Friday, September 14, 2012

Don't change.

Ever since I learned years ago about the Harajuku area in Japan and the styles of dress so prevalent there, I've been completely enchanted. I immediately felt such a kinship with those who participate in this community. I love how the attitude is so outwardly displayed in peoples' storybook, colorful, wild, or just simply cartoony outfits. And the community-at-large seems so inclusive of all of the different individuals and their styles. In my mind I view the community as bright, larger-than-life, full of creative experimentation and fearless fun with no apologies. Being joyful in your own uniqueness while also celebrating others' originality. My delight in the whole Harajuku style is something I've surprisingly never mentioned here. But I think that's because, in order to share why it resonates so much with me, I also need to share with you some of the reasons why.

I was the "different" one in school. And I mean, forever. From K-12, solid. It was always something: In Kindergarten, my teacher favored me because I was the 'artist' in the class. So, that set me apart in some ways. But I also was sort of a sensitive child, and one day in this class, I got sick all over the place... and, well, that was the clincher. I don't think anyone talked to me for six months after that. Then, the summer before fourth grade, my sisters and I were fairly drop-shipped to a completely different life. We went from the Hollywood Hills, public school, and a fairly independent living situation, to a Boston suburb, a very strict Catholic school, and 24/7, hyper-strict (and, in some ways questionable) supervision over everything. So, there were some rocky roads to travel both at home and at school. But, I had three things that, most of the time, worked in my favor: my art, my attitude, and my sense of humor. I was able to get through a lot of tough times with that magic combination.

My art came in extremely handy at times as a bargaining chip at school, but more importantly it was always a source of therapy and it was absolutely my "safe place", 24/7 . (How many people can say they have such a healthy coping mechanism?) Regarding the positive attitude: I basically trained myself to ignore negativity as much as possible. I know the word "ignore" sort of sounds, well, ignorant, but given my environment, it was simply necessary, and along the way I got pretty good at it. As for the sense of humor, it may be last in that sentence up there, but it certainly has never been least in importance. A sense of humor is necessary to survive well, whether the chips are up or down, but especially when they're down.  I learned that a sense of humor became way more important to my survival than it probably ever would have, had I been in a different situation.

In middle school for instance, when the chips were down, I found myself drawn to books such as "2,000 insults for all occasions". I read it obsessively, and I was convinced that memorizing and practicing the better one-liners would turn my predators into my prey when the magic moment materialized. Ultimately, the reality was that my timing was never very good. But, the flip-side is that it helped to nurture my interest in putting words together and eventually I learned that I really love to write. Luckily, my sense of humor also kept me from being completely isolated from my peers. No matter how rough times got, I always seemed to be able to cultivate, or keep (depending on my fairly frequent slot as the new-kid-in-school) a friendship or two, or sometimes even three! I somehow got people to laugh, and even if sometimes it was at my own expense. I didn't really care. I was the comic relief. And that role was fine with me—not only on a survival level, but hey, the shoe fit. It was my sweet spot. Laughter is a great diffuser and an amazing people-connector. Humor saved me infinitely.

So, being a sort of fish out of water was my lot and once I figured that out, I owned it. And actually, despite all of the lumps, being "different" helped me out in the long run. You just can't buy an education like that. And, if you could, would you really sign up for it? I can't say I'd ever trade it, though, because in the end, my creative endeavors also became the tools to my survival.

On the last day of high school, in my yearbook I saw the same words showing up over and over in the goodbye messages from my peers. "You're so different". "You're so unique". Different, unique, different. Hey, I didn't take it as an insult, but it also wasn't the first time I'd heard it before. Seeing it in print just merely solidified my alien-like status. But that day, I discovered something new. Under "You're so different", "You're so unique", I also saw "Don't change". " Written again and again, by several different people. On the last day of school. I finally realized that, just by being my own self,  different as I was, I'd made a positive difference to others in some way, without ever knowing it.

I guess you just never know who else is paying attention. But, YOU always are. So stay true to yourself.. and don't change a thing.
Stay gold, Ponyboy.