The earworm in my head today is “Punk Rock Girl” by The Dead Milkmen. It’s a catchy and (in retrospect) hardly punk anthem to young foolish love, tongue firmly, it seems to me, in cheek. Playful, silly, and echoing through my mind, as I get ready to start a day of work I’m humming: “Punk rock girl give me a chance / Punk rock girl let’s go slam dance / We’ll dress like Minnie Pearl.”
You and me, Punk Rock Girl.
Now I am not advocating jumping on tables and shouting “anarchy” or driving off in cars that are not our own, but that freewheeling spirit that implies that anything can happen doesn’t seem too far off the mark right now.
As we all do our best to navigate the choppy waters of this time of pandemic, remote learning, and ongoing political stress it sometimes feels like every day or two we’re given the challenge of adapting to something new. Smilingly? Well…
It helps me to try to keep some perspective, and sometimes that perspective comes from unexpected sources. Three recent inspirations, other than The Dead Milkmen, that I’ve leaned on lately.
The Hobbit. That old chestnut from Tolkien, more a children’s story than the Lord of the Rings, has long been my favorite read aloud book (and as a dad I’ve had more than one chance to read it at bedtime to my kids). Not long ago I stumbled on an audiobook of the novel and, taken in small bites, it has become a touchstone of comfort to hear it again, temporary comfort anyway, and the inspiration to do my best to be like Bilbo leaving the goblin cave: “Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all a patter and a pitter.” We’re all a little flummoxed from time to time, hearts “a patter and a pitter” and hearing a story we love helps, even if it’s just a little.
Helping more than a little, and more than I could have ever imagined when she joined our family a little more than a year ago, our dog, Luna, is an ongoing force for good in our house. All that unconditional love stuff people with dogs talk about? Yep. And… when she gets muddy and filthy after a walk, she gets a bath. When she gets woken up and reluctantly goes out for morning ablutions, she does what she needs to do and then runs back to bed to make a nest in the covers. She doesn’t love baths or cold mornings, but she handles them more patiently than I do some of the things I don’t love. Inspiration there. Would that I could live up to the example set by my dog.
Of course I seldom chew up boxes of cookies.
Watching Studio Ghibli movies with my teenager has helped too. This winter we’ve revisited Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle. Dreamy, unexpected, and more than occasionally bizarre, these amazing entertainments do for me what great art often does: allow me to see my own world a little differently than I saw it before. As I think about how crazy the last few weeks have been, how easy it is to be justifiably frustrated, and how important it is that I find ways to accept reality and move forward, I’m happy to look toward Miyazaki’s heroes like Sophie, turned from a child to an old woman and launched into an adventure that takes her inside the wheezing, shambling castle of the film’s title. She faces obstacles both sinister and bureaucratic, threatening and as mundane as a messy house, with poise, pluck, and amused curiosity. All this, told through astounding images and a soundtrack so moving it feels like poetry, touched my heart when I needed it to.
And Princess Mononoke spitting blood, yeah, that too.
Finally, a bonus inspiration, but one I return to. It’s that line from Leonard Cohen: “If you don’t become the ocean you’ll be seasick every day.” With tides rising and falling, waves up over my head, and undercurrents that I can hardly understand it feels like that line ought to be a mantra.
To everyone out there doing their best to hold on, I offer support, hope, and the notion that maybe we all ought to just dress like Minnie Pearl. As hard as this is, we can do this. You and me, Punk Rock Girl.