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smashing the mirror - shadows of echoes of memories of songs — LiveJournal
j4
j4
smashing the mirror
Answer to rysmiel's comment is getting out of hand, so I'm making a post of it.

I wonder whether you see how very very appealing the ability to run around drinking and shouting and wear daft clothes - the freedom to let yourself do your own thing even if it involves making mistakes - can come across to people struggling with a cocoon of paralysing terror at the thought of doing... anything at all, really.

I see it now. I didn't see it then.

I was visibly studious at school until I realised that it was a fast-track to being bullied. Thereafter I played the Fool, and wore weird clothes, but studied a little more quietly. I was given a kind of grudging respect for the ways I dressed -- ways that nobody else would want to dress. "Why do you always wear such weird stuff?" they'd say, sneering slightly enviously.

I didn't feel as though I was "doing my own thing", though. I felt as though I was creating a caricature of myself. Now I don't usually show people my teenage poetry because it's more or less unmitigated angstbollocks, but still, it serves as a record of my state of mind; this is one I wrote when I was, oh, I dunno, probably about 14:

Cartoon teenager I HATE YOU
With your lifeless slogans
and your spineless protests,
pretty posters
all the right music
soundtracks each new cliché,
I HATE YOU
A deeper hate than all your
carefully choreographed arguments,
your petty rebellions
can ever show;
your technicolour language says
I HATE YOU
pencilled in, in the speech-bubbles
poised by your two-dimensional face,
badly-drawn,
primary-coloured -
you're just not funny anymore
I HATE YOU
with your well-groomed angst,
your profound pretensions,
your life reduced to
statements in nailvarnish
and eloquent boots and hats
I HATE YOU
I can't look at you anymore
Cartoon teenager,
joke's over.
I'm the artist, I'm gonna
smash the mirror, rub you out.


At university I had the freedom to do exciting things like DRINK and STAY UP LATE and be utterly overwhelmed by the realisation that there really were other non-heterosexual human beings in the world. Not to mention the possibly more useful freedom to utter polysyllabic words in public without ridicule. To talk to people -- actual people of my own age, not teachers! -- about T. S. Eliot and Samuel Beckett; to talk to people other than my dad about the relative merits of the Beatles and Pink Floyd. To go to a REAL INDIE CLUB, to wear multicoloured tights and not be called queer for liking Tori Amos (or 'sad' for liking The Cure). To have sex without having to pretend not to be having sex.

In other words, to turn into a cartoon student.

I had all these freedoms, and I used them because they were there and they'd never been there before. I was bowled over by the fact that I could go out, and do things, and not have to ask permission. But what I didn't have was any confidence, in my looks or my personality, or -- most of all -- my intelligence. I remember in about second week the only boy in our English set (a boy! a real boy! in lessons! who didn't think it was uncool to study!) asking me to have a look at his essay and see if it was "okay". For a moment I was reassured -- I wasn't the only one with doubts! -- until I saw the essay. He'd done all this complicated structuralist crap, and he'd used words I didn't even know, for god's sake. "Yeah... yeah, that looks great! Wow, I've, er, not taken such a theoretical approach to it myself." Christ. I wanted to cry. I wondered how long it would be before they realised it was all a mistake, and I wasn't up to the standard of the work, and so on. And here was this quiet nerdy boy worrying about his work when he was writing like Terry Eagleton already.

Where's all this going? I don't know. I suspect that at 18 nearly everybody is a seething mass of insecurities, even -- perhaps especially -- the arrogant ones. Was there a point to this? I forget.

There are values of "grown-up" I've fought hard against becoming, and others I've had to work on - still am working on - undoing. [ work-related guilt ethics are a large pile of no fun at all. ]

The grown-up-ness thing, for me, is mostly to do with experience rather than behaviour. I feel as though everybody I know started acquiring experience a long time before I did, and was somehow better at acquiring it. Better at using the opportunities open to them and creating new opportunities. It's little things, like not being able to find my way around without a map, not being able to sound like a real grown-up on the phone, still being pleased with myself for managing to do things like book flights and hotels, things which most people could quite happily do at 16, so they're liable to laugh at me for still even noticing stuff like that. It's like seeing a 26-year-old being excited about managing to tie her shoelaces. Hell, I'm still pleased with myself when I can find my way from A to B without a map, which most other people could do at the age of about 5 -- in plenty of time to be able to walk the 5 miles each way to primary school on their own. But hey, if you're not allowed to cross a road on your own until you're 13, how can you learn to find your way around anywhere?

