Unfortunately, I can’t do justice to Michael Stipes’ soaring vocal, but as a teenager I could often be found skulking in corners, eagerly awaiting the comforting blanket of dusk.
It was a huge gulf in audience, that leap from junior to secondary school, I’m not too proud to say I didn’t just flounder, I retreated. I was Clare Danes of My So Called Life, I had all the angst but none of the looks; although I did once unintentionally turn ginger after an unsuccessful budget blonde kit went disastrously wrong.
Those infant steps towards adulthood can be daunting, we’re saturated at such a young age to fit neatly into a generic percentile of ‘normal’ that we forget to place value upon the eccentricities that make us truly exceptional.
U2 probably summed up our species best; we’re one, but we’re not the same, well we, hurt each other then we do it again. Think about it, from a young age we’re systemically taught to fall into camps; the old NYPD rule of divide and conquer. You’re one of us or you’re one of them. Girl or boy, black or white, gay or straight and so on. We’re even coached by glossy magazines into picking sides; Team Aniston or Pitt? Taylor or Perry, Jacob or Edward? Personally, the only ‘beef’ I have is with a Sunday roast and my idea of ‘squad goals’ is keeping the rabble in my head quiet.
What happens when you don’t want to pick a side, when you’d rather paint the fence with Mr Miyagi. When your idea of a heroine is Christina Ricci’s scene stealing Wednesday Addams and you have a penchant for chokers and pillbox rings; well I can tell you from experience, don’t expect the birthday invites to come flooding in.
Thankfully it’s a different generation now, but that heightened state of emotion as your body and psyche evolve toward adulthood remains just as formidable. At least when I was bullied at school I didn’t have to contend with being poked and prodded via social media streams when the last bell sounded the end of the days tortuous sentence. Instead I could bury myself under my duvet, stick my Walkman on and re-read books on the paranormal.
We live in a throw-a-away world where words are flippantly discarded to the ground; literary wrappers. They’re often mashed together in a sign of impatience to end a sentence quicker, an audible version of those teeny cars that struggle to admit their driver. We forget the meaning of what falls from our lips and the accompanying weight that attaches.
Lest we forget, not only the meaning of words but their power. There’s a reason why the pen is mightier than the sword, the choicest insult dripping with enough venom can cut through skin and sear the heart more effectively than any blade. Conversely the value we place upon external labels is our own subjective measure.
Fatty, lezza, ugly…they were just a few of the pin badges which cut through my tender flesh. Admittedly by the end of secondary school I had discovered the joys of comfort eating and could do justice to the ‘truffle shuffle’ owing to a nocturnal habit for gorging on Monster Munch and Jammie Dodgers, but size wise I remained a respectable distance from requiring the emergency services to lift me out of the house, yet perspective eluded me and I was convinced I was the Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters. I discovered other unhealthy habits to stem the tidal wave of emotional unhappiness. I brought the sword down upon myself. It never occurred to me to challenge what I heard.
We are trained to place so much significance on the opinion of others it can become easy to lose sight of our own, to be submerged by the current.
For me school was a petri dish, a stifling environment I felt suffocated by. It took many lessons beyond the chalkboard before I began to accept it was okay to be that misshaped biscuit, that we aren’t all meant to fit into a symmetrical round peg.
For too long a time I was a spectator in my own life, but our lives are just that, ours. So take the red pill, stay in wonderland. As Joey advised Chandler: jump off the high dive, stare down the barrel of the gun, pee into the wind!
Life is a one-way ticket with no return fare. Don’t spend it hiding in the shadows, consoling yourself with the role of narrator:
Be the author of your own story.