Oh, the feeling of being sleepy and grimy as the week begins. Weeks. 7 days makes 1 weak. Monday through Sunday. Some calendars say Sunday through Saturday. But I have long considered that bullshit. I remember in my 12th grade English class being introduced to a line spoken by an African boy in a documentary our teacher had seen: “You work till you die.” It’s a terrifying series of words to hear. And I suppose it’s frighteningly accurate, too. We live in an unjust world. Bad things happen to good people, all the time. Am I a good person? Do bad things happen to me? I don’t really know. These are very, very difficult questions. So I prefer to just toss out a blanket statement that “The world sucks!” and preoccupy myself with different aspects of popular culture. Which is one way of exploring the world, and probably more accessible to me, a 21st century college student, than many other methods. And… often I will ask myself, Why does it matter? Is it really worth it? And often I think of the children. The children in America today, who I am related to or see occasionally or worked with last year while tutoring at the middle school. The fact about the children is that, sometimes sadly, they are the future.
Sure, our generation’s going to be in positions of power within the next couple decades, and that’s scary, but the little kid of today, as I was telling Ashley yesterday, is the businessman, upstanding citizen, and voter of tomorrow. Actually, I think I said something like “the little moron of today.” The kids you see doing senseless, stupid, often violent, meaningless things. Kids to whom a book is anathema; to whom anything created before their lifetime – or even before the past 2-3 years – is “old” and “boring.” I’m not a universal naysayer (though, I admit, something of a curmudgeon) who says that kids today are little hooligans who won’t stay the fuck off my lawn (seriously, though. Don’t think I don’t know where my apples are disappearing to). I’m just concerned. I have worked with a bunch of fucking 12-year-olds and seen that most of them have little to no interest in reading, let alone if the reading is “hard.” One little kid was committed to becoming a trucker, come what may, and was unwilling to consider any future that didn’t fall within the realm of “becoming a trucker.” Now, I have nothing against truckers. But really, when you think about what the world needs, does your mind jump to “more truckers”? Nothing against this kid, either. It’s cute that he’s got his whole life planned out before him. But you know what the world really needs more of? Open-mindedess. Hey, if I can open my mind up to cultural experiences I didn’t expect to enjoy, 12-year-olds can do it too, dammit. To quote our disgraced ex-president, “Is our children learning?” Now, most of us have gone through the American public school system at some point. And, as I’ve discussed with Ashley, kids are damn lucky if, despite being where they are, they’re able to explore new, interested, or unusual ideas.
I’m not sure why, exactly, I’m so concerned about this. Maybe because I know what it’s like to be that age, since that was the part of my life right before this one. Maybe it’s because, as my father has very often pointed out, I’m just a natural teacher, who has often been inclined toward working with kids and teaching them. I don’t particularly like children. I think they’re usually too noisy, often frustrating, and tend to be nasty little buggers who should really just shut up and go away from me. Go away! (Younger siblings sometimes give one post-traumatic stress disorder.)
And you know, I love using the word “bugger.” I really do. Bugger! British profanity is so bloody fun. Bollocks! America, you are missing out by not considering words like “bugger” and “bloody” to be taboo. Also, if Sid & Nancy is to be believed, the English are a lot freer about use of the word “cunt.” (More information on this topic here.) Now, don’t get me wrong. I think using “cunt” as an insult toward a woman is bloody ridiculous and offensive and completely impermissible (is “impermissible” really a word?). But using it to refer to the vagina is something me and Ashley do all the fucking time. Cunt is just one of those “four-letter words” that, containing only 4 letters, capture a profound simplicity. Shit. 4 letters, referred to in youth as the “S-H” word, kids sometimes would dare each other to say “sit” with their tongues out. Somehow I’m just fascinated by childhood practices like this. Maybe it’s because people form their personality, prejudices, etc. in childhood. Everything solidifies. And childhood sexuality is strangely fascinating, too. (Ashley and I have had long, intriguing discussions on this, too.) I’m not saying any kind of pedophilic bullshit about how, oh, children + sexuality = fun. Ohh, pedophilia. God, this reminds me of a grim story. Because, OK, there was this friend of mine, and I spent lots of time at his house. And sometimes his friend, who was, oh, 3-4 years younger than us, would come over. My friend’s friend had a little sister. She was about as old as my friend’s little sisters, so about 6-7 years younger than us. And so, the point is this: one time, the younger boy said to me something like, “My friend such-and-such takes his fingers and…” basically, I think, felt around in his little sister’s genitalia. He told this to me once, I kind of tried to forget about it thereafter, and I’m only just now randomly remembering it. It’s a kind of disturbing story to retell. I have no idea what the full story was; I didn’t know this kid that well, or his family, or who his friend was who was doing this. Maybe it was just curiosity and maybe it just occurred this one time. I have no idea. I never repeated this to anyone and God, only now am I thinking in retrospect that maybe I should’ve. At least to me, it feels like a gray, gray area. What do you do when someone you barely know tells you something that traumatic? What’s the proper way to react? This happens to everyone at some point or another. Some dirty, unpleasant story or sentence that you really just didn’t want to hear, and when they tell it to you, it feels like they’re putting an unfair burden on you.
This reminds me yet again of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, which I mentioned in my last blog as well. I think of her accounts of brief sexual incidents in childhood, and her ways of recording menstruation and masturbation in her diary. Mentioning those two words in the same sentence brings up a somewhat funnier story from my own adolescence, but I don’t think I’ll recount it just now. My point is that pre-adult sexuality is fraught with awkwardness. It’s in every coming-of-age story. And it’s in every single person’s childhood. Everyone wonders what, exactly, their genitals are for. Why are these strangely-designed organs sitting moistly between my legs? Why am I not supposed to talk about them? What’s this secret I hear whispered by the dirty-minded older kids on the playground? And herein lies a big question. Should kids be informed that, yes, there is this little part of life called sex, and that’s what those are for, but just wait, I’ll explain it to you when you start bleeding / having erections, and for now just keep it to yourself and keep your underwear on?
I am grateful that I am not and will hopefully never be a parent and have to answer this question. Nonetheless, it has major implications for all of us. And dammit, the answers are important. It’s not just about children. It’s about helping huge amounts of people live better, happier lives – after all, children’s TV shows and books and magazines is a big industry. They start early with everything. Me and Ashley are thinking about making a coloring & activity book for her little niece and nephew. We want to see them, and my little sister, and every little kid grow up into a healthy, intelligent, well-informed, well-adjusted adult. Not a boring, normal person, mind you, but someone who appreciates and enjoys their own unique ideas and idiosyncrasies. It’s about producing generations of people who can make the world end up better than it is now (and veer it off the path of destruction). We’ll see what we can do.