Once upon a time… I landed my first post collegiate/ pre-teaching job hostessing at a sushi restaurant. It was the type of place that got away with shamelessly mediocre food, because beautiful people liked the red leather chairs and purple gauze curtains. Work hours were spent navigating socialite/machismo egos of Cleveland’s downtown scene.
My second year there, they acquired a quintessential bad boy manager I’ll call “Z.” Previously a bartender at a posh, “so you think you’re trendy for eating here” place uptown… he was the perfect addition to an already high maintenance staff. He looked good in a tie, could construct well-formed sentences, yet could tell a crowd of drunk fraternity guys to shove off without hesitation. I was a relatively good girl who secretly wanted to fuck the world up a bit. This cliché match-up had Melrose Place written all over it. We ended up settling into the “friends who could, but know better” role.
“Z” personified how society fails geniuses when they can’t embrace “normal.” While full of wisdom and intellectual prowess far beyond his years, he was plagued by an underlying suspicion that perhaps he was just a loser with a higher than average vocabulary. Sadly, he acted in accordance- doing a rainbow of drugs, bouncing between jobs, and struggling with the female species. While knowing he possessed gifts, he often used a few bottles of wine to ease tension as he spilled out years of resentment towards a mentally ill mother, an alcoholic father, and all the people that never saw past school suspensions and rebellious behavior. He was the kind of man every girl wants to save… and should know better.
Back in those days, “Z” had an acquaintance that frequented half-off sushi night. His name escapes me now, but the details of this guy’s torrid lifestyle were rampant around downtown Cleveland. He was an infamous dealer of not-so-mild drugs, and engaged to a girl addicted to his wares as well as carrying their first child. He was the kind of guy that white bred, college educated girlie girls loved to talk shit about over Bombay and tonics.
“I don’t understand why you like that guy,” I grumbled one night on the phone.
“It’s not that I like him,” said “Z.” “I guess it’s just that I see all of him.”
During my senior year of undergrad, the cooperating teacher I worked under told me something that I will never forget.
“Artists can live comfortably in the grays,” she had said. “They don’t need things to be black and white to feel safe.”
“Z” is an unlikely subject for a teaching blog, but his story is a perfect example of how to think like an artist. I think of “Z” when I listen to political diatribes about Public Education, Health Care, or Immigration. I think of his mantra as our leaders compartmentalize issues, and slice off small pieces of a problem so Americans can digest it easily. Americans don’t like being handed the daunting, murky, and often paradoxical truth. It’s far too scary to contemplate Health Care reform when both sides are right… and wrong.
Since I’m in education, my current whipping boy is Arne Duncan. I’m sure you have your own scapegoat. As I write this I can tell you I don’t practice what I’m preaching in this post when it comes to Mr. Duncan. However, should he decide to pack his black and white bags and move out of Bandaid Solution City where he currently resides, I would be the first one offering to write his press announcement.
The transcript of that speech will come to a Brazen Post near you in a few days. I haven’t written anything in weeks. Time to work out some rusty kinks.