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Hi, I'm Daniela. Welcome to my personal lair on the Internet. This is where I write about storytelling, activism, technology and pop culture. Sometimes I post videos. I update my lair when the mood strikes me. Follow me on Twitter for daily updates (@dcap).

Brain Leaks: A Post Where I Talk About Hating Middle School And Loving SWV, Mary J. Blige

I hated middle school. It was one of those pubescent-tastically awful transitional periods of my life, made that much more uncomfortable by the fact that it was my first experience in a real public school. I had spent forever petitioning my mother for my freedom from the bondage of christian private elementary hell and  then – oh joy of joys! – one day she caved.

All of a sudden my religious, sheltered existence was shattered by kids in enormous pants, boldly swearing at their teachers instead of sharing prayer time with them and creepy goth kids moping around ever corner, with their watery black eyeliner and self mutilation. None of the Latino kids were either aware or cared that I was a bean too, probably because (at the time) I didn’t look like an extra from Mi Vida Loca or a homies doll.

(Aqua-net, wifebeaters and nike cortezes – I didn’t hop on that stereotype train until the second half of ninth grade.)

About a week into public school, I realized gym wasn’t optional and decided that all educational institutions sucked, whether there was enforced prayer time or not. I started playing hooky on a regular basis, and being the rebel ex private school girl that I was, spent it in a nearby park reading a book.

Eventually I was caught and sentenced to regular stints in detention, where my nebulous rep as a ditching loner took hold and I thrived under that label, as it kept most everyone at bay.

At the time I wasn’t aware I had anything in common with my cretinous, heathen classmates, the ones in the cafeteria who – between wolfing forkfuls of gluey mac n’ cheese – read my movie reviews in the school paper but never spoke to me in the lunch line. I didn’t care; I mostly wrote them for myself anyway and to appease an elective requirement – but I secretly hoped my column would serve as subtle bridge for mutual interests that might result in a friend or two. Surprise! Didn’t happen. No one even knew I wrote it.

I joined club after club just to have some place to go during lunch – a stuffy classroom where a circle of nerds talked about science or saving the environment while I slouched in a chair just outside their ring of heated dialog, staring out the window at nothing or reading a comic I had stolen from Rite-Aid.

Sometimes I would mingle with the pot smoking burnout kids on the stretch of lawn outside the school, who barely noticed me. I wouldn’t partake, but I would lay on my jacket a few feet away and feel the sun on my face, imagining I was hangin’ in a pasture filled with docile, flannel wearing, weed doin’ cows. Clueless was a year away from hitting theaters, but when it did it was like Amy Heckerling had been secretly following me around.

I was certain that life would remain tragic forever – I would be permanently awkward, unfashionable and always clueless about the latest trends. Rather than chalking my pop culture ignorance to twelve years of church enforced censorship, I sensed intuitively that there must be something inherently wrong with my basic teen hood abilities. Why did everyone know the words to every popular song, even the nerds? Why was I so out of it?

If I had known then I would end up working for the ultimate pop culture authority of my youth it might have lessened the blow – or I would have just called future me a sellout. I was a pretty harsh kid.

It was around this time, when I realized no one thought Earth, Wind & Fire was cool except for my dad, that I stopped making mixtapes of the oldies station and began to pay attention to some of the tunes leaking out of walkmen/mans? in the hallways. The songs that had the power to make my day less horrible, even if only heard faintly.

Like every girl on campus, I fell in love with sounds of SWV.

At the time I was convinced that no one would ever love me, that I would never know what love was or feel someone’s lips on mine, but I was pretty sure that singing along to “Weak” was about as close as you could get, without virtual reality. (actually thought this)

I sang along to it endlessly, either in my mind in class or in front of my bedroom mirror. When I wasn’t singing that, I was scrunching up my face and wailing to this:

Mary J. Blige‘s “I’m Going Down” made me, at thirteen, feel like I had lived.

Girl, tell me about it.

<<images from Marjorie Lipan’s photostream and baileymunson’s photostream>>

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