I Am Rock ‘n’ Roll

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Rock 'n' Roll Geisha

Photo of me taken by John Dugan

Another item for my list of conflicting dualities: Iranian-American. Shy wild-child. Girlie tomboy.

                                                                                                                                                       


The following is a meld of a couple posts from a year ago and further example of how this blog is my writing gym. I’ve derived chapters for my book here, and posts I’ve submitted elsewhere for publishing.


“You’re so feminine, I bet you drink from teacups holding out your pinky!” Mocked my sixth-grade friends as we walked to the playground, after a squeal of delight escaped from me at a cluster of birds.

Apparently birds and being “feminine” were uncool.

How could they call me feminine when my sneezes scared passersby and I once gave myself a black eye by taking off a shirt too roughly? It was another item for my list of conflicting dualities: Iranian-American. Shy wild-child. Girlie tomboy.

As a child of New York City, athleticism and outdoorsmanship weren’t encouraged in me. I was the second to last to be picked in ball games, right before the body-brace kid. Though I knew sneezing, brushing my hair and undressing were no delicate affairs, no other kid saw me as I saw myself: tough and boyish.

I exerted more muscle strength than necessary. My jaw was defined because I chewed food with purpose. Writing with a pencil toned my arm. When I scratched, I sometimes bled. I slammed on the keyboard like a tribal drum. I liked thunder, combat boots and black.

Years later, when I hit a piñata and it broke after two misses and one deft strike, I called my inborn intensity the rock ‘n’ roll in me. At a wrap party on the stage of a black-box theatre, I had studied the guy raising and lowering the blue donkey in time to the blindfolded victim’s haphazard swinging. I realized he did it with an unconscious rhythmic pattern, so when it was my turn to put on the blindfold, I was ready. I swung the bat three times like the sword of a dragon-slayer — whack, whack, crunch! — with such force that I warmed with shame even as I felt elation.

Out poured the cheap candy from the blue donkey’s gut and I sheepishly walked off the stage toward my boyfriend.

“Tell the truth, did I seem psychotic?” I whispered.

“No,” he shook his head with a big smile. “You were like Sid Vicious!” My shame flushed away and I beamed. Smashing the piñata was my rock ‘n’ roll moment.

During rock ‘n’ roll moments, I parallel parked into tight spots with two smooth moves, or caught errant breakables midair before splintery ends. But previously, I had been an alienated teen who understood herself differently than who others told her she was.

donkey

At the age of thirteen, it was time to prove I was tough when faced with a dire situation: I didn’t know how to swim. The parental duo in my life somehow hadn’t deemed it a necessary skill even though we were around the sea and pools every summer since I was born. They were content to let me splash around all manners of water with kiddie floaties. I was embarrassed at myself. By the summer of my thirteenth year, no way was the girl who sucked at kickball going to embark on teenagehood without knowing how to swim either.

As I was about to throw myself into the deep end of a pool, I called out to the adult on standby:

“Come save me if I drown. I’m trusting you!” He nodded. He had been a family friend since I was a baby.

I threw myself in and sure enough, I resurfaced while doggy paddling. It was annoyingly simple. But the annoyance at missing out on all those years of swimming was overshadowed by my smugness for finally tackling the deep end without a dumb plastic doughnut.

“I kicked it in the balls!” I marched around the pool and chanted. I figured the family friend could handle hearing “balls” from me now that I was thirteen.

It was true that I was the sort of girl who sat with my hands tidily folded on my lap and words like “balls” didn’t come out of me naturally. But underneath whatever “delicate” mannerisms people believed me to have, I was built as sturdily as I suspected. It would’ve done me well to channel it into sports, but I wouldn’t learn this until I moved to California as an adult, and by then, I was used to thinking of myself as unsporty.

Early after my move to the West Coast, I got on some sort of a board in Malibu. A boogie board. The Pacific was choppy enough as it was, but on this day, the wind was violent. The sky and sea were ash and pewter. No one was in the water except a few guys from our mixed group, and me. I figured if they could do it, I could do it.

This reasoning had failed me before in Central Park in New York, where boys, including my younger brother, set up a ramp over a garbage can and skated over it for a jump. If my kid bother could do it, I could do it, I had reasoned. So I had waited my turn, skated up the ramp, flew in the air, and landed right on my tailbone. I was not a good skater. I looked up to find all the boys staring at me like I was either ridiculous or admirable. Jackass or badass.

Years later, during the ashy day in Malibu, I was thrown around by the ocean. Pounded, really. It wasn’t a success, whatever I was supposed to manage with that board. But it didn’t occur to me to give up, so I stayed in even after the guys started leaving the water. Wave after wave crumbled over me. Great walls of menace catapulted me below for as long as they pleased, force-feeding me briny wrath. I’d come up for maybe thirty seconds, and then another wave would crash over my head.

