you feelings about her.

Today when I heard Jack White sing, "I felt just like a baby, til I held a baby..." I practically burst into tears because it so perfectly summed up how I felt during her early childhood. She was born a few months after I graduated early and moved to Madison, so I didn't meet her until she was 9 months old and I was home from my disastrous first year of college. I've babysat. I've had lots of little cousins around. But this was completely different. This was my sister/best friend's baby. She was only 18 when she had her and I was still 17, so it was surreal at times. We were still kids. We were so immature. We screwed up in a lot a LOT of ways. But oh how we loved her. Oh how it was love at first sight when she smiled at me. Since I was living in another state, I didn't get to really spend much time with her until I moved home at 21. The summer of my White Stripes obsession, was the summer after she turned four and listening to it, I just see her splashing in the pool, running around with those gorgeous brown waves trailing out behind her. The song "Astro" where Jack sings about "Tesla doing the Astro," when I first heard it, I misheard the lyric as "Tessa does the Astro," my niece's name. And I still sing it that way.

She just turned fifteen last month. Fifteen. So when I found myself thinking of her as a four year-old, I realized that I was reflecting on a memory that was over ten years old. Definitely, officially nostalgia. The White Stripes are my first grown-up band and my first source of grown-up nostalgia. It's surreal. It's bittersweet. I feel old, but god those are some beautiful memories.

And I really do want to distill those ups and downs into stories like I did my own teenage years in IWBYJR and BALLADS and the new book I'm working on. Once an older reader of BALLADS asked me on Facebook if I would ever write not necessarily a sequel with the same characters, but a book with characters who'd lived through teenage years like my characters in BALLADS as adults. What are those people like now, he asked me, saying that he was one of those people. I'm one of those people, too, and I really do hope I'll get the opportunity to write a book like that because I have an idea that's been percolating for a couple years now, ever since that question was asked of me. But I've got to sell the Bartender book first and hopefully the new YA I'm working on, so I can support this habit, this job of mine that keeps me forever young despite the grown-up nostalgia and aches and pains. I've got thoughts and worries and concerns about that too, but I'll save it for another time.

Hope you didn't mind me being an old lady and waxing nostalgic today. Fair warning that it may happen again in a few years when I put on an Against Me! record and reminisce about my fabulous semester in LA after a bad break-up and the early days of my relationship with my husband. Oh music, the power you have over me.


April said...

Hi Stephanie,

I swear by this chair, and its fun to sit on:

Good luck!

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Thanks for the suggestion, April. As cool as I think those chairs are since I'm at my desk 12+ hours a day sometimes, I really need an actual chair and particularly one with arms because that is a huge part of my problem with shoulder pain. Fortunately I just found an amazing one: The arms actually adjust inward so women who are not as broad shouldered as the men they are designed for can use them.

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Adrianne Russell said...

Thanks for linking to your desk chair. I desperately need a new one. Mine is really bad (it matches the kitchen table I use as a desk) and I can't stand sitting in it for more than an hour or two, which explains why I'm sitting in bed writing this comment now.

I got really misty reading about your musical connections. I feel so strongly about music and songs give me instant emotional recall as well. Thanks for sharing that!

Paradox said...

Songs always do that to me too, bring back memories upon memories of times in the past, and then end up creating more memories from times happening now (if that makes any sense).

Much love xoxox

Don Blankenship said...
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