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    My daily writing--emails, journal entries, marginalia, more emails, blog posts, and tweets--shapes me as a writer, helping and hindering the big stuff I'm trying to accomplish. Every word counts.

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Nonconformists Unite and Take Over

In high school I attended weekend and summer courses at the Kansas City Art Institute, where I learned about the conformity of non-conformists. The cool art students in my classes, who were also in high school, shared a look. Regardless of their individual styles–punk, preppy, thrift shop–they wore black or had articles of clothing spattered with paint, presumably from their “work.”

My style resembled what Willy Wonka might have worn had he starred in Flashdance. I wore baggy, bright-colored clothing, heavily layered as if I were protecting myself from New Wave mosquitoes. I’d smeared paint on some pants, shirts, and shoes, but I’d clearly done it on purpose, whereas my fellow art students bore stains that seemed random. They appeared to have been innocent bystanders of their own genius.

I was a weirdo, even by art school standards. I wanted to fit in, but couldn’t figure out how to do it. In a few ways, I was simply out-classed. The cool kids’ paint-spattered clothing were the brands my parents could afford to buy me. Their parents were also funding their art institute experiences, by and large, whereas I was there on scholarship.

My classmates compared notes about their artwork, seeking approval from one another even as they pretended they didn’t care what anyone thought. In that way, maybe I seemed like them. I didn’t conform my artistic vision to their noncomformist rules, although I probably would have if I’d understood it. I simply did what I did–what else could I do?–and my lack of social competence made me come across as aloof, even in my layered clown suit.

I’m surprised I didn’t work harder to please. I was so eager to connect with them, but I must have known that they would have smelled the effort, and the whole point of their cool-but-not-that-I-care pose was to make it seem they weren’t putting any effort into anything. We were all learning without acknowledging we had so much to learn. They went their way, and I went mine.

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4 Responses

  1. This entry made me smile at the humor and the complete relatability. I like your style of writing very much. It makes me think and giggle at the same time. A very good combination imo.

  2. I love it. It made me think of this time in 4th grade where I saw one of the popular girls wearing a football jersey and I thought to myself, “it’s cool for girls to wear boys’ clothes?” So soon I started. Except I couldn’t make it work at all. …. And I didn’t realize that for a very long time πŸ˜› I wanted to fit in, but it must have been painfully obvious that I was trying way too hard.

  3. This is classic Black: “Willy Wonka… had he starred in Flashdance.” I’m actually picturing that, particularly the scene which features the athletic dancing to “Maniac.”

    Okay, I’m laughing.

  4. John and Renee — Thanks. I’m glad you could relate, which is not to say I’m glad if you felt like a traumatized outcast. πŸ™‚

    jelizabeth — Thanks. I was trying to figure out how to work lyrics from “Maniac” into the post, but I would’ve rambled on for days.

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