F*ck… I Really Lived That!
This is a story about a 14-year-old girl with wide eyes.
I remember her quite fondly, and in fact, I carry her around.
First day of high school. 4:37 am. Nearly three hours before my first class would start.
I rose, groggy, rubbing my eyes, full of anticipation and devotion to showing up fierce.
Naturally, as we become adults, we carry this little pattern. Big day, must look hot.
Except, for me, at the time, it became an anxiety-inducing container that I would live in for many, many days.
Wake up early to have ample time to:
Completely flatten the natural waves of my hair until they were pin straight, sleek, shining, untouchable.
Select the appropriately coordinated head-to-toe Abercombie & Fitch ensemble that would highlight the non-existent curves on my still child’s body, though I had already learned that my body would be objectified, analyzed, and consumed, so I desperately wished for it to look differently.
Painstakingly choose accessories. Tediously apply makeup in ways I had read in magazines would be alluring to the male species, and also make me feel more prepared to act like I was important and fearless.
Agonize over any conversations I had stayed up late to have on AOL Instant Messenger.
Take a few deep breaths, gloss my lips, and prepare myself for a day of performing for other people.
What’s funny is that this story is no different from what many adults experience on a day-to-day basis, merely going to work or going out to meet friends.
What will they think of me?
What if they don’t like me?
What if my outfit is stupid?
A year of this behavior under my belt, and the fire inside me kicked in. I’ve always been a rebel, but this was my first taste of what I was really made of.
Prior to this, I’d mostly been a tomboy — wearing dresses to climb trees and scraping my knees, and running through the woods and on the beach with many of my male friends. I laughed loudly, didn’t worry about what my hair looked like, ate candy for breakfast, and disregarded any idea that I should be any other way, because no one had ever told me I wasn’t exactly how I should be.
Slowly I learned.
This is how to act.
This is how to look.
This is how to make sure people adore you.
Don’t laugh too loud.
Have perfect hair.
Be quiet and mostly listen if you want the attention of anyone you find attractive.
The flames began to bloom.
I was tired.
The questions began.
I discovered music.
In fact, my introduction to punk rock and the Boston Hardcore scene came at this time. And while most who know me would find this influence on my life both surprising and unsurprising, it shaped me. It politicized my feelings. It gave philosophical validation to my awareness that, actually, everything I was engaging in was not for me, but for someone else.
I was performing.
And how many of us are performing every day?
How many of us are rising and moving and dressing in a way that is just so as to not throw off the homeostasis we have carefully constructed, so others might look at our lives and think, “Wow, she’s really got it together. Her hair is perfect. Look at how she smiles. Look at how many people she knows!”
And, sadly, what this means is: how many of us are living a half-life?
How many of us are living, sometimes unconsciously, in devotion to other people?
How many of us, because of some experience that we can’t quite remember, or one we painfully do, formed the idea that we are not enough exactly as we are?
Hair wild, laughter loud, complete disregard for the opinions of others?
The need for validation is pervasive. And it’s not gendered. Male, female, neither, both — we are all raised with the idea that we must shape ourselves to appeal most fervently to a life we haven’t yet attained. It’s as if living alone weren’t enough, we must force life to be something more, in service to the wishes of our families, friends, co-workers, and peers, so help us goddess.
Last time I checked, life is for living, and living alone. When we constantly behave in a way that is cautious and wary of what others might think, we entirely insult the Universe, throw our souls around like worthless punching bags, and run a sharp knife over our truest and deepest desires.
In short, we commit spiritual suicide.
Perhaps that phrase is too much for some, but it’s the truth.
What are you doing if you’re not living?
Living with dead time.
What would life be like if the opinions of others didn’t matter to you?
If you wrote that book. Got up on that stage. Made that drastic transformation. Followed that love. Asked those questions. Left that job. Left that marriage. Joined that movement. Overthrew everything you cling to.
Loved yourself exactly as you are.
And here’s the big secret on self-love: the quickest way to breed it is to become an inspiration to yourself. Be so brave and bold and brazen in service of your desires and your truth that there is no question or possibility for another way, another life. There could only be the life you are living. And it is yours. Just as you are yours. You are yours first and foremost, and do not belong to anyone else.
When this fact sinks in, so does the desire to refuse all behavioral evidence to the contrary.
You can straddle two worlds if you feel like it. You can do whatever you please. At 16, I was dying my hair, attending all AP classes, running varsity track, going to a lot of parties, and making out with football players, while I read Bukowski and asked a lot of outrageous spiritual questions. In short, both cool and very uncool.
I didn’t care.
It felt real to me.
Referencing high school seems strange, but I’ve always been weird as all get out and it has served me. Life lessons come early if you’re ready for them.
While I’ve evolved as a human, people often ask me about how it’s possible to not worry what others think of you.
The secret is love.
The other secret is fire.
Live a life that you’re proud of, that harms no one, that is unique and strange and bizarre and a perfect representation of your energy.
If anyone has something to say about it, they can eat your dust, because you’re going places.
And the best feeling any of us could hope for is to look back on our lives and think:
Fuck, I really lived that.