Cheap City played at 4th River Fest in Pittsburgh last Saturday and then at WUML Lowell on Monday. It was a lot of fun!
I’m very excited to announce that I’ll be writing a piece for the 45 Miniatures project: https://www.45miniatures.com/composers
I tried really hard to write an introduction to this. I wanted to justify everything that follows with an assurance that I’m an okay person but ultimately I felt like that might be contradictory to the point, so I’d rather just jump in.
I said two things last weekend that I’m not proud of.
The first was at Cody’s, Cheap City’s drummer’s, house. I was telling a story to the group and the word just came out of me. “Retard.” Everyone sort of stopped and instantly changed the subject and I kind of looked at the floor in shame. Internally I tried to make some excuses to myself. It’s 2 AM and you just drove 4 hours to get here after working about 80 hours this week. I said things like that to myself for the next half hour, assuring myself that I’m not a bad person because I didn’t mean to say it. It just came out. Finally I came to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter what good intentions I might have. It doesn’t matter that I was exhausted and mentally checked out of everything. (Later that evening I was trying to talk about the Fresh Air interview with Boots Riley and kept referring to Terry Gross as Terry Riley). None of that matters. What does matter is that there’s still something inside of me that hasn’t unlearned using that word.
It is true that when I was growing up, at least to my knowledge, that word wasn’t necessarily considered a slur. “Mentally retarded” or whatever variation might come up was just how you referred to it. I don’t think I heard anybody use terms like “learning disability” or “mental disability” until I was in college. And that’s just kind of how terms and phrases work. Things change and it’s our responsibility to use the language appropriate to the time.
So maybe it’s just a learned habit thing. I grew up hearing the word used casually and in a moment of carelessness I reverted to an old mode of thought. My ultimate conclusion for myself is that accidentally using the word isn’t the end of the world. It’s not worth beating myself up over but it’s also an important reminder to myself that I need to be better. Language is powerful and the way we use it indicates our respect for others and I want to conduct myself and my language in a way that expresses my respect for others.
A few days later I went with my partner and some friends to see the Bo Burnham movie Eighth Grade. As a quick aside, I really honestly expected this movie to suck but it was great and definitely worth watching. It’s kind of marketed as, “Watch all the things that made you uncomfortable when you were 14,” but what was really interesting about it is that everyone that I’ve talked to about the movie keeps saying (myself included), “Those are just the things that still make me really uncomfortable or embarrassed.” Which I think says a lot either about how little we actually grow up or maybe about how mature teenagers actually are. ANYWAY (if you don’t want spoilers for the movie stop reading now) there’s a scene in the movie where the main character Kayla goes to hang out at the mall with some high school kids. One of them offers her a ride home and at one point he pulls over and sits in the back with her. He asks her to play truth or dare and proceeds to ask her a lot of inappropriate sexual questions and then he takes his shirt off and tries to get her to take hers off too. When she refuses he gets really angry and gets back in the driver's seat and starts yelling at her about how he was trying to do her a favor. All of this makes Kayla feel endlessly guilty and then we see her sobbing on the floor in her bedroom.
After the movie my partner and I were walking back to our car and they said to me that they felt like the truth or dare scene was too long. I disagreed because I felt that the length of the scene matched the tension of the situation. I then said, “What actually bothered me about that scene is that I have a hard time conceptualizing how an 18 year old is so interested in hooking up with this eighth grader,” densely missing the entire point of the story. I was going through a moment of being entirely without empathy. The scene is important because it forces you to watch an experience that might be unfamiliar to you, but might be a common occurrence for a lot of other people. And from my perspective I was unable to wrap my mind around what was happening and could only see it from one angle. Again, I could blame it on being tired and unfocused. But what actually happened is that I stopped thinking about what was being shown to me and reacted instead.
I’m trying to learn to be better, which is a process that we never get to be done with. I think that it’s everyone’s job to always try and be a little better. Which doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes. I said some things last weekend that I’m not proud of. I think that the things we say we’re not focused on our language can either indicate our habits or the way we might really feel about things. I don’t think we should use the word “retard,” and I don’t think that that scene in Eighth Grade was unrealistic and it was wrong for me to argue that. The fact that those thoughts came out says that I still have learning and growing to do. I don’t want to hide that.