The last guy left the water when it began to rain. The sea was black. It swirled against my body with harsh bits of shell. I struggled to fight its force and make my way back to shore, only slightly improved from that doggy-paddling late-swimmer. Eventually I made it to safety by keeping mainly underwater to evade the savagery of the waves.

When I finally got out of the water, my bikini needed adjusting back to the places it was meant to cover before I was jostled around. I was a shivering mess of goose pimples, runny-nose and salt-entangled hair. My ribs were scratched and speckling blood. But my eyes were wide with excitement. My physical discomfort was something faint and obscure. Instead, I was hyper-aware of my stopless grin.

The boys were looking at me with the same “jackass or badass” look of awe. The girls were wrapped in sweaters and not looking at me.

I was born to do this stuff, I thought, forgetting as usual, that my enthusiasm exceeded my skill. But once I’d gotten a taste of adrenaline, I knew it was tastier than most things in life. I was a rocker with no band, a daredevil without agility, a warrior with no battle.

It felt good.
 


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15 comments

  1. Kir Piccini · · Reply

    I like a little badass in a girl. I think it makes us more interesting, more complex, more.
    The rock ‘n’ roll in you is innate and special. It makes you….more.

    1. I agree. Now to figure out how not to care about breaking my bones…

  2. Great line: “But once I’d gotten a taste of adrenaline, I knew it was tastier than most things in life.”
    So true.

    1. And addicting.

  3. You’re a badass. It’s a badge that should be worn with pride

    1. Indeed! As long as other people pin it on you.

  4. Fabulous Photo.
    I thought it was a young photo of Joan Jett at first! Love!

    1. Thanks, my friend. For sure Joan Jetty.

  5. Love love LOVE. I think my only badass/jackass moments revolved around my being diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic at the age of 12 (needles and finger-sticks) and maybe one brief moment during a surprise fistfight in high school. The girl was a former bestie who was mad at me for giving her (ex?) boyfriend advice. About her. She surrounded me with her “backup gang” and I showed up with only one slow male friend. He cheered me on as I pounded her. Viciously. I was a lifelong pacifist who cried during playfights between friends in the Little Park in Glenwood Houses. “Bestie” was a Bronx girl who obviously thought I’d cower or even run away; leaving her proud and victorious. “You’re fucking crazy!” she said to me when the fight stopped.

    PS – I did a double-take looking at that awesome photo of you. Very Joan-Jett indeed! 🙂

    1. Only in New York! I grew up around a bunch of girls who wanted to beat each other up (and me). And yeah, you defend yourself, and you’re the one who’s crazy?!

  6. Paul · · Reply

    Yum, now that is a tasty serving of GG. Well done, excellent writing, enthralling topic and perspective. Magnificent picture – you never cease to amaze me with the huge range of looks you can support GG – and so apropos of the post. Please let me know when your book is published – I want a copy.

    The topic – you know I have been giving that some thought recently: what causes us to step outside of ourselves and how good it feels spiritually (while it can be rough physically). I did something similar with swimming – suddenly decided at 13 that it was time and made arrangements for lessons. I must say your solution was much more violent and produced results much quicker. You must have an enormous amount of trust to do that.

    So much of who we are is who we have decided we are going to be. We have huge untapped resources – both physically and mentally – that we can bring to bear if we dare. I look at all the young university students refining their definitions of them selves (I live in a student area just 2 blocks from a university with 42,000 full time students). In them I see such huge potential – and I know from experience that the will and skill is there. Like a huge boulder balanced precisely on a high cliff -one shove at the right place and time and huge forces are unleashed. So few of them seem to recognize that in themselves – the greatness that is a given.

    In fact, as you so astutely pointed out GG, not only is it a given but it is so much fun to set free. It brings us closer to our true selves – definitely worth overcoming the anxiety.

    Delightful and profound post GG. To say I enjoyed it is a major understatement. 😀

    1. Yes, you’ve been very patient waiting for a “real” GG post through all the self-promotional ones, thanks!

      So, it wasn’t trust that made me jump in that pool. It was logic. He couldn’t let me drown, not because he was so “trustworthy,” but because it would be pretty easy for him to save me.

      1. Paul · ·

        You may not see it as trust GG – but to my mind any knowledge that another will act in a manner in your best interests is fundamentally “trust”. I would posit that you “trust” so implicitly that you don’t even consider it trust. 😀

  7. Mike · · Reply

    your picture in this post made me think of Joan Jett and when I saw her in concert back in the day at a local fair in New Hampshire.

    1. Yeah, it’s definitely Joan Jett-y. You know, she was the first album I ever bought. Well, there were three albums all at once, and she was one.

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