Tuesday, September 3, 2013

If You Are a Non-Conformist, Copy and Paste This Into Your Profile

The first time I saw Alice Dorset, she was thumping her way across the music room of our school, lugging a saxophone case bigger than she was, wearing her (knee-length) kilt hemmed so long it fell almost to her ankles, and muttering fluently to herself in what I later learned was Arabic.Insecure little middle-schooler that I was, I was naturally terrified out of my mind.Here was someone of my own age group that was so aggressively quirky that she didn't even have an L.L. Bean backpack.Not only that, but there was not a scrap of North Face anywhere on her person.As I rapidly learned, these were sins unforgivable to a certain select group of girls in our class, which made a point of ignoring her or teasing her; the rest of the grade just tried not to get involved, in case she really did bite like the rumors said.

I'd love to say that my best friend and I fell in platonic love at first sight and hit it off from the start, that we discovered we had a great deal in common in our first conversation and that night we became blood brothers.Not so.I only sought out Alice and tried to become her friend specifically because I had declared private war on that one particular select group of girls, and I figured that this was a soldier I could easily convert to my cause.To my frustration and annoyance, the quiet submissive weird Alice refused to be dominated by me, and utterly refused to become like me.I am relieved and happy to say that through nearly continuous exposure to her over the seven years of middle and high school and as many visits as we can swing while in college, I have become something like her.

By far the single most important thing that Alice taught me was how to love being young, how to love being alive, and how to love being a part of our own generation.At the time when we met, I was a snarky, rebellious little seventh grader with an artistically ripped-up uniform and Sharpie-colored nails, heavy eyeliner and a loud mouth, illegal black-spiked jewelry and an ugly attitude, my half-inch of hair gelled into aggressive spikes that sent my message to the world: Don't touch me.Don't come near me.I scorned popular bands as cheap and pass , I dismissed activists as sob-story moralizers, I whined loudly and often about the utter injustice of having to attend school, having to go to class, having to listen to the evil propaganda passed down by the administration to try and make us into automatons.I made it a personal point of pride to lambast High School Musical in every conversation I ever had--never mind that I'd never even seen the film and therefore had no grounds to comment on it at all.I hated everything so loudly and vehemently that I forgot to like things as well.I read classical books that bored me to tears so that I could loftily dismiss people's questions about popular literature with the excuse that I was reading real material and had little time for such things as Clique or Pride and Prejudice.I sloughed though Stephen King novels that disgusted and horrified me just so that I could shock people by carrying them around.I must have been quite a sight, a tiny four-foot six-inch twelve-year-old with ballpoint tattoos and a cinderblock-sized copy of Christine tucked under one arm.

Well, I think you know where this story is going.Because Miss Giant Saxophone and Schizophrenic Muttering didn't give a crap about any of that.I had all the show and glam of being a nonconformist, but Alice Dorset was the genuine article.She listened to bands I'd never heard of--and accompanied them with the soundtrack to Rent.She wore pink because (heaven forbid) she liked the color, not because it was what a person was supposed to wear--or not.She was familiar with a lot of the popular trends in our class, and chose to reject them or conform to them by turns, depending on what she herself thought.Not what anyone else was supposed to think of her; it was entirely possible for her to love both Gossip Girl and Twin Peaks, all at once.She taught me how to stop being afraid to love things, how to listen to music and read books that would earn me scorn or approval and how to take both in equal measure.It was Stravinsky and Britney Spears, Ernest Hemingway and Jodi Piccoult, and it was perfect.

I knew I was way, way too cool in our class to hang around with the likes of her, but the truth was that she was far too cool for the likes of me.It's because she loved being in our generation.She was a terrible influence on my individualism, to say the least.By the time we were powering through tenth grade together, I had let my hair go dirty-blond and curly, I didn't bother with make-up because it was easier without, and I wildly, joyfully read the books that were popular, saw the films that Hollywood prepackaged, and listened to music that had nothing to do with deep inner pain or raging against the fascist regime.Worst of all, I admitted that I genuinely liked reading and writing in English and American History class and doing experiments in Biology and even (heaven forbid) learning new concepts in Trigonometry.

What I realized along the way is that I love being young, I love being stupid (Or is it that I love being smart?), and I love finding things to love.It didn't matter that Linkin Park was a bunch of whiny white boys--their instrumental harmonies kicked ass.Maybe cartoons were for babies--but if that was true than our brilliantly artistic baby shows trump our overdone melodramatic adult shows any day.I read every single Harry Potter book and cheered for Team Ginny the entire way.I actually watched High School Musical--and discovered I still hated it.I dared to admit to myself that I actually liked music by Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson.I even tried watching American Idol--and hated that too, and so dropped it because I could.It may be stupid of me, but I love my own generation dearly.Someday I want to say to my kids, I was a Potter Girl.I was a Little Monster.I was an otaku.I was a Twi-tard, God damn it, and I was proud of that fact no matter how many people tried to tell me I should be ashamed of myself for wanting to enjoy a popular series of novels.

