Sunday, September 20, 2015

Lit – "My Own Worst Enemy" (1999)

It's no surprise to me
I am my own worst enemy

The last 2 or 3 lines paid tribute to the much-loved educational computer game, Oregon Trail, which I played with my kids in the 1990s.

Earlier this week, I took my daughters to see the premiere production of Bekah Brunstetter's new play, "The Oregon Trail," which is one of the 50 or so plays written by women that are being presented in Washington-area theaters this fall as part of the "Women's Voices Theater Festival."  

Ich Bin ein Feministin!  (And I don't mean "I'm a jelly-filled pastry!")

The main characters of "The Oregon Trail" are two teenaged girls named Jane.

 "Now Jane" is a whiny, depressed teenager living in 1997 who tries to forget her troubles (real and imagined) by playing Oregon Trail in the computer lab at her school.  

"Now Jane"
"Then Jane" is a 13-year-old making the very difficult 2000-mile journey from Missouri to Oregon with her family in 1848.

"Then Jane"
The play goes back and forth between the two Janes.  The contemporary Jane's wounds are almost wholly self-inflicted – like the singer of today's featured song, she is her own worst enemy.  

When you see her moping around and making excuses, you can't help but think of the immortal words of Hank Hill: "BABY WANT A BOTTLE?" 

By contrast, the 1848-era Jane's problems – hunger, illness, and the difficulty of getting an overloaded covered wagon across a rail-swollen river – are all too real.

You can't help but feel more sympathy for "Then Jane," especially [SPOILER ALERT!] when her father and older sister die on the trail.  

But both Janes are suffering, and their suffering causes both of them to wonder if life is really worth living.  (Then Jane's mother apparently committed suicide a year before her father decided to pack up and head west, and that fact weights very heavily on her.)

[ANOTHER SPOILER ALERT!]  But the play ends happily.  Both Janes decide that while there is life, there is hope – dum spiro, spero – and they decide not to pack it in after all.  (Yay!)

"The Oregon Trail" computer game
Watching "The Oregon Trail" was an intensely nostalgic experience for reviewer Jennifer Clements – a young playwright who is about the same age as my daughters:

[U]ltimately, "The Oregon Trail" . . . invites you to return, for a moment, to your own young days of blazing the trail.

For me?  It harkened back to 7th grade, Mrs. Cushman’s keyboarding class, in a hidden classroom tucked behind a dance studio and a writing center.  Our monitors faced away from the teacher’s desk, and when we’d completed our lessons on finger placement and speed-typing, we would open the beloved game.

Macintosh IIc computer
To this day, no one knows why the game was installed on those computers in the first place.  Perhaps, like learning to type, surviving the trek to Oregon was a rite of passage intended for every new middle school student.  And, like that middle school student, "The Oregon Trail" is sometimes awkward, still growing into itself, but mostly just cute.  (Plus, the program gives you suggestions for your own ‘90s playlist, which is, like, a super kewl bonus.)

That playlist includes angst-laden songs by Bush ("Glycerine"), Live ("Lightning Crashes"), and Alanis Morissette ("Hand in My Pocket").  

It also includes today's featured song, Lit's "My Own Worst Enemy," which spent eleven weeks at #1 on the "Modern Rock Tracks" chart in 1999.

Critic James Oldham nailed it when he described the song as "totally loathsome, poisonous stuff, but quite addictive."  

Here's the official music video for "My Own Worst Enemy."  You'll never see cooler bowling balls and shoes than the ones in the video:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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