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Our Pants:

In which John rides the train and thinks about misery and bullying in middle school.
Good morning Hank, it's Tuesday.

So due to tornadoes and broken airplanes and a chain of events too complicated for my exhausted brain to unravel, I have visited airports 9 times in the past 100 hours and I am very tired, and recently I unexpectedly found myself alone on a train in New York, the city where Brotherhood 2.0 began for me, and also the city where earlier this year we played a sold out show at Carnegie Hall, a dependent clause that I will get tired of saying when never.

So anyway, there I was on the train blinking a lot, because my eyes desperately wanted to be closed, and I kept thinking about this Tumblr message I had received earlier, from a middle school student, who is currently attending the very same school that I attended in 7th grade, and who has one of the same teachers that I had.

The message read in part: Ms [name retracted] and I were talking, and she told me that you were a quiet, unique and miserable boy in middle school. She also told me that you were bullied because of your awesomeness. 

It didn't feel like awesomeness at the time of course, at the time, I was just miserable. I mean Hank, you'll note that this teacher didn't say I was a good student, because I wasn't. I wasn't merely a nerd, I was, or at least I felt like I was, a stupid nerd, which is like the worst kind of combo. I take that back, pizza combos are the worst kind of combos, they are an insult to pizza.

But anyway, I almost never think about middle school now Hank, but the message really forced me to remember it, and also I was on a train, which inherently makes you kind of nostalgic. So yeah, it's true that I was miserable, and that I was bullied. In fact, I would often fantasize about hurting my bullies, or holding a gun to their heads and making them apologize, making them feel as scared and powerless as I felt. But of course, that isn't the way forward.

I realize now that the people who bullied me were not evil, they were kids, living with their own fear and pain, some of whom were dealing with trauma and abuse that I never even could of imagined. Now that doesn't justify their behavior, but it does help me to understand that it really wasn't about me. Their treatment of me was not a reflection of my value as a human being, and while it was very difficult for me to feel anything but miserable in those days, in retrospect I survived middle school because many people in fact were quite kind to me. My parents, teachers, fellow nerds and even popular strangers who wouldn't stand for bullying.

We decide collectively what kind of behavior is acceptable, and while The Lord of the Flies would have you believe that like adolescents always descend into mere cruelty, my experience of social orders has been much more complicated. I've found that sometimes, often even, kids are capable of tremendous kindness and generosity, in fact that's been the hallmark of the nerdfighter community for more than seven years now, and I'm proud to be a nerdfighter in part because I wish so much that I could have been one in 7th grade. There are always nerdfighters in Our Pants (link in the dooblydoo) who will listen to you if you will also listen back, and that is truly awesome.

Right so anyway Hank, there was this moment onstage at Carnegie Hall, during the sound check, when John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats said into the mic: "this is a message for sixteen year old me, not only did you survive, you are playing piano at Carnegie Hall". Now I'm not going to tell you that like everyone who has a tough time as a kid ends up at Carnegie Hall, but the idea that those years have to be the best of your life is just ridiculous. 

So to the young woman who wrote me, to myself, stranded far from home in an endless string of airports and train rides, I call up the great Robert Frost quote: "The only way out is through". You will get through. I will get through. 

Hank, I will see you, hopefully from Indianapolis, on Friday.