What inspires me about teenagers is their passion for justice and rights; their belief that the way things should be is the way things could and will be, with the right punch-kick combo of mountaintop outcry and moral certitude. What irritates me about teenagers is their Jesuitically complex, dedicated hunt for any loophole they can find in The System.
I see it every day with school rules. “No hats in the building” whips them up into an indignant frenzy, as does “No cell phones out on the desks.” I re-iterate these rules, oh, I don’t know, 58 times a day. Now that they know they can’t wear me down, they’ve begun experimenting with Reasons The Rules Are Stupid and We Shouldn’t Have To Follow Them.
“What if you’re 18?” one kid asked, looking at me like he’d really backed me into a corner. “They can’t stop you from having a cell phone out if you’re 18.”
“I turn 37 on Friday,” I said. “I can’t have my cell phone out either.”
“What about personal freedom? I’m going to write a letter of protest!” he said, and took out his phone to start composing it. He didn’t have any paper, though, so I gave him a sheet.
The other day, I had to hand down a new school rule: No earbuds in ears during class time, not even if you’re reading silently to yourself. They lost their shit.
“We think BETTER with our music!” they howled, and they may be right — something does seem to be happening vis a vis the evolution of the human brain in terms of multitasking and attention splitting* — but it doesn’t matter. It’s the rule. I have to enforce it or I lose my job.
“It’s only five hours a day,” I said. ” You can handle it.”
What I’m trying to say, I think, is Get used to the system. It’s bigger than you are, and fighting it will only wear you out. For every rule that you don’t like; for every requirement that you resent, I have a meeting I dread, taxes I don’t want to pay, and a ration of shit to take from someone above me. If you want a free and independent life — which, in our society, means staying out of poverty — you have to decide carefully which battles to pick, make sure they’re worthwhile, and be ready for the consequences as well as the joys. You have to stay in school, fly low, and beat the radar. Sometimes the only choices life offers are (a). Compromise; (b). Acquiescence; and (c). Defeat. There is no (d). None of the Above.
That’s one of the saddest things about being an adult; not liking any of the choices open to you. Knowing that the world is going a particular (pornsick, mysogynistic,unjust, wasteful) way, and that you don’t have individual power to turn the tide. You can protect and nurture yourself as much as possible — build a network of like-minded friends; start a community center; boycott the homophobes at Target; get into guerrilla activism and fuck up an offensive billboard. But you can’t just…make it all be different right now.
I miss knowing I could.
*Thumbs are evolving into a sleeker, faster incarnation too. We can’t send billions of text messages a day and not see some biological revamping within a few generations.