“I’m Janis Joplin,” I think as I hold the small flame from my Bic lighter up to the twisted-off end of my joint. It lights, and I feel the mental exhaustion I’d been previously facing quickly begin to subside. I’ve tried everything to mask the insecurities: drugs, sex, alcohol. I love them all. I recall my previous conceptions about the self-medicators, the burnouts, the sluts. What I once saw as tasteless, senseless and reckless, I now see only as genius. To be so instantly relieved of what feels like constant anxiety seems almost silly to ignore.
When you’re young, it’s easy to imagine a life free of averageness and mediocrity. The further away the future seems, the more lovely and exciting it feels. When you were asked as a child what you wanted to be when you grew up, you said “scientist” or “author” or “astronaut.” When you got older, you switched to something like “engineer” or “doctor” or “lawyer.” But then, not everyone can be a doctor or a lawyer.
So after a semester of college, you changed your major. Then changed it again. Then, suddenly, you became enlightened of your corporate and societal oppressions. You dismissed them. You stuck it to the man by getting high and blowing off assignments. You found art again, and remembered that you once, in kindergarten, wanted to be an author.
When I have this realization, I am a freshman in college, coming to terms with my mediocrity that I had been so blinded from in my younger years. There is depression followed by several failed attempts at therapy. I take full advantage of the medicinal qualities of drugs and alcohol, though I prefer drugs. Vodka, LSD, and ecstasy become my weekend relievers, while weed and beer get me through the week. I finish my first semester of college with a 2.0 GPA and chlamydia.
You change. You become someone you’ve never met before. You face fears you had no idea ever existed. And then you realize, I am not Janis Joplin. You are an English student with shit grades from past failed endeavors. You’re a biology major with no backup plan if you don’t get into medical school. You got too many B’s and not enough A’s, and won’t be able to compare to the others battling for a spot in the only master’s programs you’ve ever considered. The future looms of financial and emotional instability. It’s a magical experience to be twenty-years-old and seduced by a future of self-expression and freedom. It’s an incredibly dismal experience to realize that, perhaps, a future of divorce and diet plans from infomercials instead haunts your existence. Fear looms constantly of a future without travel and experience, and smiles like Janis from her short, Bohemian life. But who has time for travel when there are expenses to be paid? No, there is only time for the hazy evenings during which one may forget the $112.97 that you need for the damn cable bill.
The cloud of smoke filling the room grows denser with every exhalation, each instilling a deeper contempt for things so petty as my four pending parking tickets. There is no time for excitement or creation; there is only time to fulfill obligations, and then to forget they exist with every puff of the joint. I am not Janis Joplin. I am not Jerry Garcia or Bob Marley. The allurement of a free-spirited lifestyle, the enchantment provided by the promise that every day stresses dissolve once you decide to live for nothing but your own happiness, wanes. How entranced we all are by the idea of living for such exultation. The fullness of Janis’ smile in photographs from her short life and the glamour of Stevie Nicks’ untroubled, fluid spins on stage left everything to be desired.