High school. For me, it wasn’t anything that I thought it was supposed to be. Wasn’t it supposed to be filled with rites of passage? At the very least there were supposed to be one or two moments of intense experience from which I could learn. There were supposed to be moments and experiences, times and transitions. I was supposed to fight and kiss and abuse and destroy and build and rebuild. I was supposed to start something — tangible or intangible. Right? I was supposed to leave high school in preparation for college or for the supposed “real world.”
But, alas. I attended a private, Catholic all-girls school in Buffalo, New York. It has maintained the title of “Best Private School Education” in the area for over a decade. It’s competitive, and it’s tough. I kept good grades throughout high school, and I studied voraciously for the SAT and ACT. I would need them to get into a far, far away college, specifically New York University (this story does eventually stop being so incredibly cliché). I worked the soundboard for every school musical. I played piano in the orchestra. I was co-president of my school’s Mock Trial team. I spent most winter weekends memorizing fake affidavits or opening statements for the competitive trials. I played soccer for two years before being promptly cut from the team my junior year. I ran cross country and track for the remainder of high school. Both cross country and track wanted more participants, so I joined them. Of course, I was, stereotypically, very unathletic.
My average week held incredible structure: I went to school, then I attended one of my various extracurricular activities. I arrived home in the family minivan around six or seven, ate dinner, did my homework and practiced the piano if I had time. My weekends were consumed by Mock Trial, cross country, homework and, luckily, friends. On the weekends, my six closest friends and I would meet at our favorite restaurant, Red Robin, order something Angus and then sneak out extra steak fries into the movie theater across the street.
I remember being very frustrated. But it was a quiet frustration, one that rarely leaked out of my mind and one that I myself barely understood. I think it was just that I had read too many J.D. Salinger books, seen too many John Hughes movies and listened to far too much bad ’80s music. I would go on long drives in my little, white Honda Civic. I thought I was edging on artistic to drive with no destination. With my music blaring, I thought it was romantic of me to drive 45 minutes away to a popular hiking spot at the edge of Buffalo. I — ever so dramatically — felt as though, if I drove fast or far enough, I’d leave my suburban boredom behind.
I was feeding the angst that was constantly probing my mind. The angst was the same as that self-deprecating mindset that told me my seemingly ordinary day-to-day life had to be better. I had strange expectations for myself that even I did not yet understand. I craved something creative. I wanted an artistic outlet of some sort. Fuck, I think I just wanted to feel something, or understand something that couldn’t be found between the pages of my AP American History textbook.
So, all this confusion, frustration, anxiety, irritation and obsessive behavior had to materialize into something. It eventually did, my senior year, in a particularly strange form. This pent-up “I think I’m artistic or creative but I don’t know how to be or what that even means” feeling was released with the help of Detroit’s own number one white rapper, Eminem.
I’m no Eminem aficionado. I mean, I support and respect his art. I do think he is a phenomenal rapper. His rhymes are clever, and his tone is usually so aggressive that it can be undeniably entertaining. Sometime in the summer leading up to my senior year of high school, I found the piano composition for Eminem’s biggest hit, “Lose Yourself,” on an online sheet music website. I downloaded it, learned the piece and its lyrics one lazy summer day, and let the knowledge rest in my mind palace. I’d play it upon my little sister’s request or for the fun of it with friends. Music brings people together — even shitty raps. So, I don’t want any of that “what was your taste” judgment. We’re all on separate sonic journeys. And it took me a while to find good rap music.
I performed Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” in my school’s talent show my senior year of high school. I told my sister and my six friends what I was doing, but on the sign-up sheet I simply wrote, “Mimi Zak performance.” I had to hide my piece from the teachers in charge of the event. Chalk full of expletives and ‘inappropriate’ content, “Lose Yourself” would never make it past their strict eyes. And so I kept it quiet. It wasn’t until 20 minutes before my performance, when one of the administrators finally asked me what I would be performing, that I was reprimanded.
“You can’t perform that. Who told you that you could perform that piece? I can’t allow you to perform that piece.”
But I didn’t listen. I knew there was not enough time for this one particularly vapid woman to stand between me and what I thought was going to be the greatest performance of the school talent show. I went on to perform the piece. I sang the chorus and rapped the rest. I played perfectly. Halfway through the performance, the microphone fell off the stand. And no one could hear what I was saying, but that was OK. I didn’t need them to hear about Eminem’s dark Detroit struggle. I think it was important to me that I actually just did it.
At the time, I didn’t know why I performed “Lose Yourself” as a solo, acoustic performance at my private, all-girls Catholic school my senior year of high school. But when I retrospectively analyze my former situation, this was just part of my self-actualization process. My life could be different and artistic and romantic. I could be unordinary. Banality wasn’t my reality — it was just the demon that my self-doubts manifested themselves into.
I just wish I picked a different song. Mimi, really, you could have picked any other song.