But really it's just something I have to come to terms with. I can't change it now. I can't catch up. All I can do is make the best of things from now on. And I've had a lot of experiences -- good and bad -- and I feel I've learnt a lot from them. "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe." :-) I've learned to deal with things I never thought I'd be able to face, and I've come through stronger. I'm still scared of some things, but mostly I do them anyway. And they mostly get less scary.

I still feel like I'm faking it. But now I know that everybody else is faking it too, a lot of the time. Sometimes that annoys me. Sometimes I want people to be more honest, more open, more willing to say things like "I've never done that before" and "please explain this to me". Other times I recognise the need to keep up the pretence. There's a time and a place for everything; if everybody spent all their time unravelling themselves in public like this we'd never get anything done.

Think I'm doing OK at being open to new opportunities and cool things coming my way, rather than being "sensible" in ways that preclude taking the odd chance.

Better to regret the things you've done than the things you didn't do.
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Comments
From: minnesattva Date: October 2nd, 2004 07:23 am (UTC) (Link)
What a great word, "angstbollocks."
jiggery_pokery From: jiggery_pokery Date: October 2nd, 2004 07:43 am (UTC) (Link)
You're comparing yourself to some extremely capable peers, Janet, so don't worry about not being able to do the things your peers can do. Remember that a substantial proportion of British adults (I believe 20%, but am sure it is 5%-10% at least) cannot use a phone book or read a bus timetable, so being able to book a flight is very far from trivial. (Heck, I imagine that probably 70% of British adults couldn't do it without having to go to a travel agent, and only a very small percentage could do it at all well.) As ever, you can string words together better than 99% of the population, for generally applicable definitions of "better", probably 99.9%.

I am on my own for two weeks: no parents at home, no peers nearby. (To distinguish this from university.) I too let myself go for the first couple of nights and let myself do all the things that I don't feel comfortable doing with Dad at home. I got scared and wrote a scared post on Sunday. I guess it's OK to be scared; it's got to be OK to be scared, and it's definitely far better than OK be scared and then learn as a result.

My girlfriend was horrified that this was the first time that I had lived on my own and that I found the process of looking after myself without support so scary. (I think there's a fair comparison to your "26-year-old being excited about managing to tie her shoelaces".) Definitely getting better at it, though.

People are good and bad in all sorts of different ways. It's very easy to play down your particular strengths - to take them for granted, to not realise that your strengths are unusual and make you particularly good. I am atrocious at taking my own advice here but will be trying very hard to do so before and during my big interview on Wednesday.

Last two paras? I'm going to take a middle ground and say "for some things yes and for other things no", recognising that I probably have more "no" things than most.
j4 From: j4 Date: October 2nd, 2004 04:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
cannot use a phone book or read a bus timetable

Um. I frequently find bus timetables sufficiently difficult to read that I don't get buses. (Though usually the first problem is that there is no timetable.)

it's definitely far better than OK to be scared and then learn as a result

Absolutely. If you don't push your comfort zones sometimes, how do you ever grow?

big interview on Wednesday

I think I must have missed this news in the LJ I didn't catch up from while I was away! What is the interview? Best of luck with it, anyway...
teleute From: teleute Date: October 2nd, 2004 08:47 am (UTC) (Link)
If its any consolation, Adrian does all the booking stuff because I'm so terrified I'll do it wrong. I mask it by claiming to be afraid of the telephone. For some reason that's more acceptable.

From the opposite perspective, whenever Adrian hears me talking to parents (either of the youth group kids, or the kids I teach) he finds it odd/scary because he's not used to me sounding so grown up and adult and capable. I have an area of expertise that he knows nothing about, which he still finds impressive (which is gratifying).
anat0010 From: anat0010 Date: October 2nd, 2004 10:23 am (UTC) (Link)

dont even think about it

I think the definition of immaturity is thinking and worrying about yourself. Most people dont hit maturity until well in their 60's (I guess). The only person I know who doesnt care is my 84 yr old grandmother, orange tartan clothes, bright white wild hair and some sort of hat. She'll tell you exactly what she thinks about 'darkies' and doesnt care a hoot about what you think of her. Some call it senility to others it's finally accepting yourself for what you are.

