thinking of principal skinner

2 February 2023

A couple years ago, I was lying in bed, listening to “Dear Mom” by Apes of State. I started crying. Maybe It was my proclivity to being a sucker for folk-punk, maybe it was April’s honest articulation of the desire for a punk life, or maybe all the trauma’s I suffered that year had added up to this moment of emotional excess.

My partner at the time rolled over and asked what was wrong. I said, “I’m so sad that I’ll never be in a punk band.” She said, “That’s a stupid thing to worry about,” rolled over, and fell asleep.

“Dear father/ please tell me that you’re proud/ look at all the places that I’ve been/ look at all the people that I’ve helped.”

Now, here I lay, in a different bed, a couple years later, alone, listening to the same song. I’ve never claimed to be a punk (or a good person). If I’ve made any claim, any stupid proclamation, it’s that I care. I care too much about living this life that leads to my bedroom gazing out at my kitchen, the sage scent still resonating within my poorly ventilated room.

“I used to be so self-destructive, what happened to me?” I wrote to a friend, hoping she’d get the joke layered beneath the dirt I swept from my floor.

In my bathroom mirror, I stare at my Apes of the State Hoodie: “I’ll love you till you love yourself.” I brush my teeth and spit blood into the sink. The empty bottle of wine on my nightstand table, the same one that ex who chastised me for my punk-rock-fantasy had given me early in our relationship (but not the same one because I’d thrown the one she’d given me out when moving only to find the identical table on the street in front of my new building). I haven’t taken off the hoodie despite the sweat clinging to my undershirt from my workout. Smelly and un-showered—maybe I did achieve that punk-rock-fantasy wrapped in my filthy duvet.

Not even two weeks ago, making that horrible drive from Chicago to Pittsburgh, I’m ruminating on thoughts that I ought not. Performance becomes a sort of therapy for those who need therapy but refuse to get it. The emotional excess of flailing on stage, hurting yourself, speaking some approximation of the truth consolidates the stress into a performative release. Years ago, I ripped out my hair, I bruised my body, I cut myself deep. I have a scar on my left leg from one particularly gnarly performance in Seattle.

Did it make me punk or just a liability to those I traveled with? Maybe there’s some romance to self-harm (and certainly if you parlay it into a marketable danger, it’ll help with your bookings), but it is quite boring (or it bores me as I know how it leads to the same dirty duvet). So, in that space between the basement and the highway, with my reckless mind saying, “do something terrible onstage,” I devised a different way to be.

What would it mean to say I will encapsulate how I feel in five minutes? I will divide all the negativity into incremental chunks that I can consume through performance, not as an indulgence, but a letting go.

In that basement, filled with thoughts that I ought not have, I asked myself what it would mean to let go, to wash myself clean of the desire to hurt myself through dunking my head underneath the sink, to scream so loud that it was absolutely ridiculous and inviting the laughter of the audience, to wrap myself in fabric in order to collapse into the self that I can’t escape (or don’t want to escape).

The lyric, “I’ll love you till you love yourself,” comes from the Apes of the State song “Strangers.” Performance is about giving yourself to strangers. Letting go of that egoistic desire to appear as whole by accepting that you are the fragmentary appearance within a stranger’s life. I don’t want to be the pained disbelief, the shock and revulsion echoing in memory.

At the end of the song, April sings, “And I will sing until I love myself.” And maybe that’s why I’ve always wanted to be in a punk band.