I awoke this morning to some lovely news: a band I greatly admire, Arcade Fire, won the "Album of the Year" award for "The Suburbs." It somehow feels like an affirmation--not of my exquisite musical taste, but of the pain I felt growing up. The album seems to assure me: "That did indeed happen. I know."
I first really gave the album a listen while I was at Yestermorrow taking my natural building class, and I've been playing it over and over and over again every since; it's been a continuing, intense experience. The orchestral, thrumming sound, and the lyrics of anomie and longing...it's like being transported back to being 15 years old. I feel myself writing furiously in my journal, spending hours and hours in the art rooms after school, feeling trapped, arching toward elsewhere.
There's something about being 15 in the suburbs. It felt like there was nowhere to go, nothing to do, like I might explode. I imagine all that pent-up feeling is part and parcel of one's emerging independence, the growing separation from parents. But it's then complicated and exacerbated by a sense of total dependency, because you need a freaking car to go just about anywhere. You can't just go hide out in a field, because they've all been developed and are "property," and you can't just hang out on the end of the street, sitting on the curb, without the police coming and telling you to move along. If I had been more rebellious, I would have found ways to get away, but mostly I was a good kid, abiding curfew, getting good grades, seething quietly.
Anyway, the beauty of the Arcade Fire album is that they capture the whole stinking cauldron of white, suburban middle-classness, serving it up as if they had walked every step with you. That is the affirmation I am feeling: my younger self is recognized.
And the truth is that I love this album because it makes me remember, viscerally, that I wanted to be an artist, a painter, a writer. I knew that truth when I was young, but I beat it down over the years. I justified: Oh, I'm not good enough to make it. Oh, I'll be an organizer, I'll help make change. I'll be an elementary school teacher, a noble profession, that's how I'll contribute to society. I'll be an anthropologist, I'll help us understand each other....Oh, and I'll study street art...
But now I think that, starting back in 2007 when I began taking ceramics classes, taking photos, delving into cooking, learning to farm, and now learning to build, I've been spending the last few years winding and wending my way back, coming closer to full circle. I want to make things. I need to create. This is the piece that was missing for me in academia, in education, in activism...in all those earlier professional incarnations, I tried to wiggle my way toward creativity, to find opportunities to design websites, to create posters and flyers, to rearrange, even to tweak text in terms of language and layout...
So it seems fitting that I traveled down to Philly last weekend to learn about natural paints and finishes, as an addendum to my natural building class. Taught by two of my instructors from Yestermorrow, Ace and Deva, the class was a hands-on opportunity to learn how to make earth- and lime/casein-based paints, to create tinted paints with mineral pigments, to practice "color studies," and to apply what we'd learned by painting a small hallway in the church basement where the class was held. It was a great class, organized by the ReVerse Foundation--if you're in Philly, do check them out, they are doing great things with natural building and community!
There is something deeply satisfying about DIY (do-it-yourself) projects. Making your own paint is not only empowering, but also creative--mixing and testing and swirling and playing with texture and color. And then there's the added bonus that the paint is safe on your skin, and that there are no fumes! Imagine that.
I think this that love of "making things" is part of our long human experience. For tens of thousands of years we have been playing with earth and clay, with pigment, being expressive, making meaning, creating beauty. It's in our blood, in our bones.
And somehow this journey of the last few years has helped me find my way back to the art room, after school. I've opened the door, and I see my 15 year old self is still there, sketching, painting away, composing poems, singing like crazy about The Suburbs, and I think I'm ready to join her. To the canvas, the lumberyard, the garden...
"First they built the road, then they built the town, that's why we're still driving around and around; and all we see is kids on buses, longing to be free..." --Wasted Hours, Arcade Fire