As you get farther away from your teens your priorities shift. For me there was less emphasis on cool or street cred'. Instead, it was more like: "Shit, where did my twenties go?" Is this where I wanted to be in life? I have to get my shit together before I'm 40."
I had sat on a film degree for a decade. In my mind, it had somehow expired -- like milk. I needed to get on a new track at age 29, so I went back to get my masters degree.
I was going to stop hanging out, drinking beer and watching movies all the time and go back to being the nerd I was in high school. What I discovered was that being a nerd as an adult was hard -- and expensive. In high school it was just school, chores, and the five billion geektivities I was involved in. (Yes, you are looking at a not a one-, not a two-, but a three-time yearbook editor). As an adult you have school, work, homework, bills, and if you live with a significant someone, maid work.
Once I went back to school and achieved some balance I found myself again regressing to the point where I needed street cred' again -- only this time it was intellectual street cred'. I had to play the part of a grad student.
No more Starbucks; only indie coffee houses for me, accompanied by my Mac book, and my smart phone, because when you don't have a life you need a number of items on which you can check your email. WXPN became a preset in my car, but only after the rock stations that play the music I grew up with and the pop station I never dared to flip on when the boyfriend was in the car.
While this one third-life crisis was happening I had one secret vice: Lady Gaga.
She was the pair of f-me pumps in my closet of Doc Martens and other sensible shoes. She was the rock hard sugar cube in my cabinet of organic, low-fat Trader Joe's food. She was a rebel yell to the Black Sabbath and Beatles I grew up with as well as a release from all things (pseudo) intellectual.
When I visited home, family members would ask me how school was going and what I was studying, so I would mumble something about post modernity, mentioned a few books they had never heard of, and hope they wouldn't ask anymore. They would nod blankly, commend me on my dedication, but didn't quite get what a second degree would do that the first one didn't. While the conversation droned on, the whole time all I heard in my head was Lady Gaga. Pa-pa-pa poker face, she got one like nobody..."
At first, I thought Lady Gaga would go away; fade off into one-hit wonderland and I would never have to worry about it again. In case you don't follow pop culture, though, Lady Gaga did not go away; she did the opposite--she released more music and wore less clothing.
One day while I was driving, I started to flip through stations. After three minutes of some folk song by someone no one's ever heard I gave up and turned off XPN. It was a long drive to campus and I needed what everyone needs. -- I needed to sing.
And exactly how are you going to do that to new and experimental music? On to the rock stations, a little of the Crue always got me pumped for Victorian poetry. Kick start my heart and my sonnet, hell yeah! I was almost there when the DJ announced a block of the Grateful Dead. Click. Like an alcoholic reaching for the vodka bottle hidden in the towel closet, I switched to Q102.
Then I heard it, the inevitable and enigmatic "Bad Romance." Ra ra ah ah ah ahh ga ga...She was her own cheerleader and sometimes that's what we really need. The beats, the techno, I don't think there is one real instrument on that song.
I was singing along and I didn't know the damn words, yet. The grey interior of my car was no longer forlorn; it was alive. My driver's seat was a dance floor and the interior lights were my disco ball. The beats were like the stomping of a child that demanded to be listened to, and yes, I was listening.
My teenage years of black lipstick, fishnets and army boots descended into the darkness of the Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails album from whence it came.
The grunge girl with chunky heeled Mary Janes wearing black baby doll dresses and chipped red fingernail polish faded like Courtney Love's acting career.
Gaga had also released me from Tennyson, Foucalt, Spivak and teachers who wanted to question why I used punctuation in my poetry. I had an epiphany that day: I had to embrace pop music. As Gaga says, I wanted its horror... I wanted its revenge...and I wanted its bad romance.
Brooke Hoffman is a writer and graduate student who lives in Ardmore.