Tuesday, March 31, 2009
I didn't grow up dirt poor, no. We always had barely enough, just enough. My mother always managed to put food on the table, regardless of what it was or what she had to do to do it. Some nights we were eating couscous with pork and roasted veggies, some nights we were eating dollar menu McDonalds. By the time my father left, I had lived in 10 different houses, and four different cities. Some of these houses were nice, some of them were the tiniest apartments i've ever seen, some of them were the houses of family members or people that could manage to give us shelter for a while. I never had to squat, sleep in the car, or go to a shelter.
When we moved to Santa Fe from Chicago, I began going to a primarily white, upper-middle class, public elementary school close to the downtown area, showcasing galleries and a general array of expensive restaurants and cafes. I didn't understand why I had to get dropped off in a truck that looked and sounded like the collapse of the world's industrial complex, or why certain parents told their daughters not to come to my birthday party, or why I couldn't have goat cheese and perrier and roast beef sandwiches for lunch -- why almost everyday I had the same thing: peanut butter with honey on white bread and a juicy juice pack. My mom always had different boyfriends, there was Rowan, a high school sweetheart that visited once every while, with his 8 year old daughter Ruby Rose, from Hawaii. There was Hanus, a handsome young german man with shoulder length curly hair who didn't talk much with me and complained when my mom brought me out with them. There was Adam, who was a kind young mountain man, with no home, drove a cab, but he stimulated her philosophical side and also emptied our wallets, plus I was in constant competition with him for mom's affection.
My mother was never a bad mother. She was a very young mother, a single mother, she was a distracted mother, she was a hard-working mother, she was a high-school dropout, she was a mother who fought for me when things got rough with my father, she hired therapists and lawyers and anything she could get her hands on to gain custody of me and keep me healthy and happy. She wasnt a drug addict, an alcoholic, or abusive. She always loved, cared for and worried about me. She was open minded, opinionated, intelligent, liberal, political, and beautiful. She had issues with depression, eating disorders, and security. She was either my best friend or my worst enemy. I grew up with the LGBTQ community, with artists, with anarchists, with people my mom told me "choose" to be homeless -- they called me sweetheart and gave me silver charms with angels and would sleep on our couch sometimes, their larger then life backpacks sitting humbly at their sides.
After 6th grade, I received admission into a small, successful charter school. The student body was generally the same white, middle upper class girls and boys I had graduated with. My grade consisted of a fluctuating number between 50-60 students. I started to assume privilege through my friends, who would take me to their well kept, well sized houses. Their parents would pay for dinner, take us to movies, take us shopping, drive us everywhere, buy us whatever we felt we needed, there was no limit. My resentment towards my household and mother grew. I did whatever I could to avoid being home, whether it was spending night after night at a friends house, or sneaking out of my own late at night.
By high school, my grades had declined considerably, my work ethic went with it, while my lack of understanding grew and consumed me. I didn't understand how my friends got their homework done, I didn't understand why I was progressively gaining weight due to the poor diet being provided by whats accessible to working class families in a wealthy retirement city like Santa Fe, I started to not understand the feelings I had for one of my best girl friends, why I couldn't afford to attend summer camp at Interlochen Arts Academy like some of my choir friends were doing. I was embarrassed to bring friends over, because of the food they would be fed, or not be fed, because we could hear my mom and whoever else may be at my house through the walls of my bedroom, because I wasn't like the other girls, because our historic desktop computer sat on a stack of cheap mis-matched pillows in the living room and my home wasn't like the other homes. My mom became pregnant and as we went on food stamps, I went out and drank more, as we moved into a smaller home, I was home less and less. I worked with the school GSA, I got a job, I became involved with Earthcare International, I interned and worked with a experimental non-profit arts collective, I saved up and bought a car, I apprenticed with a professional choir, I took every opportunity to stay far from home and school. I read books by Dorothy Allison and Bell Hooks instead of my history books. I rehearsed for hours on end for my High Mayhem performance instead of staying after school for math tutoring. I expanded my relationships with different mentors and adults in my life and I started to embrace where I came from, and my relationship with my mother blossomed.
As I sneaked by with graduating high school, my life came to a fork in the road. I hadn't been accepted to any colleges, I had to leave home as my mom told me that she couldn't afford me anymore, I lost my medicaid health insurance, I lost my old room, I was losing my first relationship of over a year, losing friends that were happily moving away to new places, small liberal arts schools, other countries. I agreed to write a special admissions letter to the University of New Mexico and study opera, for my mom.
When I was thirteen I started to study singing. I could never afford private voice lessons, or piano lessons. I joined numerous choirs, my grandparents agreed to pay for some singing summer camps, I attempted to teach myself arias and watched all the best female performers on the internet. I would sing for hours, my all-state pieces, my favorite art songs. Mahler, Elgar, Schubert, Liszt, Handel, Purcell, Offenbach. I didn't dream of singing at the Met, I dreamed of singing, whether it be in my room, for my friends, at weddings, in a park, in a theater, on an island. I just dreamed of singing.
My first semester was hard and rewarding. I felt that I was accomplishing something, that I was able to start new and start again on my own. I was on my own, I took out loans to pay for classes and rent, I got a wonderful job to pay for bills and food. I declared my two majors in women's studies and vocal performance. I joined an amazing women's chorus, with which I had the opportunity to go to New York City to sing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and spend time at Julliard and The Manhatten School of Music. I was well balanced, taken care of and healthy.
This semester has been an entirely different story. I began studying with the head of the opera department. A 80+ year old woman who has sung under the baton Leonard Bernstein with the New York Philharmonic and is the general director of The International Opera Academy in Rome. She has treated me with utter disrespect, has shown old fashioned traits of classism and sexism, and leaves me in tears almost every time I leave my lesson. My past was catching up with me as I was slowly running low on loan money and realizing that I had nothing to fall back on except for the little money my mom struggles to sometimes send me monthly. My hours at work were being drastically cut to twice a week due to their own need to watch spending. The competition in the music department was breaking me down and I found that I was unable to be the best I can be whilst being pushed to be better then everyone else. Reality of costs and financial obligations were setting in and I was seeing my inability to sustain myself whilst both in school and working full time on the horizon. The stress consumed me and my health declined. I've been feverish, exhausted, negative, sore throat, unable to sing, and oversleeping for a month now. It could be mono, it could be a plethora of concentrated frustration, but its costing me the ability to finish this semester.
In talking to my family and my friends im finding that some time off is probably what I need and what is best right now. I cant afford to pay for school if I cant take advantage of it, and I cant afford to be in school if the stress is going to cost me my health and ability to work and survive. This terrifies my mother, who has struggled her whole life to make ends meet, and wants to see me stable and successful and not living paycheck to paycheck. Im questioning my desire to study music. I know that I want to sing, its something I will do forever, but the pressure of being a part of a competitive and conservative community in order to accomplish that is more disheartening every day. We all have different standards of living. For right now, mine are to have a roof over my head, food on the table and the freedom to be creative, mobile, healthy and figure out what I want to pursue, in and out of school. I'm 19, im queer, im on my own, and I want to be more involved in community and culture at this point, in the real world. I want to rest up, spend days at antique malls, decorate, make things, work, spend time with the people I care about, ride my bike, live my life day by day and moment by moment. For now I will do these things, I will follow my bliss, and I will be alright.