Patti Smith 2010 Pratt Commencement Address

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Highlights from Brainpickings:

What should we aspire to as we go on our road? When I was in my early twenties, I was lucky to have William Burroughs as a friend and mentor. Once I was with him and I asked him this question: “What should I aspire to?” and he thought, and he said: “My dear, a gold American Express would be good.” But after that, he said very thoughtfully, “Build your name.” And i said, “William, my name is Smith.” And he said, “Well, you’ll have to build a little harder.” But what William meant when he told me to build my name. Build a good name — because a name is not to get famous. He wasn’t talking about celebrity — he was talking about let your name radiate your self, magnify who you are, your good deeds, your code of honor. Build your name and as you go through life, your name will serve you.

and

When I left home, I asked my father what advice he could give me. My father was very intelligent, very well-read — he read all the great books, all the great philosophers. But when I asked his advice, he told me one thing: Be happy. It’s all he said. So simple. I’m telling you, these simple things — taking care of your teeth, being happy — they will be your greatest allies. Because when you’re happy, you ignite that little flame that tells you and reminds you who you are. And it will ignite, it will animate your enthusiasm for things — it will enforce your work.

Be happy, take care of your teeth, always let your conscience be your guide.

Midnight and Summer Magic

Whenever I think of nighttime, I also think of summer. There’s something inherently magical about each.

Nighttime means possibilities. It means things can happen that wouldn’t normally before because you’re looking at the world through a light you don’t normally see it in. It means the rules are bending and sometimes they break. It sure felt like that, the first time I’d stayed up well into the morning, running through cold grass with my friends and laughing at the sky and not caring who heard us.

Image via WANA commons, courtesy of Scott Petty

Image via WANA commons, courtesy of Scott Petty

Summer’s like that, too, only instead of just having the impossible happen at night, the impossible can happen at any time of day. There’s a freedom that comes with hot morning hours and slightly more temperate midnights.

Maybe it’s the vestiges of a freedom I remember from school, the glorious times when I didn’t have to get up and could see never ending stretches of time roaring out ahead of me, a yellow brick road that encompassed all directions and every possible circumstance.

So much happens during the night that we don’t see. I think that’s why there are so many fairy tales about creatures that exist only when the sun goes down, so many warnings about the things that will get you if you crawl too far from your doorstep at night.

We’re all afraid of what we’ll see, so we stop looking. Most of the time.

Summer changes that, I think. All hell breaks loose and you’re on vacation, whiling away the hours and hoping they never fade.

Image via WANA commons, courtesy of Stacy Green26

Image via WANA commons, courtesy of Stacy Green26

Midnight means promises. Summer means possibilities. They’re a volatile combination. By midnight, you’re too tired to care, or too wired to think properly. By summer, you’re ready to let go, to try anything. Just to see what happens.

Midnight is cool blue, blacks and purples, like a bruise pierced with striking silver stars. It’s dangerous and haunting and thrilling. It’s lurking around corners and tentative trips to convenience stores with large spring coats over pajama bottoms and bare feet in sneakers.

It’s important meetings and big information that feels cataclysmic and can change the polarization of the world. It’s cold and serious.

It’s close and comforting. It’s knowing who you can trust and who you can never call again for anything that actually matters. It’s hyper-alert and flighty.

Imeans secrets. Secrets and whispers. It means bearing your soul before the world because, like Khaled Hosseini said in The Kite Runner, “a part of me was hoping someone would wake up and hear, so I wouldn’t have to live with this lie anymore. But no one woke up and in the silence that followed, I understood the nature of my new curse: I was going to get away with it.”

(Granted, that was a bad thing in the context of the book. When I think of it in relation to midnight, that inattentivenes of the world is a good omen. It means only the people who are awake will hear what you have to say, and they’re the ones who really care.)

Image via WANA commons, courtesy of Elizabeth Cooper

Image via WANA commons, courtesy of Elizabeth Cooper

Some of my deepest conversations have been at midnight. Most of them were in college, too, since before then, I tried to be the first person to go to sleep at a sleepover. (I didn’t like the idea of being the last one awake in a strange house and I worried that everyone around me would fall asleep faster than I could.) I miss those conversations.

I love talking about secrets at midnight. It feels comfy, private. Intimate. Safe. You can get so close to a person that way.

Summer, on the other hand, is like a promise ring, a kiss on the cheek from the someone special you like when you’re only thirteen or so and just beginning to figure things out. It’s new, it’s young, it’s bold, it’s special.

