Realizing My Lady Bird

Nicholas Smaldone '19, Feature Editor

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Freaks and Geeks (2000). Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl (2015). 20th Century Women (2016). Ladybird (2017). All of these momentous films center around a stereo-typically-original, alternative, indie teenage protagonists navigating their youth. It has certainly be done before, and it will be done again. The story is cliche yet flocked to over and over again for its truth. Whether it is the awkwardness of high school in Freaks and Geeks, the heartbreak of Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl, the feeling of being slightly below average in 20th Century Women, the familial relationships in Ladybird, or the feeling of being an outsider in all of them. 

Ladybird, perhaps the cumulative film, came out in the middle of my junior year. It was like a prophecy that appeared after the fact. I saw the film already grown into it; this is because, I am ladybird

The Formative Years

I first came out as Indie In eighth grade, I fell in love with a band called Sleater-Kinney. The feminist punk group rose to notoriety alongside Nirvana in the pacific-northwest in the 90’s. However, Sleater-Kinney were not part of grunge, they were part of Riot Grrrl, a half punk half feminist movement occurring at the same time. Their sound was something I had never heard before; their music intense and aggressive, their lyrics real and unapologetic. They called for equality and justice, something I could believe in. At this time, I was still figuring out who I was and what I liked, but for the first time, Sleater-Kinney’s music was something I could latch onto whole-heartedly. 

Into the Abyss

By the end of freshman year, I was fully emerged in both high school and the indie music world. I had gone to three concerts with friends that year, three of my own concerts; in the back of bars, nightclubs, and 100-person-capacity rooms, to hear women screech and amps so loud they create a draft.

My first concert was probably the epitome of my musical taste, a band called the Screaming Females. I brought my two friends and felt like their caretaker, but I was more afraid than them. Questions of whether the crowd would be aggressive and unwelcoming, will the bands be bad, or will my friends not like it kept me up the night before. The opener was a singer-songwriter called Mitski, who sang her heart out to about 11 people who had come early to see her. Finally, the ‘Screamales’ came on to a more packed room. My friends were in awe by the intimacy and talent of this band they had never heard of and I felt like the proudest of moms. 

Because we had to leave early to catch the train home (a common theme throughout my high school concert experience), we made sure to buy our merch before. The Screaming Females’ bassist was selling shirts and albums, and when he laid eyes asked us our age. I timidly responded, but the freshman awkwardness was apparent before I opened my mouth. He quickly responded with a “woah that’s dope.” In that moment, I knew I belonged.

Since then I have attended over 30 more concerts–big and small. I’ve taken cars, trains, ubers, and once a bus to see these small college-aged bands that I have had so much respect for. Every show inhabits a universe of its own, and I return with a piece of myself that was waiting for me. I’ve engaged in dialogue with Kathleen Hanna, the feminist behind the phrase ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ I told her that I really respected her art, to which she replied “wow that might be the nicest thing a fan has told me, definitely better than like, ‘show me your tits!’” I have also seen Mitski four times, watching her audience grow from the original 11 to a sold out show at the 2,500-person-capacity House of Blues. 

Looking for Timothee

Each of these shows has helped me find myself. Today, I am fairly confident that I know who I am and have a strong sense of identity, as much as a high schooler can have. I have gained an intense independence, and a large network of friends I have met at concerts. However, on any given Friday night, I am not going to go into the city to hang with friends years older than me with their own lives, I am just a west-bubble boy.

The most pivotal moment in all of the aforementioned films comes when the protagonist meets a fellow weirdo. There is the whole ‘Freaks’ squad in Freaks and Geeks. The main character in Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl has both Earl AND the dying girl to discuss avant garde film-making with. The youngest woman in 20th Century Woman runs away to picturesque San Luis Obispo with her childhood friend, while ‘Art Fag’ music plays triumphantly in the back. And finally, most ideally and destructively, Christine meets Kyle, the bassist in an indie band.

But while we all love a sad movie, I guess there is a line that must be drawn, because what these films aren’t abstain from is crushing loneliness. My whole childhood I was told to be myself and be unique, but what I wasn’t told was that that comes at a cost; isolation and judgement from peers and yourself. 

While friends came to my first concert, they have seldom since. I will play my favorite song for others and people will laugh. I understand that I am presenting a sound which they had never heard, but showing something I covet so highly and not receiving mutual feelings in return can be a vulnerable and painful feeling.I have friends enthusiastic of my eccentricities, yet few whom I can truly connect with. There are many people who are interested in my weird taste, but to me it has not been weird or different, just a part of who I am.

In Conclusion

My time in high school has been marked by artistry, isolation, and jubilation. I have felt many emotions but have strayed from bitterness and tried to stay contempt in any situation. High school has been a blast and I cherish the people and memories, yet I am ready for new chapters. So in conclusion, we are all cyborgs in a simulation run by lizard scientists.