Amy B. Smoyer, PhD

Prison Food, Incarcerated Lives, Health & Social Work

Beach in Winter

Miley at 20.
When I was 20 years old, I lived in Madrid.  My job as a nanny was undemanding and entertaining, offering me a nice salary plus room and board in a chic apartment in the city center.  Nice set up.

Then "20" hit out of nowhere and things started getting funky.  After tensions rose in the house due to my selfish and unprofessional behavior, I quit the job, did a bit of couch surfing, and then decided to move to the resort town of Ibiza, on the island of the same name, with a couple of friends.  From perfect plan to no plan in 60 seconds or less.

We arrived to Ibiza in early March and found winter.  Who knew? Yes, winter comes to the Mediterranean as well.  The downside of this condition was that there were no tourists, which translated into no jobs.  The upside was that there were no tourists, which meant this place was beautiful and calm. What is more stunning that the beach in winter?  No ugly T-Shirts.  No crowds.  The streets and the beaches were empty, hotels shuttered, only locals lingering quietly along the piers and in coffee shops.  One of us managed to get a part-time night job in security and this salary carried all three of us through the winter.  Mostly what we did was hang out in our unfurnished apartment, listening to the radio, and doing what we want to, as Miley would say.

The number one song during that winter of 1990 was Sinead O'Conner's Nothing Compares 2 U.  If we had a 1,000 pesetas for every time we heard that song on our little radio, we would have been living large.  But frankly, with basically nothing to our names, we actually lived pretty large.  Three 20 year-olds with nothing but our imagination and the world around us to fill those long cloudy days and nights.  Our house, our rules, as Miley would say.

Now it's 23 years later and Miley Cyrus is #1 on the radio and her song, Wrecking Ball, is accompanied by a video that literally made me shudder the first time I saw it.  I actually had to look away because the "20" was so thick and gooey.  I was busy railing against the misogyny, desperation, and objectification of this young artist's grown-up image when, coincidentally, Sinead O'Conner came out with a public statement about the video which, as the fates would have it, Miley says was based on the Nothing Compares 2 U video.  Among other thing, Sinead scolded Miley for selling out to the man and allowing sexual shenanigans to overshadow her singing talent.  My reaction to this unsolicited advice was, "Go! Go! You righteous bald lady! Tell that little girl how to live her life!"

But then I realized it wasn't going to be that easy.  Sinead's resurfacing brought me back to that winter at the beach.  Back to when I wore underwear as outerwear and lived in a sparsely furnished apartment with strangers.  Engaged in what we in the business like to call "risk behaviors."  Suddenly, Miley's teddy bears didn't seem so wrong.  When did I become the old person from the Bowie song, spitting on children who are trying to change their world?  Maybe Sinead and I know things that we didn't know back then, that would have been helpful to us, and/or maybe there are things that we have forgotten that would be helpful to remember.  Thanks, Miley, for reminding me.  Don't stop.

Winter became spring and then summer at the beach, the English and Germans came en masse, and soon we all had jobs.  I got work as a bartender at a go-kart place on the highway.  The owner was tall, thin man who liked to drink Tia Maria and dance after the bar closed down.  His nephew, the cart mechanic, was an injection heroin user whose deeply set vacant eyes and hollow cheeks still burn in my memory.  In the early afternoons, before the drunk tourists descended on the bar, the women who worked at the brothel next door would stop by for a beer.  It wasn't the glamourous nightclub scene that I had hoped for when I imagined what life on Ibiza would be like, it was better.  My "20" - whatever it was or meant or didn't mean - brought me into a world that captured my imagination and sparked the inquiry that has fueled my professional life ever since.

So, go ahead Miley, lick that hammer!  Get naked on the big ball!  Do that thing with your tongue and your butt and whatever else it is that your "20" brings.  I may let some harm reduction messages slip now and then, but I am not going to stand in your way.  Afterall, you're just being Miley.