I was twenty-one years when I wrote this song
I’m twenty-two now, but I won’t be for long
Time hurries on
And the leaves that are green turn to brown
– Paul Simon
September // Back to School: Back when you were in grade school, what were your favourite and least favourite subjects and why? Did you become what you dreamed you would be when you grew up? Or did your interests completely change?
I have been best friends with my best friend since grade school. The story of how we met has something to do with her moving to our town, and me offering her some orange candy in the schoolyard (to this day, I love orange candy), and that was that. We were both weird kids in a ticky-tacky suburban town – where all the houses were pink boxes with tile rooves and everyone lived in Planned Communities and swam on swim teams at community pools.
At first blush, my family could have Passed for Normal in that kind of town, because we were waspy, and preppy, and my father had a fancy job where he wore suits and was gone a lot. But my parents were from Elsewhere, and gave zero shits about my social status in the hierarchy of vicious packs of LA County blondes. Jade’s family, on the other hand, had moved south from the Bay Area, and she was a Child Actor, so there was basically nothing she could do except join a swim team if she wanted to be Normal.
But we found each other, and together we were invincible. There’s something special about finding a friend who makes you feel…normal.
Jade and I were both good students – she was more of an artist and I was more of a jock. In school, we were both good at language arts, and because we grew up in the era where if you were so inclined as a kid, you could just kind of disappear from the house all day in the summer, we used to vanish from one home to another and put together our own shows, and films, and dramatic productions. I’d walk or ride my bike to her house (which I now realise was Not Near to Mine, and undertaking this sort of ride as a child of 11 would probably result in a call to Child Protective Services today), or she’d come to mine, and we’d spend all day and night Doing Creative Things.
We were especially clever and creative in the days leading up to the return to school, when I think the anxiety of facing our classmates and peers ramped up in our unconscious. We’d stay up all night singing songs into the tape recorder, or making weird videos on my parents’ giant CamCorder (legendary among these is the night we decided to make a music video to If I Had a Hammer, including an actual hammer, which we shook menacingly at the camera as we lip-synched to Peter, Paul & Mary – totally missing the point of the song – until the head of the hammer shot off the handle and hit the camera lens.)
Even as a good student, there was something about the anxiety of school for me. I was an A+ kind of kid; lots of activities; varsity athlete; a strawberry blonde almost-Tracy Flick. I was good at school, but I didn’t like it. My mother always told me I’d be nostalgic for those First Days, and those dusty halls, and those shitty subjects, but xx number of years out, I still feel relief that it’s over.
So as Jade and I got a little bit older, we expanded the scope of our arts lessons from merely playwriting and filmmaking to interpretive dancing. We were Very Serious Tweenagers in the Greater Los Angeles Area, exposed to too much, but not enough, and so we’d sit on the lawn outside her family’s house, and Make Up Dances.
We were young so we were pretty limited to our parents’ music as the backdrop for our dancing. We’d flip through the tapes and find something “cool.” This usually limited us to the Beatles or Simon & Garfunkel. So we began making up interpretive dances to Simon & Garfunkel songs.
One afternoon, we created an epic interpretive dance to Paul Simon’s Leaves that are Green. We were 12. We practiced and practiced and practiced, and lip-synched our way through the song. For some reason, every dance move became second nature to us and deeply ingrained in both our memories. We very obviously did not understand the lyrics, or what the song was about, because, well, we were 12.
From there, we went on to an illustrious career in interpretive dancing to nihilist songs, including a turn in Eighth Grade Drama class when the actual assignment was to perform an interpretive dance, and none of the other kids even understood what that was. We not only had to debate which one to choose from our extensive repertoire, but selected The Sounds of Silence, and performed it from memory.
This is all a long-winded way of saying, my favourite subject in school was interpretive dance, and to this day, if you ask nicely, Jade and I will still perform The Leaves that are Green.