Tuesday, October 27, 2009

An Open Letter to Mika Miko.

Dear Jessie, Jenna, Seth, Jennifer and Michelle,

So you're breaking up. Bummer.
Mika Miko did some fine work, and made a real contribution to music with your arty, spazzy, lady-powered party punk. And even though I'm not completely familiar with everything you've done, I was sad to read on girlfriendisahomo that you're hanging it up.

But break ups aren't the end of the world; sometimes they're even necessary. I'm a musician, I've played with other people, I get it. If you need to move on to new things, I can accept that and be supportive. I read in the L.A. Times music blog that you kids will be occupied with "returns to school, new projects, jobs, and relationships".

Hmmm. Returns to school. Maybe I've been at this whole university thing for too long, but this worries me. It's a bit ironic that I'm concerned that some of you might be going back to school, and here's why: when I was in junior high, a girl at school tried to get me into Bikini Kill, but I just wasn't having it (don't worry, I came around a few years later), partly because of Tobi Vail's ideas about "school". On some ancient website that I can't find now, Tobi encouraged her young female readers to drop out of school and start bands because college can wait and you should do what you want. I was kind of horrified by this, and I even wrote her an e-mail, asking if it was maybe irresponsible for her to say something like that. Never got a reply.

Tobi's advice bothered me because it struck me as real Anglo middle class bullshit. Such people can afford to go to college, and they can also afford not to go. Frequently, they can get by on privilege where the rest of us need real credentials. I come from a large family of working class Italian Americans and Puerto Rican migrants, a family that saw an education as the most important means of upward mobility. Tobi Vail's suggestion that I abandon that vehicle, and disappoint my family, was unthinkable to me.

All these years later, I stand by my assessment of Tobi's ideas. But now I've been in university for almost a decade, and I understand what she meant. It might have sounded color (and class) blind, but Tobi was asking us to drop out of The Establishment, because that's what school is. School is the lay term for Academia, and Academia, I've come to realize, is pretty much patriarchy in its undiluted form. The way it's organized, the way it's run, the way it's funded: all of it is based on serving the needs of the mens. And that means hard times not only for the ladies but for people of color, people from lower tax brackets, people who sleep with people of the same sex, and pretty much anyone else who deviates from 'the norm'.

I could be wrong, but I don't think any of that could possibly appeal to any of you. You're too good for that! To be succinct, I'm afraid you kids might just be too cool for school.

But you know what? I had to figure out school and what it's really about on my own, and you probably do too. It was part of my 'process', and if some of you need to take this academic journey, to a bachelor's degree or beyond, well, who am I to try and stop you? Because it's not that I want to keep you from going to school. Really, for all my bitching, a lot of my experiences at grad school have been really rewarding.

What I want is to spare you the pain of realizing how brutal and disappointing school can be. Learning stuff and meeting new people, that's great, but there's a lot more to school than that. School usually also comes with arbitrary and ridiculous policies, useless administrators, reams of paperwork, and overwhelming expenses. It can be rough, and it can batter your belief system, and your understanding of yourself.

So I guess what I'm really saying, Jessie, Jenna, Seth, Jennifer, and Michelle, is this: go to school, but don't forget who you are. Don't forget what you learned together, as a band, and what you produced as Mika Miko, or the kids you reached at the shows you played, because that's real and meaningful in way that all the papers and exams and degrees in the world will never be. Go to school, but don't let it break you.

Your homegirl,

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