could be (part 4)

This post is the last part of a four-part series on my song, “could be,” from my album my anxious age. You can read part one here, on the importance of knowing and honoring the stories of the ones we love in order to know them fully, read part two here, on the hard and necessary process of letting ghosts go in order to live whole, and read part three here, on valuing the moments that make us who we are.

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could be (part 2)

This post is part two of a four-part series on my song, “could be,” from my album my anxious age. You can read part one here, where I describe how verse one, which relays the lifelong impact of my childhood experience with bullying, and how it is essential to know the stories of the ones we love in order to know them fully.

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Better Love

Depending on which day you ask me, I will tell you that my 7th graders are (a) hilarious, (b) adorable, (c) obnoxious, (d) too hormonal, or (e) horribly mean. That’s a lie: puberty allows them the unique opportunity to embody all 5 of these traits within one day.

I teach three different subjects, so I see some students two or three times a day. It is amazing (or horrifying) how a perfect angel in 2nd period can turn into the alien in the film Alien by 3rd period.

Because of these personality whiplashes, I never know whether to take some students’ comments as humor or insult. Today, on the eve of Valentine’s Day, my students took an intense interest in my love life.

I am asked three or four times a day by four or five students (for an average of 12-20 comments) about my love life. My students remain constantly concerned that I am not taking my personal life serious, that perhaps because I am a first-year teacher I am letting it fall by the wayside.

On a typical day, I will get some variation of the following questions:

  1. Are you dating anyone yet?
  2. How is your girlfriend? I know you have one. Is it Ms. So-and-So?
  3. Have you considered dating Ms. So-and-So? I can introduce you if you’re nervous.
  4. Did you go on a date this weekend? Why not?
  5. Are you worried that a girl won’t like your beard?
  6. You should get out more and try to meet new people. You know you have to put yourself out there if you’re ever going to get a girlfriend, right?
  7. Why did you break up with your last girlfriend? What if that was your last shot?

Don’t be jealous: I know you wish you had a tiny army of preteens who cared this much about your romantic well-being. Somehow I juggle these questions with various denials, quips, and general mopey faces and still manage to teach them subject-verb agreement.

One of the more insulting conversations I had was with one of my best students. That’s the thing about having good students—they have to go and get a big head about it. I was talking with her and her friend after school, and the friend was checking out guys on the football team as they ran to practice.

My student said, “Don’t you have a boyfriend?”

The girl, still maintaining eye contact with the backside of football players’ uniforms, replied, “Not at the moment.”

I thought this was hilarious, so I nudged the girl and said, “Single on the weekends, am I right?!”

And my student, without hesitating, nudged me and said, “Single all your life, am I right?!”

She moved down my list of good students immediately.

Today, I was met with an exponentially more severe amount of love life questions centering around my Valentine’s Day plans. In a truly Oscar-worthy monologue, one girl splashed me with a cold glass of reality:

“Mr. Taylor, don’t you want to have a family some day? You don’t have much time. You’re already in your 20s, so you need to get started soon. You haven’t even started dating someone, and you have to date them, marry them, and then have kids. Do you understand how little time you have? You already look like you’re in your 30s. Have you even shaved lately? Because it looks like you haven’t shaved in weeks. I’m worried about you.”

Cupid has not shot me with an arrow in a few years, but my students haven’t failed to take aim. And she was right: I haven’t shaved in 2014 at all.

In truth, I never find these conversations insulting. These are the type of absurdly hilarious comments that keep me going when the going gets tough and the kids get annoying. If I seriously worried about getting a girlfriend, maybe the story would be different. But believe me, my apathy about my romantic world balances out their sole interest in it.

What worries me is that some of my kids really do think it is the end of the world that tomorrow they will not receive a Valentine. Right now, some of my kids are figuring out a way to feign an illness or make up a significant other who “goes to another school”. As middle schoolers, they are wired in such a way that they can’t help but treat tomorrow as social life or death.

Several of them have started to roll the “L” word around in their mouth, seeing how it tastes when it is applied to someone other than family. Some of them are already regretting that they didn’t reserve it for their mom and dad.

Middle school romance is usually funny due to the total dramatization of a totally insignificant moment in their lives. I will comfort a girl crying over a boy one day, and the next day listen to that same girl go on and on about the boy in 7th period she hadn’t noticed before today. And somehow the universe always maintains a perfect balance of Drake songs that cover both the falling in and out of relationships.

As unserious as most of it is, my kids are discovering both the mushy-gushy side of staying on the phone long after curfew and the very destructive side of believing whole-heartedly they will never be worthy of love.

I recently read a Lorde interview in which she criticized the type of love-or-bust music that Lana Del Rey makes:

“I was just thinking it’s so unhealthy for girls to be listening to, you know, ‘I’m nothing without you.’ This sort of shirt-tugging, desperate, ‘don’t leave me’ stuff. That’s not a good thing for young girls, even young people, to hear.”

Leave it to a 17-year-old to articulate a truth even adults have trouble understanding.

My kids are currently working on a poetry project in which they pick out the poetic conventions used in their favorite songs and analyze what the song means based on how the artist uses these conventions. I have to check over their analyses before they are allowed to make their posters. As I was going through their papers, one device kept popping up: hyperbole, hyperbole, hyperbole.

I started to tell a few of them to pick out different devices, but after combing through the lyrics, I found that they had picked out everything there was.

Miley Cyrus has a song on the radio letting her boo know that she “just started living” when she met him.

Katy Perry has a song on the radio letting her boo know that all his dirty laundry never made her blink “one time”.

Drake has a song on the radio letting his boo know that she is “everything” that he needs.

The band keeps playing, and kids keep taking it to heart. These hyperboles are slowly slipping their way into children’s subconscious, convincing them that this is how love works.

When those children become adults, they don’t know how to be alone because the radio tells them that life doesn’t start without a significant other.

When those children become adults, they don’t know to be together because they expect people to fulfill every need humans weren’t made to fill.

Eventually the joke about middle school romance gets old, and the “L” word starts to leave a bitter taste in their mouths. That same student who made the “single all your life” joke about me was sitting with me after school one day, updating me on all of the hot gossip (don’t judge; it’s really juicy in junior high). She finished up a story about a complicated love hexagon, and finished by saying, “People be taking relationships too serious. That thing that you’re doing ain’t all that serious at this age. Right now, you’re just playing. That’s why I had to break up with my last boyfriend: we were having fun, and then he got too serious. I told him he was too young to know what he was talking about.”

Do you ever get the feeling that we are all too young to know what we are talking about? That my students, Lana Del Rey, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Drake, me, and you all share that in common?

True love is serious; it is not meant to be taken, or given, lightly. But please hear this: You are valuable with or without a significant other. Your worth does not come from the love that you get but from the love that you give.

Today, if you are alone, look around. There is someone there that you failed to notice, just like my kids when they finally see the cute boy or girl next to them in 7th period. And I don’t mean that romantically for you: you are not alone if you have even one friend. I have never met a single person that didn’t feel lonely every once in awhile. Bright Eyes put it best: “You’re not alone in anything/you’re not alone in trying to be.” So stop trying to be.

Today, please look up. Please love the people around you, and please love yourself.

A student who is analyzing a Christian rap song asked me what humility is, and I said, “It means you know that any good thing you do is because of God and not you.”

She asked, “Oh, so it’s like having a low self-esteem?”

I clarified, “No, people my age confuse humility and low self-esteem all the time. A low self-esteem means you hate yourself, but humility means you love yourself but not because of what you’ve done but what God has done in you. You are not the reason you are valuable, but that doesn’t make you any less valuable.”

It’s time we tell ourselves a better message about love. Am I right?