I'm slowly getting better about relating to 'other people' and resolving some of the boundaries the define 'me' but its a long slow process. I no longer feel I have to try to be sociable or shave every day if I dont want to. I dont feel a need to wear gothic dress or a suit and tie to define myself, but I'm comfortable to wear whatever the occasion requires.
I'm never going to be a concert pianist or a playgirl pin-up, but I'm fine with that. If I try really hard I must just manage to be undiluted and polluted by expectations and guilt and end up being really me.
(Deleted comment)
j4 From: j4 Date: October 4th, 2004 02:41 am (UTC) (Link)
Mm, I know what you mean, but the area where I feel I'm not a real person[1] is the experience, not the attitude or behaviour. I can work on changing my attitude and my behaviour, I can do my best to improve myself as a person, but I can't "catch up" on experience that everybody else had at a much earlier age (or rather, I can have the experience, but I can't have it at the age everybody else did, IYSWIM). I still get laughed at for never having done X, Y and Z that "everybody's done", and that hurts me more than it should do.

[1] I know I am a real person. But I still feel I'm not. Ho hum.
addedentry From: addedentry Date: October 4th, 2004 05:16 am (UTC) (Link)

This feeling of faking it, I still haven't shaken it

A little self-knowledge is a dangerous thing. What use would it have been to recognise one's callow studenthood? The only remedy for immaturity is patience.

I want to be a dilettante but I haven't the discipline.
rysmiel From: rysmiel Date: October 4th, 2004 07:58 am (UTC) (Link)
I wonder whether you see how very very appealing the ability to run around drinking and shouting and wear daft clothes - the freedom to let yourself do your own thing even if it involves making mistakes - can come across to people struggling with a cocoon of paralysing terror at the thought of doing... anything at all, really.

I see it now. I didn't see it then.

Wonder how easy it would be to get that message through the heads of people at that point in their lives, or whether they'd even believe you.

I was visibly studious at school until I realised that it was a fast-track to being bullied.

I was under sufficiently higher pressures elsewhere that putting up with the bullying was actually the least stressful option.

I could have played the fool, but there's only so far a rapier wit will take you against a forest of cudgels.


Cartoon teenager I HATE YOU
With your lifeless slogans
and your spineless protests,
pretty posters
all the right music
soundtracks each new cliché,
I HATE YOU
A deeper hate than all your
carefully choreographed arguments,
your petty rebellions
can ever show;
your technicolour language says
I HATE YOU
pencilled in, in the speech-bubbles
poised by your two-dimensional face,
badly-drawn,
primary-coloured -
you're just not funny anymore
I HATE YOU
with your well-groomed angst,
your profound pretensions,
your life reduced to
statements in nailvarnish
and eloquent boots and hats
I HATE YOU
I can't look at you anymore
Cartoon teenager,
joke's over.
I'm the artist, I'm gonna
smash the mirror, rub you out.


It's raw; it's also an eloquent expression of a real state of mind just as valid as any other, and you do yourself an injustice to call it 'angstbollocks' weven if it's a very cool neologism.

I had all these freedoms, and I used them because they were there and they'd never been there before. I was bowled over by the fact that I could go out, and do things, and not have to ask permission. But what I didn't have was any confidence, in my looks or my personality, or -- most of all -- my intelligence.

How are you calibrating confidence here ? I mean, going out and doing stuff, rather than hiding in one's room quivering which was most of my undergraduate years, particularly the first two, seems to me to need a personality trait I would have categorised as confidence - regardless of whether one expects to succeed at it.

Christ. I wanted to cry. I wondered how long it would be before they realised it was all a mistake, and I wasn't up to the standard of the work, and so on.

I still get that, actually, rather a lot of the time.

There are values of "grown-up" I've fought hard against becoming, and others I've had to work on - still am working on - undoing. [ work-related guilt ethics are a large pile of no fun at all. ]

The grown-up-ness thing, for me, is mostly to do with experience rather than behaviour. I feel as though everybody I know started acquiring experience a long time before I did, and was somehow better at acquiring it.

I don't know - I get the feeling from other things you say that there are whole ranges of experiences you were having and mistakes you were making much younger than I was, and catching up on adolescence within the last decade of my life does not seem to have done me any lasting harm.

It's little things, like not being able to find my way around without a map, not being able to sound like a real grown-up on the phone, still being pleased with myself for managing to do things like book flights and hotels, things which most people could quite happily do at 16, so they're liable to laugh at me for still even noticing stuff like that.

Mmmm. I think this conflates rather a lot of different things - being able to find one's way around with out a map, frex, is not something I'd ever think of as age-dependent. And the people stuff inherent in booking flights ands especially hotels - well, I can do it, but my shoulders tense up at the very thought, and I will get someone else to do it if at all possible.

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