Who We Are

I’ve always been interested in costuming and clothes design, because I think clothes are an “unspoken language.” It’s fascinating to see how clothes can be used to conjure up moods, values, lifestyles. I’ve always thought I’ve wanted to upgrade my wardrobe, but as my time out of state is coming to a close, I realize it’s more than that. I always wanted to try on a different lifestyle.

The kind that always wears long skirts and sandals in the summer, and buys all their vegetables from the farmer’s market. They kind that wear those really cool riding boots in the fall, with chunky knit accessories (like fingerless gloves), and goes apple picking in the orchard and goes for long walks in the foggy mornings with their well-behaved dog. The kind who wears wool winter coats that aren’t black, and drinks hot cocoa with homemade marshmallows in trendy little coffee shops. The kind who greets spring with a whimsical umbrella and rubber boots, splashing in the rain and laughing like a child. The kind who is always in shape, always classy, always doing something fun and adventurous, and apparently is never, ever stressed or runs out of laundry.

Clearly, by the time we get to “never runs out of laundry,” we all know I’m dealing with complete fiction. But I still had plenty of ideological conceptions of things I’d try while I was living here. Some were small things; some were big things. I didn’t do them all, not even a fraction, of course. But I met people who did. And upon reflection, I am surprised to find that they repulsed me.

Not in the sense of greatly disgusted; in the sense of “invisible forces pushing us apart.” We didn’t value the same things at all, and in order to have “that kind of life” you had to have “those kinds of values.” I wanted the life without budging on my values. Because I don’t have a problem with my values, thank you very much (well, most of them). I just didn’t realize they were so tied. I thought if I just “put myself in different experiences,” well, I’d experience them. What I found was that the decisions and actions you had to make in order to put yourself in the experiences were itself a limitation. In the most simple example, I have no interest in embracing consumerism; but how then am I supposed to get all those great clothes? I took one look at my limited budget, and invested in good food. I took one look at my time limits, and invested in sleeping in and quiet walks on the lake shore — not shopping. When I could have carefully powdered my face, I read webcomics.

And by one look, I mean — well, probably not even. The decisions seemed so “obvious” to me that I don’t think I even realized making them. Do we even really chose those things, or are they just part of us? I guess that’s why I found it so interesting. I wondered how much of what I did was based on my surroundings, and what would happen if you transplanted me to a different surrounding. What would I take to then? People say that often once they move away from the people they grew up with, they suddenly find a new “freedom of expression” and you see what appears to be a change in taste or lifestyle.

I’ve always liked the idea that I am independent enough in who I am that I wouldn’t be easily swayed by outside sources, but I always wondered if that was true, or if I was just blind to the sources I was swayed by. Out of state, I had plenty of room to be swayed by other people. In fact, I kind of wanted to. It’s very isolating not to belong, and it’s hard not to think that if you would just conform – even a little! – you wouldn’t be so alone. But I couldn’t do it. Not even a little. I don’t have a religious objection to painting my nails, but do you realize how long that takes? Good land. How many millions of minutes to ladies with polished nails flush away every year. And I do refuse to watch the popular shows, even though that cuts me out of a lot of small talk, because talk about a time-drain. Way too many other things that I value more. Sometimes I even tried to not be such a know-it-all in class, but it was boring and so much effort sitting around in the awkward silence, and I finally figured: oh, well. So I’m a know-it-all. I’m sorry. But I’m bored and frustrated, and no one here really likes me anyhow, so what have I got to lose?

I realize that’s one of the reasons why I want to be back where I came from. Not that people didn’t paint their nails there; they did. But I’m tired of people wearing “athletic tights” and calling them pants, and I’m tired of only-child syndrome, and all the beer talk. I’m tired of people living an up-scale life and calling themselves “poor college students.” Yeah, and also, right. Rather than successfully conforming to a new culture and way of life, I’ve concluded it’s not for me. I don’t want to be successful. I want to be weird. Not “trendy-weird.” I want to be “crazy-weird.” Crazy weird, like the kind of weird that actually somehow leaves a thumb-print of change on the world, not trendy-weird like being featured in publications and making a fancy paycheck.

And apparently, crazy-weird doesn’t wear the cool riding boots in the fall, or the floaty skirts in the summer. Crazy-weird is a good deal more ugly, and doesn’t photograph well. Well, I don’t know. Maybe some peoples’ crazy-weird does. But I keep trying to find a way to make my life photogenic, and I think I just wasn’t made that way. I don’t think I’m every going to do “photogenic.” I guess the question is, why did I ever want to in the first place?

I think because, to me, photogenic also implies a certain level of deliberateness. Things are this way because I meant them to be. But every time I meet someone photogenic, I feel that same repulsion of “honey, you’re trying way too hard.” I don’t want to be trying too hard. But I keep seeking a “somethingness” that says, “ok, you aren’t faking it anymore; this is who you meant to be.” I’m still waiting for a bench mark that says, “ok, you made it.”

Regardless of anything else, I’m certainly not going to find that by borrowing other peoples’ dreams or values or lifestyles. So the only thing I’ve really learned is that I need to be my own weird, unphotogenic self, and only try to do the things that I really do think are worth while. Which are words that everyone says, but then they bombarde you with other words, too, like “everyone should travel and see the world!”

But somehow, I still want to refine “be weird,” too. I want to, somehow, find and define my own aesthetic, but it seems to be so elusive. I guess I’m just not ready to give up on that yet, for better or for worse.

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