On that long westward morning, all Mexicans dreamed the same dream. They dreamed of being Mexican. There was no greater mystery.
On a good day - I know it’s not every day - we can part the sea. And on a bad day - I know it’s not every day - glory is beyond our reach.
haunted by ambition
The following post is a response to a question that Nova Ren Suma posed this week on her blog: “What haunted you when you were 17?” Nova’s book 17 & Gone comes out March 21st, and, given how much I adored Imaginary Girls, I’m sure I’ll flip for it.
At the age of seventeen, I traded in my first love, a dear, damaged, grunge-loving boy with shoulder-length, rust red curls, for a punk with slicked back hair and safety-pinned t-shirts who would jump off roofs on a dare. For me, the decision was a no-brainer, the transition seamless. The wild boy who jumped off roofs was a better boy than the melancholy one who carried around tattered paperback copies of Henry Miller novels, and in my mind I deserved better. Around the same time, I believed I was on the cuspof touring the world as a bass player in a famous rock band. Almost every afternoon after school, I would come home and play along to records like Hole’s Live Through This and Meantime by Helmet from start to finish. When Melissa Auf der Maur left Hole in 2008 to play with the Smashing Pumpkins, opportunity came knocking. Courtney Love was holding a nationwide search for a new bassist. Forget that aside from a three-practice stint in the eighth grade, I had never been in an actual band. I promptly sent in an audition cassette tape of me playing “Stars” by Hum. Without drums. Without singing. Without any other music. It was just me playing a bass through a Crate amplifier in my bedroom. Somehow I felt this was sufficient, and I was heartbroken that I didn’t get a response.
There’s a line in a recent Ray LaMontagne song that goes, “Young man, full of big plans and thinking about tomorrow. Young man, gonna make a stand. You beg, steal. You borrow.” The song is about ambition; a presumably older man urges the “young man” to reject that which is expected of him and strike out on his own, far away from his hometown and all of its limitations. Presumably, the message of the song is intended to be positive. It’s a good thing to be that single blade of grass that reaches taller than all the others in its quest towards the sun. At least, that’s what I grew up hearing. But when I think about what haunted me at the age of seventeen, ambition comes to mind – not that blade of grass reaching skyward type of ambition - but a more nefarious breed, one which Macbeth refers to as “vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself.” What plagued me was a narrow-minded, irresponsible determination that prevented me from seeing the joy of the present – the journey, as they say - and always had me hurtling towards the future. I should have come with one of those stickers you see on the backs of semi-trucks: “How’s my driving?” Concerned road-sharers would have called and reported speeding and swerving and a general lack of attention paid to my surroundings as I rushed in the direction of something “better.”
What I had at that time went beyond confidence and high self-esteem. It was not “clarity of vision” either, because I was clear about very little. What I had was that “vaulting ambition” coupled with a total lack of self-awareness. I was prone to fits of jealousy, outrage, and cruelty, because I couldn’t bear the thought of something getting in between me and the things I deserved. My senior year of high school, I applied to a total of one college: UC Berkeley, and this was mainly because Faith No More, my favorite band at the time, was from San Francisco. I told people I worked with (throughout high school I worked in the café of a Borders bookstore) that I was going to UC Berkeley, as if my admission was a given. I told my parents to get ready to say their teary goodbyes. Once in college, I was going to study English, specifically American novels written post-WWII. This was, of course, if the whole bass player for Hole thing fell through. Or maybe I could’ve done both simultaneously. Then my life would’ve consisted of writing illuminating and well-received pieces of scholarship and rocking out.
You may have seen this coming: I was denied entrance in UC Berkeley. I have never been the bassist for a famous rock band or any rock band, for that matter. The boy who jumped off roofs and I eventually broke up. I’ve become acquainted with rejection and her sister, humility. They try to help me get comfortable with living in/for the present. It’s not that I don’t have ambition anymore, but my ambition has tempered. It tries its best to be mindful, even if it still has claws.