I am a person who rarely latches onto a ‘fad’ or participates in ‘the latest craze’, or even follows what is ‘most popular’. I am a firm believer in ‘to each their own,’ but having said that, I just have little interest in doing what everyone else does, reading what they read, watching what they watch, and wearing what they wear – simply for the sake of being ‘like everyone else’. I want to be me. It took me a lot of years and a lot of therapy to get happy with ‘me’. I plan to revel in it for the rest of my life.
Over the years, I have successfully avoided all of the following:
1. An iPhone (so far at least)
2. The Twilight Series
3. Bleached hair
4. Body piercing
5. Having a pager
7. Swatch Watches
8. Shoulder Pads ( I left those to Joan Collins and Linda Evans)
9. The Entire Lethal Weapon Film Franchise, and all Mel Gibson films post ‘Galipoli’
10. Cabbage Patch Kids
Oh sure, I owned one or two pair of acid-washed denim pants in my late teens, and I admit there was at one time a Member’s Only jacket in my closet that would have made Will and Grace’s Rosario proud, but that is about as close to ‘trendy’ as I’ve ever come.
Having grown up in a single parent household for most of my childhood, it was drummed into my head early on that we simply ‘couldn’t afford’ this or that. We were probably the last people in our row of houses to get cable t.v. – which in the 1980’s involved perhaps 24 channels with a slider box that you used to select the station you wished to view – and your slider box was connected to the cable outlet by a long cord – none of this remote control nonsense. But that was about the extent of our extravagance in my home. This was the 1980’s, and when my parents separated in 1976 a child support order was nowhere near the hundreds/thousands of dollars per month that custodial parents are awarded presently. My Dad was instructed to pay twenty-five dollars per week, per child, to my mother for the care and maintenance of their three growing children. He occasionally paid it, though more often not, and eventually not at all. He was convinced that my mother was using the money to go out ‘carousing’ as he put it. I’m not what you would call an expert ‘carouser’ myself, really, so I’m not quite sure precisely what is involved, but the free, online dictionary defines it as ‘to engage in boisterous, drunken merrymaking.’ Anyone who knows my mother knows that she is unlikely to have had more than four beers since 1960, a wild night for her has long been watching tennis or Lifetime Network films such as ‘Not Without My Geritol’ beyond 8pm, and she is just slightly more ‘boisterous’ than a medically induced coma. Nevertheless, Dad was convinced she was using any support he gave to her ‘inappropriately,’ and simply stopped paying it. Therefore, we had little money to spare on anything but the bare necessities.
I started ‘earning my keep’ early on – before my teens. I would mow lawns or babysat, both of which proved to be lucrative enough to support my burgeoning love of films and books. I would beg to go to the movies often, and any trip to the Maine Mall, where others of similar age were flocking to Chess King and American Eagle Outfitters, I was scanning the shelves of Walden Books and Booksmith for something new to read. My favorite reads in my ‘tween’ years were not the typical fare of other similarly aged children. I already had a love of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe, as well as many contemporary horror authors. I had been taking ‘questionable’ books out of the small South Windham Public Library, with more than an occasional raised eyebrow from the librarian, for a few years already, but had graduated to purchasing my own copies of suspenseful, blood curdling, spine tingling ‘keep you up late into the night’ works such as Jay Anson’s ‘Amityville Horror’ and ‘666’, and other books by Hans Holzer, William Peter Blatty, and Peter Benchley. I still have most of these books, paperbacks, in storage. A trip to the bookstore was, for me, akin to attending a rock concert unaccompanied by your dorky parent(s) for most kids my age. It was a pilgrimage to Mecca.
I, like many other kids who are simply trying to find their way in life, tried to be ‘like the others’….for a while. I didn’t have the means to dress like them…I didn’t have annual trips to Disneyland to look forward to…my family didn’t have a ‘summer place’….we barely had a roof over our heads for summer and the other three seasons. Still, I did try, for a while, to be like the rest of the kids. It was a monumental failure even before I tried for one simple all encompassing reason.
I wasn’t like the rest of the kids.
I never would be.
I didn’t have a car to drive until I could purchase one myself, and pay for the gas, and the insurance, and the upkeep. I never drove recklessly, as my car represented freedom to me (to get myself from point A to point B without assistance) and wasn’t a ‘status symbol’ of any kind. Other kids my age got their parent’s cars when they bought new (rather than trading). I also attended very few concerts in my youth, unlike many of my contemporaries. The ones I did go to made a lasting impression on me, perhaps because they were so special, so out of the ordinary, so unique that I savored each and every moment rather than lumping it into all the other shows I’d been to recently and just having another rock band t-shirt in my drawer. I have kept nearly every single book I have ever owned (unless it was somehow damaged or destroyed) since I began to buy them before age 13. I have a sizable collection of literature now. Enough to line every wall in a room in my home, and more space in another room, and then some. I am not a candidate for future episodes of ‘Hoarders’. Books are, to me, ‘old friends’ – to have my house full of books is like having hundreds and hundreds of ‘old friends’ to look at whenever I like. They never require picking up the house before they visit. They never overstay their welcome. They don’t empty my fridge, and they don’t have to be reminded to put the toilet seat back up.
I try to balance my own personal preference for individuality with raising the kids. I am not any more ‘well off’ in 2013 than we were in 1979…I try to encourage the kids to be ‘themselves’ and not just want ‘what everyone else has’….but now and then a few Yu-Gi-Oh trading cards to change with their peers isn’t a bad thing…a small indulgence to sate their desire to fit in. I recall, vividly, how difficult it was to be an ‘individual’…especially in my teen years, and all the ridicule it brought. Being ‘yourself’ in your teens is like taking up a brush and painting the red bullseye on your own forehead…or taping the ‘kick me’ sign on your own back…..it’s a rough road to follow. Hopefully I find the right balance to explain this to the boys, and, if they choose to ‘buck the trends’ over time, they find themselves at peace with it much sooner in life than I did.
Over time, I have been told that people have viewed me as a bit of a snob because I don’t follow trends, I rarely ever read anything on the ‘bestseller’ lists, I don’t care to watch awards shows on television, and have no idea who is really ‘hot’ in the music industry these days. I have a smattering of knowledge about pop culture, enough for polite party chatter, but beyond that, I really am not ‘in the know’….and I’m fine with that. While millions and millions have colored their lives ‘fifty shades of gray’….I’ve kept the same pasty white patina on mine that it’s had for the past 45 years. I was never ‘Team Edward’ or ‘Team Jacob’…I was just ‘Team Me’.
I am now 45 years old, and though I look back upon my teens and think it might have made things much easier at the time to try to blend in more, since avoiding it really just made me stand out more than I wished to in the first place, I am grateful in ways for having limited means in my childhood as I have not become rich in the interim, and thereby am content with ‘less’ than others have…truly content….as I just don’t see the need to fall into the belief that you have to have ‘more, bigger, faster, latest’ anything to be happy in life. I have ‘me’ – and my own tastes and interests…..and that’s more than enough to satisfy me.
Society will tell you that kind of thinking is what will destroy America.
Don’t believe the hype.