I was thrashed the rest of the weekend but I have to be honest and admit that I had a hell of a time this past Saturday night driving four of my daughter’s speech and debate teammates back to Portland from a two-day tournament at the University of Oregon. Usually when I am a parent driver my passengers are Isobel and teammates whom I know. But my passengers for this very late night drive were four boy-men whom I’d never met before. Three are freshmen, one is a sophomore, and all are in their first year as team members. To a one, I found them to be irreverent, charming, hilarious, smart, and respectful of but also playful with me.
I love driving teenagers around, especially at night, because sometimes this weird thing happens where they forget I’m Izzy’s mom and that I’m not in their cohort. I come in and out of their awareness. I’m both a witness and a participant. I try to listen more than I speak, and when I speak I try to do so naturally and with a bit of restraint so as to hopefully avoid seeming too enthusiastic or giving off the vibe of trying to be cool. But sometimes when the topic is music or food or something else I care a lot about (or have strong opinions about!), well, all bets are off.
So, all bets were off, because during our two hour drive we discussed music (pop and classical) and Tarantino films (which lead to a discussion of old school versus digital film-making, which lead to a discussion of vinyl versus digital music recording, and also a discussion of how Tarantino is almost unwatchable and arrogant but doing something no one else is doing) and gaming (they lost me here though I asked a provocative question about their embodied experiences when their avatar in the game is mauled by a tiger or alien) and food and books and comics. This wasn’t a linear, orderly discussion but a layered, improvisatory, emergent free-for-all. I think I held my own and even scored some points, which is saying a lot when you are brawling with debaters (Though I lost some points when I claimed “Age trumps youth”; I thought it was better than saying, “I know more about ‘80’s music than you do because I was actually alive during the ‘80’s.”).
These four boy-men were so fascinating, simultaneously weird and precious.
On music: They love the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s that their fathers exposed them to—The Beatles, Queen, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin. They love ‘80s music from my high school and college days: The Smiths, The Cure, The Clash, Sonic Youth, REM, and U2. And I was delighted to discover that we were simpatico when it comes to adoring Nirvana, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Radiohead (though they were admiring but not gushing with enthusiasm, as I was, about The Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam). When I asked them about current alternative pop music they admitted to being “unimpressed” and “unenthusiastic” about bands that I think are pretty special: The Lumineers, Mumford and Sons, Grouplove.
(One of my fellow-travelers, W., spoke with me at length – though we were interrupted multiple times by random comments from the other guys – about Beethoven symphonies and pipe organ music.)
On gaming: They regaled each other (and me) with tales of virtual destruction and mayhem. In answer to my question about their embodied experience of seeing their avatars ambushed by an alien or gobbled up by a tiger they described their visceral and emotional experience in great detail. We made some interesting connections between how they feel when they are immersed in certain kinds of computer games and while watching a Tarantino film. One of the passengers, H., engaged in a long rhapsody about how in one game he made his lifelong dream come true — he built and lived in a sandcastle! He lamented that his sandcastle lasted only a short time because it was destroyed by aliens, to which his friends replied, “Duh. What did you think would happen if you built a house out of sand?”
As we approached the southern outskirts of Portland, after we’d left the topics of gaming and food and returned to music for a bit, the pace of the conversation began to slow down, the energy in the car became more subdued. We were all tired – it was well after midnight – and the boy-men began talking about what they were going to do when they got home (Some of which is unrepeatable! Remember what I said earlier about how in a dark car full of teenagers I can sometimes fade from their awareness, becoming a witness?). Someone, I’m not sure who, out of nowhere began reminiscing about Calvin and Hobbes comics, how important they were to his childhood and suddenly the car was once again full of laughter and sweetness and excitement as all four boys shared their memories of Calvin and Hobbes, most especially the last strip ever published. Not as familiar with Calvin and Hobbes as my traveling companions, I asked about the last strip, about which H. kept exclaiming “It is so wonderful, just wonderful!”
He looked up the strip on his iphone to be sure he got it right, and then told me the last panel of the strip is the boy and his pretend friend Hobbes heading out to play in the snow, Calvin saying, “…let’s go exploring.”
For the rest of the drive—fifteen minutes or so—the conversation turned to traveling through the life course, and not because of anything I said, but because the four teenage boys started reminiscing about what it was like to be a little boy, how they missed going on adventures, being wide open to the world. I asked questions about when they felt they had changed in their orientation to the world, and why they thought the change had occurred. I also pondered aloud if perhaps they could recapture or create anew their attitude of wonderment and curiosity. I went out on a limb and shared that I was still growing up as a person in my mid-forties, and that I was discovering in my own life that growing up didn’t mean getting more serious and less playful, but could actually involve the opposite and that perhaps a trick to having a hell of a time as a human for as long as we are alive is to continue having adventures.
To live in a sandcastle. To play in the snow.
I don’t know what the four boy-men thought about me and the stuff I said. But I thought they were totally cool and if the future is in their hands and the hands of Isobel and her friends, well, I feel rather good about that, whatever the future may hold for all of us living on this planet.
By the end of the drive I wanted to ask them for their addresses so I could send their parents thank you notes for the honor of hanging out with their sons.