Aimee Mann, Better off Dead, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, children, Election 2016, Hamilton, Hangover, Hillary, Jim Croce, john cusack, Mat Kearney, Paul Simon, Phish, Sam Cooke, school, Teachers, The Samples, The Shins, Trump
You may remember the John Cusack movie, “Better off Dead” from the 80s. There’s a particularly hilarious scene where the main character, Lane, suffers heartache after his girlfriend breaks up with him for someone else, and his radio mocks him. Love song after love song destroys him, and he finally rips the radio out of the car and chucks it into the street. This was Wednesday morning for me.
I woke up needing music more than anything. This year, in general, has been more difficult than easy. With a post-election hangover (and a real one thanks to too much wine), I was bleary eyed, praying that the coffee I made would be strong enough. As I entered the freeway, with more traffic than expected for a city that stayed up to the wee-hours to watch election coverage, song after song pained my heart. Like Lane, I felt as if the radio DJs were digging deep into the chasm of deep female loss. And I took it personally, as someone who voted for Hillary.
It was all too much for me. I cried most of the drive. I think the different DJs on XM Radio were making their own silent protests supporting Hillary, and asking what the hell happened. When Blondie came on, I heard her mantra of “The tide is high, but I’m holding on”. This resonated with me, so I took it to work.
My first class, a 7th grade social studies class, was subdued. A few kids wore American pride garb, sporting stars and stripes, as well as signs that read “I Wish I was Canadian”, which I secretly wanted to edit with my red pen so that grammatically, their thought was sound. This hit home, though.
It was reported on Facebook after the tides began to change for Hillary Tuesday night that the immigration site for Canada crashed. I don’t worry about that, as I have a Canadian Visa, since my mom was born there. But I thought long and hard in the car. I still don’t understand Trump’s slogan of “Make America Great Again.” It makes no sense, since America’s pretty fricking amazing. I am not moving to Canada. Even despite the fact that I can’t swallow the bitter pill of misogyny that an apparently large portion of America takes down easily with a glass of water before bed, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Except Paris, but seriously–who wouldn’t want to live in Paris?
I think of the hurdles women before me experienced. To vote. To hold jobs. To unionize. To leave their abusive husbands. To fight against groping bosses. To be heard. And this is very hard for me. I personally have never experienced any of these. But my grandmothers did. And that was in the last 75 years. As an educator, I never reveal my candidate. But I am pretty sure it was obvious when I talked with my small class of 9, 7 of which are Latino. I began with a mindful breathing exercise, which the kids at first couldn’t handle. I told them that I was the one who needed the mindfulness, and slowly, they fell in line. When we were done breathing, I asked, “So, how are all of you?”, and I have to say, I was not prepared.
I have had to talk to kids the day after 9/11, after Columbine, after Sandy Hook, after Paris, after multiple peer suicides, after a student’s murder, after whatever it is in their hearts that make them afraid. Perhaps I am a fixture in their lives that is safe. And I know if I don’t ask them how they feel, I’m not a member of the human spirit. One of my students regurgitated what she had heard at home, about the Wall, and perhaps being picked up in a van and sent elsewhere. Many chorused her fears, and my heart broke. Broke.
I explained that much of America currently felt how the other half felt 8 years ago, when Obama was elected. California differs greatly from middle America. That it was the ebb and flow of politics and where we live, and the human experience that is brought forth in each election.
For the third time in my teaching experience, I unexpectedly wept in front of my students. I told them that these were things out of their control, things that were in the hands of adults. The adults would keep them safe. And when I had to pause, because I could barely breathe, I saw the fear break in their shoulders, and I said, “WE, the adults, we are here to protect you. WE take care of you. That is MY job. With every fiber of my being, I love you all enough to fight for you, to the death.”
I didn’t expect to say it. In fact, I didn’t know it was in my heart. But teachers learn to feel a room, and speak. I mean it with everything I have. I was moved by the moment, and didn’t allow myself to think before speaking. But now, I don’t care, because it is true. The room, even with multiple adults, went absolutely silent. As the tears fell from my eyes, one of my wiliest boys, who had told me the day before that he was worried he needed to start packing his bags, let his shoulders relax, and let out a great sigh. That was all that we needed. The rest of the room followed suit. I too, eventually exhaled. It was quiet for a few long seconds. And I asked my kids if they were ready to work, and they jubilantly exclaimed Yes! (though I am still unsure if it was out of basic relief about deportation, or a simple change of talk).
Perhaps, because I had the privilege to see Hamilton on Broadway this summer, I can’t help but think about the soundtrack. Angelica sings, “We push away what we can never understand. We push away the unimaginable”. So true, so true. And to end one more from Hamilton, “I’ll make the world safe and sound for you.” I stand by these words.
I can’t change the election. I can remain disappointed with the results. I wept tears of joy openly on my walk to my car, out of the elementary school I voted in, where students chanted Hillary, and America. I had voted for a woman. I may never see this again. I was so optimistic, so hopeful for the next day, feeling like America had rejected the hate and disparaging remarks fired at women by Trump. But sadly, I was wrong. 53% of the women who voted for Trump were white women. I still don’t understand this. I never will.
Sam Cooke was in his own right, more of a political songwriter than he ever knew. He was murdered at the age of 34, on the brink of the Civil Rights Movement. While his song is talking about a love lost, the tone and the words haunt me. He sings about so much more in his song, “So Sad”.
Those who can’t do, it is said, teach. Well, let me ask you. How many of you, not to your children, or nieces or nephews, or grandchildren, had to answer to America’s decision at work on Wednesday, to someone else’s children? I did. And it was fucking painful.
But I had to. I had to let them know that we are not a nation of people that don’t support women and minorities and people with disabilities; that we are in fact, a nation of misfits. And sometimes, people make mistakes. And when they do, we pray so hard that we will change to make things better, even if it never happens.
For the first time ever, I am letting my playlist run as long as I write.
Stick with me Baby–Robert Plant and Allison Krauss
Sad Mood–Sam Cooke
I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song–Jim Croce
Phantom Limb–The Shins
That’s how I Knew this Story Would Break My Heart–Aimee Mann
All I Need-Mat Kearney
Helpless–Big Head Todd and the Monsters