Living on the Edge

“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

It is easy to forget that there is a whole world out there waiting to be experienced.

We often don’t realize what a small corner of the world we inhabit. Our lives become routine for various reasons including: necessity (we need to pay the bills and/or take care of others), choice (we like what is familiar) or habit (it is easier/less risky to do the same things over and over).

Occasionally something forces us out of our comfort zone or we purposely venture out and seek new experiences. My kids interest in music in general, and in particular heavy metal type music when they were younger, provided me with just such adventures.

Kids today have worlds of music at their fingertips that few of us “old folks” could even have imagined. My kids enjoyed exploring these worlds and before long they began forming bands and making their own music. Their foray into music has been great fun and a positive experience for all.

They soon became interested in seeing as much live music as possible and I accompanied them to several of the shows on their wish list. Given that many of the initial acts they wanted to see were on the harder side of the music genre made for some very interesting concerts.

It is difficult to describe these shows in just a few words. One word that comes to mind is “Scary”. Almost immediately you realize you are in a place with people that are very different than those you typically encounter. Most are dressed in dark clothing. Most have scraggly hair. Many have tattoos showing around their clothes. Many have piercings sticking out from various parts of their bodies.

I remember calling my wife from one of these shows and telling her, “I have just delivered our sons to the 7th layer of hell”. I went on to describe a person there who was handing out Satan worshipping pamphlets, two women who were wearing only body paint for tops, and various vendors with booths at these concerts that included a strip club, a tattoo shop and recruiters from all of the armed forces.

Not surprisingly I often looked around and wondered whether bringing my kids to these shows was a good thing, a bad thing or somewhere in-between. Musically I actually think it was a good thing as surprisingly many of the bands were very talented.

Socially/culturally it was probably not all bad either. Middleton is certainly a very nice place to live. The schools are great, the neighbors are friendly, and there are parks/paths everywhere. It’s also close to Madison, which is a magnet city for many cool things. There are certainly problems in our community but they are usually not that obvious unless you know where to look.

There are undeniably destructive undercurrents running through these shows. I have no doubt that drugs are a part of at least a sub-culture, as are other potentially dangerous activities. At the last show I went to two of the acts had band members who died in the past year from drug overdoses. Many of the other band members looked like they were candidates for that to happen to them too.

As a parent this is troubling. Whenever I see an example like that I talk to my kids about it, and discuss what they need to do to avoid being in situations that could lead to similar problems. I know that these problems aren’t limited to people who are into music, but I am not naïve. As such I was not ready to let my kids go unaccompanied there, but I think at the end of the day being exposed to different ways of living provides a useful perspective.

I also suspect many in attendance dressed up (or down) for the event and put on their best piercings, make-up, and/or body paint. For example, I doubt many of them wear body paint to their places of employment. Then again maybe a few of them do.

Vonnegut talked about walking as close to the edge as he could without going over, and that is what going to these shows with your kids feels like. There are a lot of good things to see on the edges, but there are some bad things too, and the trick is in knowing how to navigate these boundaries. I know I have seen a lot at these concerts that I haven’t seen anywhere else. The funny thing is the people that go to these concerts aren’t bussed in from out of state or from underground. We share the same zip codes, but our lives don’t intersect that often. I also believe that most in attendance were basically good people. Just because they look different doesn’t mean they are better or worse than anyone else.

I have very much enjoyed stepping out together with my sons in this way. I am concerned for the times when I won’t be there with them but feel like that is part of what growing up is about, for them and for me.

The great thing about the world we live in is that there are lots of corners like this out there, and all you have to be is curious and a bit adventurous and the world is your oyster, or so the fortune cookie says.

Here is hoping you find some interesting and thought provoking things on the edges of your journeys!

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