It’s been over four months since my last post. As usual, I got overwhelmed by the daily routine of the semester. And then I needed a break—to visit with family and regain a grounded feeling. I think I’ve managed to do this, and I become ever more convinced over time that breaks—complete breaks, meaning no work of any kind—are crucial for academics, who so often blur the lines between work and daily life.
I’ve been productive in that time, even though it doesn’t always feel like it. I submitted a co-authored article, revised another (it’s almost ready for re-submission), conducted four focus groups and two interviews, and submitted two grant applications, all while teaching and supervising and tutoring students. Plus running a writing lab. I’ve also been working on two of my most challenging book chapters. One is almost done. Maybe. I’m stuck on it. It’s 12,000 words now (though it’s only supposed to be 10,000), and I’m still struggling with it. I think it’s because I keep trying to do too many things for too many people. I’ve put it away, because I need some time to think it over, and to work on other things. The other chapter is coming along. Sort of. It’s an 18,000-word mish-mash of old and new. And that’s all okay. Writing is never an easy or linear process. But damn if I wish I didn’t have a neater process.
Today, I finally started on a new chapter, one I know will be much easier to write. It’s one that has had the most recent drafts written of it in the past three years. It’s one that I have the clearest sense of in terms of the shape it needs to take. It’s different from my other chapters in some key ways: it’s an autoethnographic exploration into how I develop/am developing my sense of ethical methods for my research.
I have two goals for this chapter:
- To write something that can be grasped by all audiences.
- To be brutally honest about my own fannish self.
I’ve included it below. A new version I wrote this morning over my first hour-and-a-half of work. I even took the time to re-watch a video of Kurt’s solo performance of “Pennyroyal Tea” to transport me back to that time and that place in my life.
I’m posting all of this here to get myself moving forward, but also to share how desperately hard writing can be, even for experienced writers. Even for those who teach writing. Sometimes, I think my students think I have some special magic for reading and writing and researching in academia that they simply don’t have. But I don’t. I just have perseverance. I just have these weekly attempts at writing something meaningful. So, here it is, attempt number one at a brand-new chapter introduction (and not even the whole thing).
Young Brit discovers Nirvana
“Brit? Don’t stay up too late, okay” my dad warned as he went off to bed.
“Okay,” I mumbled, not really listening.
I was a night owl, and it wasn’t really that late—11:00 p.m. Maybe.
I suppose, now, that my dad’s request was more for my parents than for me. Their bedroom door was right off of the living room in our small, two-bedroom apartment, after all.
But I loved the house late at night. I used only a couple of side table lamps to light the room, and the house was quiet. Still. With much less noise coming from the major road nearby. I felt embraced by the calm of the night—able to be whoever I was without comment. I felt all grown up, watching TV in those late hours. Like I had an apartment all to myself.
The channel was set to MTV, but I wasn’t paying close attention. I had a diary in my lap, trying my hand at a new poem.
I perked up a little as the next show was announced—a replay of Nirvana’s famous Unplugged performance. I wasn’t super familiar with the band, but kids I admired at school—well, one in particular, a dark-haired Kurt Cobain wannabe with beautiful eyes and a don’t-care swagger—would wear Nirvana t-shirts. I figured I’d give it a try.
I was taken in by Kurt’s ratty, green sweater, and his shaggy blond hair constantly falling in his eyes. But it was his solo performance of “Pennyroyal Tea” that really did it.
The lights shifted to a low, almost romantic red hue, and the camera focused on Kurt’s face. His head hung down, and he closed his eyes through most of the song. Most of his bandmates had shifted to a different side of the stage. When his eyes weren’t closed, he was looking down, singing softly.
I was captivated.
I couldn’t look away. My own eyes were riveted to his face. My whole body felt warm, and hot tears were streaming down my face as I quietly wept. I had pulled my knees into my chest, trying to embrace yet stave off the overwhelming emotions that were crashing over me.
The song only lasts for a little over three minutes, but to me, time seemed to stop—the world only me, Kurt, and his guitar. When the song was over, it switched to commercial. Tears were still streaming, and I felt destroyed. I felt euphoric. Something had changed in me. I knew I’d never be the same.
I had finally fallen in love. I had finally found myself. I had found a set of connections to my dreams, my emotions, to some possible future that was ironclad and undeniable.
It didn’t take long for me to collect all of their albums. To stock up on merchandise—mainly t-shirts and books about Kurt’s life. I even convinced my parents to buy me an electric guitar, a beautiful, wine-red Mexican strat that made me feel powerful and strong and beautiful. All things I never felt otherwise.
Did I think Kurt was beautiful?
Did I have an adolescent crush?
Without a doubt.
But it was deeper than that.
I felt like I had found this kindred, tortured soul, and, like him, I would turn my pain into art. When I listened to Nirvana, I didn’t feel like an ugly freak. I felt special. Like an artist. Like a true poet. So often, in the public media, teenage girl fans are seen as swooning, out of control, lusty, lesser. But for me, my fandom reaffirmed my love of writing, and it gave me something to strive for other than being acceptable to the male gaze.
This was my first real experience with fandom. It wouldn’t be the last, but it would remain the most intimate. The most intense.
So, there you have it, the fruit of two hours on a Monday morning. Onward and…onward.
Interested in what got me so captivated? Check out Kurt’s performance at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4dcIPGzxsl8