Monday, September 29, 2014

Currently Reading: Just Kids

This blog post is going to be a lie, because at the moment I’m not currently reading anything. I recently read William Wycherley’s The Country Wife and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn for class, but neither of those is worth discussing in a blog post. The most recent book I read (apart from those) was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, but I already wrote a blog post about that...

So, instead, I’m going to retroactively discuss one of my favorite books. Patti Smith’s Just Kids is a heartbreaking autobiography that haunted my memory all throughout college. It’s the story of Patti Smith’s rise to stardom, although her actual fame comprises only a fraction of the book. The real story lies in her gritty young adulthood and relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe.

Patti Smith briefly recounts her upbringing—her relationship with her mom, her siblings, her father, the abortion through which she suffered at the age of 16, and her decision to move to New York City at 18. My mom laughed when she got to that part in the book because it reminded her of how different her and my generations are. “Okay, sweetie. Go to NYC with no money, no plans, and no connections. Go ahead! Go be an artist!” she paraphrased. My mom continued to muse on how carefree parents were with their children in the 60s, but subsequently concluded that children learn best when they’re forced to be independent, make mistakes, and learn from them on their own. In the first 30 pages, Smith’s autobiography draws a sharp, black line between Generations X and Y – painting a picture of complete independence of which college students today could never conceive, and prompting adults to reflect on their pasts.

Just Kids acts as a time portal that lures the reader into the corners of Smith’s mind—reminiscences of her childhood, family, impoverished adulthood and her companion, Robert. Her relationship with Robert comprises the bulk of the book. She illustrates the abject poverty in which they lived, the illnesses they incurred because of how poorly they ate, Robert’s struggle with his sexuality, and more. Their relationship is, by no means, something out of a John Green book, and Robert certainly is anything but a quirky, life-saving teenage archetype whom girls and guys wish they could marry. He is flighty, confusing, unpredictable (not in a quirky, romantic, Augustus Waters-type way), and difficult to understand. But he’s reliable. What’s beautiful about their story is that they grow up together. There’s one scene in the book when Patti describes Robert’s recent sexual awakening, possible homosexuality, and liking to genital piercings. She says,
When Robert returned from San Francisco, he seemed both triumphant and troubled. It was my hope that he would come back transformed, and he did, but not in the way I imagined. Even though he had experienced a sexual awakening, he still hoped that we could find some way of continuing our relationship. I wasn’t sure if I could come to terms with his new sense of self, nor he with mine. As I wavered, he met someone, a boy named Terry, and he embarked on his first male affair. (78) 
I’m not one for mawkish, romanticized depictions of relationships, or books about relationships in general. But there’s such a heartbreaking truth in Patti Smith’s words; such a mournful, yet fond tone in her writing when she talks about Robert. Although she didn’t always understand him, and he didn’t always understand her, they made it work. They accepted each other’s flights of fancy and grew up together. And no matter what adversity landed on their shoulders, they overcame together.

I recently read an article in the Huffington Post that vilified Generation Y parents for raising helpless children who can’t delay gratification or accept failure as a part of their lives because they’ve been raised to learn that they’re “special” even though they never did anything to warrant the title. While I agreed with the article’s argument, I admit that I am a bit of a Generation Y kid – unable to wait for results and unable to take small steps to reach success because I’m anxious that I’m wasting time. Just Kids is all about delayed gratification, patience, understanding, accepting and learning from failure, and accepting other people’s mistakes and flaws as a part of what makes them so real. Like Smith, I have no idea where my life is headed, and that’s fine. After all, we’re just kids.
—Alex Hajjar

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