It dares you to be just like it is, to go wild. It wants you to romance yourself. It’s the time of year that smells like an aphrodisiac. It gloats as it swells and grows and crooks its finger at you, telling you, “You’re not too old, too senile, to enjoy what I have to offer. This is the golden period. Anything goes.” It’s total abandon. It’s Dionysian in nature.

Summer is smells. It’s warm afternoons in school buildings longing to escape. It’s sultry voices and lazy days powdered by low-hanging wisps of clouds.

It’s declaring goals that never come to fruition, making plans as hazy and opaque as the mirages of puddles in the dip of the road in front of you. It’s trees bursting with green shoots that rattle in the breeze and whose shadows dance on long expanses of exposed skin and light-colored clothing to reflect and deflect the sun.

It’s heady perfumes and cut grasses and the sexy scents of body wash-infused sweat clinging to collars washed with fabric softeners.

Image via WANA commons, courtesy of Dana Ross Martin

Image via WANA commons, courtesy of Dana Ross Martin

I love them both, midnight and summer. I love what they represent to me and I look forward to their possibilities when I don’t have them. I start to romanticize the time I’ll have when they arrive, the things I’ll be able to do and say and be in the freedom of their embrace.

Usually that’s where things start to go wrong, though. During the planning stage. I find that if I put too much hope in them, the walls start to fall apart. Conversations flit off into the ether and those buttercup yellow and tangerine pink moments of bliss slip away on satin-toed feet to tickle the soul of some other person who was less prepared for a flight of fancy.

I used to study fairy folklore. Midnight and summer kind of remind me of that.

I’m not sure how to end this, if only to say that I hope both arrive soon. They might be a volatile pairing, but even for that, they’re more fun together than they are apart. Right now, I miss the inherent laziness of both.

Here’s to Time and Seasons.

Do you have a favorite time of day? What’s the season that makes you feel most at ease, or just carefree?

PS — This song. Because it’s relevant.

Childhood Gender Roles in Adult Life

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I was thinking about this earlier today, actually, when I watched a mom lead her son (wearing swamp green) and daughter (wearing neon pink) down the street to the train. It fascinates me that we impress these roles on children from the time they’re born, and how it does, inevitably, follow us into adulthood until we’re uncomfortable with anything that doesn’t match what we’ve been taught. (Though not necessarily all the time and not necessarily as blatantly as this BuzzFeed video shows.)

What are your thoughts on the video?

Lucy Trailer

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As someone so eloquently stated on Tumblr:

“An action film.

With a female lead.

Played by Scarlett Johanssen

With no love interest.

With superpowers.

And Morgan Freeman.

I had no idea how much I wanted this until this moment.”

In other words, I’m totally stoked!

What movie are you looking forward to this year?

This Confounding Age Bracket

“I thought you were older than you are,” the doctor told me while I sat perched on the paper-lined bed. She leaned back in her chair as she said it, crossing her arms with a studious look on her time-wizened face. I thought she seemed confused, as if all of her upcoming questions had shifted under the knowledge that I wasn’t as old as she’d made me out to be.

“Yeah,” I wanted to say. “My age puzzles me, too.”

Instead, she asked, “Have you tried to gain weight at all?”, switching gears with the deftness of someone practiced in the art of delivering awkward questions.

I deflated a bit, my fears abated. “Yeah, many times,” I said. I could feel myself slipping into the routine of explaining college exercise regimes (yoga, weight lifting, kickboxing) and my large snack intake. This, at least, was familiar territory, a place where we didn’t have to explain why being in your twenties is weird.

“Oh my god. She’s twenty-four? How is she twenty-four? She’s got a kid already!”

I stared at a Facebook picture of a girl who graduated before me. Her pale, rounded face half-smiled at the camera, identifiable by the dyed streaks of bright red in her choppily cut hair and the solid black dot of a nose ring in her right nostril. The notification to wish her a happy birthday still sat in the box at the top of my newsfeed, making sure I wouldn’t forget not to be rude — and to let me know how old she was now.

Clicking into her page, I scrolled through a few of her photos until I found one or two of them where she posed with her son. He couldn’t have been more than three or four years old, with a moppy head of brown hair and the still-soft roundness of children’s cheeks. His gray-blue eyes, a mirror of his mother’s, called my attention. I marveled at the way his pupils stood out from his irises the way his mother’s nose ring stood out from her nose.

“How is she twenty-four? I thought she was older.”