That is one thing that I think this generation could use a little less of: disapproval.You can't mention Mahatma Gandhi's groundbreaking peaceful revolution without someone piping up that he refused his wife painkillers for religious reasons.It was with vindictive joy that the world found out that Mother Teresa occasionally doubted God just like every single other human being on the planet.Every single American president, every folk hero, every great writer or artist or any person that ever achieved the tiniest measure of fame has a whole laundry list of grievances that the world holds against them, and these are what we hear when their names come up.No one talks about how President Clinton raised the standard of living for the entire two-hundred-million-person nation, but "Monika Lewinski" is a household name.You can't compliment Pope John Paul for giving over half of the money of the entire Catholic Church to humanitarian aid while essentially ending homophobia for the single largest centrally organized religion in the entire world without someone digging out the fact that eight centuries ago one of his predecessors approved the killing of "infidels."

So what if Stephenie Meyer can't write as well as, say, J.K. Rowling? Does that mean that we should start yelling at ten-year-old kids when they admit to liking her books?Maybe Bill Gates lives in a mansion and pollutes the atmosphere, but anyone who hasn't given three billion dollars to AIDS relief can just shut the hell up about him.Lady Gaga is a sell-out of the highest order--but then so is every single artist ever to make it onto an MP3 player.And she teaches young girls that they can be freaks if they so desire, while cheerfully conforming to or rejecting the standards of Madonna and Freddy Mercury.That's what Alice is as well, because she didn't stand against anything, because she was too busy standing forgay rights and free market ideals, pro-life laws and anti-death-penalty ones as well.I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer long after vampires were so last year, and Avatar the Last Airbender when I was a full decade above the target audience's age.

If you're wondering who those rabid fan girls are who scream themselves hoarse at rock concerts and weird conventions, you're looking at one of them.The door to my room has a "Hipster and proud!" bumper sticker because I love the paradox.I own tee-shirts declaring my love for Fight Club, for The Hunger Games, for The Who and Guns 'N Roses, for The Bridger Chronicles and Death Note. For the past four years I've attended the largest anime and manga convention on the entire east coast; last year I even participated in a fan panel on Axis Powers Hetalia.I attracted stares walking around downtown Baltimore dressed all in black with two broadswords strapped across my back, a hand-drawn blue and white demon mask on my head, and an enormous red and brown flame painted across most of the left side of my face, but I loved every moment of it.

Perhaps our generation has its standards set too high.We are the children of the flower children, the reaction decade of the reaction decade of the reaction decade of the 1960s.From our aging-hippie parents we learned to hope for a perfect world filled with perfect people, and to scorn anything short of that.We learned from middle-aged white-collar suburbanites who were married-with-kids never to trust anyone over thirty, that there was no need to live in organized society, that monogamy was a restriction on true love, that contraceptives would save the world, that being your own person was the most important thing.Best of all, we get to watch Vietnam happen all over again in Afghanistan, as people scream at each other on the news and reveal that still not enough has changed when it comes to women and minorities and gays and the poor, because it's all still happening.Is it any wonder that we grew up cynical, in the wreckage and ruin and tattoo regret and lingering drug addictions that came from the joyously rebellious sixties? I conformed to that attitude for two long, and then I found out that life is too short not to love something about everything.

Either way, Alice was there to quash my inner rebel, to teach me how to let my eyes adjust rather than curse the damn dark.I was a forty-something in the body of a twelve-year-old; nowadays, I'm a twelve-year-old that just happens to look nineteen.She taught me frivolity, and carelessness.She taught me to channel my inner genius towards fan fiction and cosplay rather than just Charles Dickens and world domination.She taught me to ignore the bad and look for the good; maybe the world isn't perfect, but that's why we protest about it.Maybe people shouldn't do the things they do, in which case we should all stop bitching and start throwing flowers instead.Here's to you, Alice Dorset, for making me nothing like you, and nothing like anyone else either.

Kyoya Ootori said it best: "You're an idiot if you think that a little capriciousness ever harmed a truly serious man.I wouldn't be who I was if I didn't know a few incredible pointless people."And to think.I wouldn't even know who Kyoya Ootori was if not for Alice.

Note: Alice's real name has been slightly altered for the purpose of this blog post.
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