“What are we supposed to look like when we’re in our twenties?” I asked my mom. The question was mostly rhetorical, but I expected an answer.

She gave me this pursed-lip smile, nodding slowly where she’d sunk into her leather armchair and counted crochet stitches.

“I really don’t know,” I told her and then laughed. The confession sounded ridiculous to my own ears. Like, I’m twenty-something. How can I not know what other twenty-somethings look like?

I had my laptop in front of me and scrolled through Facebook again, purposefully searching for other people my age. I only had a few older friends, but most were family. Everyone in their single digits and teens — or thirties and fourties — seemed so defined. When I was looking at them, I could point and say, “This is how old you are. You think your problems are so expansive right now. Life is like a John Green novel.” Or “You’re settling down. You’ve got a family and a job and a house. You’ve figured yourself out. You’re where I’m going to want to be in five years.”

When I came across people I graduated with, though, I thought we looked the same as we had years ago. You could’ve lifted us from the freakin’ yearbook. We looked the right age for how much time had passed, but I couldn’t look at them and say, “Adult.”

It got a little better when I went onto the dating site. Older men were clearly older and much younger boys were clearly children. When it got around to looking at my own age, though, what I saw reminded me of college. It struck me as funny, if only for a minute, how I couldn’t identify them outside of that. As if school and wrinkles were the only indicators of age.

As I berate myself over not being able to identify another twentysomethingyearold walking down the street, it occurs to me that I’ve developed a small obsession with age. Possibly this is because I read blogs by people who are my age and are just as, if not more, confounded by this period of life as I am.

This seems to be the most tumultuous age to be in, given how everyone has something to say about myself and my fellow twenty-somethings. It also seems like the older I get, the harder it is to interact with people in any other age range.

I’m out of school, but I don’t own property, or have a kid, or pay tons of utilities, or have a mortgage, or buy groceries, or any of the number of things that separate me from…older people, I guess.

I’m old, but not enough to forget what it felt like to have dreams, or the weight of bad friendships clinging to my shoulders, or the press of new expectations and directions for life to go in crawling towards me on all sides, or any of the other things that separate me from kids around Little and Big H’s ages.

Yet, people I went to school with (or know by extension) have kids already. Are living on their own. Have changed jobs, like, three times already. Made plans and broke them within months of having everything halfway established.

(How? I’d love to know. It baffles me.)

Meanwhile, I’m still just trying to find my footing in this new relationship with Boyfriend. The dating site had all these steps to get us together and now we’re on our own, like someone came up behind us and shoved us out of the nest, calling, “Use your wings! You’ll figure it out.”

Meanwhile, I’m also still just figuring out how to get my books where I want them to be: published and in the big, bad world. But no one seems to have a single definitive answer on how to do that and choosing from a list of options was never my strength.

These don’t seem like big life steps by comparison.

Maybe I’ll stop being confounded once I start gaining real ground on my goals. If that doesn’t do it, I’m not sure what will. I didn’t feel like an adult when I took my first doctor’s trip alone, I just felt like I had to get stuff done. But maybe I should start paying attention to those kinds of milestones.

Do you ever get blown away by how old you are, or how old the people you’re friends with are? Are there ever times when you have to remind yourself you’re an adult? When did you realize you were an adult? Was it a birthday, or an otherwise uneventful event, like going to the doctor alone?

*Featured image: Ehausted by TwiggXstock on DeviantArt

Speak Every Language, or Just Understand Them?

This is a tough one because I had this problem with Spanish all the way through college. Once I got to know the basic language, I could sit there and listen to my professor without a problem — with the exception of about four or five words. So that was fine because I could follow directions and (mostly) do all the work.

The only time this came as a problem was when I took a class that was strictly devoted to writing and Spanish composition. Up to that point, I’d only taken grammar classes and studied parts of speech. What also kind of kicked me in the butt was that there were two composition classes (the beginner and then the follow-up), but the one I needed to fulfill my language requirement was only the follow-up.

I got into class and the professor spoke in preterite, imperfect, and subjunctives until my head started spinning. When it came time to start the assignments, I could feel myself getting so overwhelmed that when I looked at the page, I wondered if I even knew what I was reading. I’d bought a dictionary years before, but I don’t think I ever used it as much as I did in that class.

Given all this, I think I would rather be able to speak every language. With more time and study, I’m sure I would’ve been able to completely understand what the professor was saying, but I would’ve liked to have been able to speak in class with the same conviction with which I listened.

Which would you rather — speak every language or just understand them all?