Embracing My Inner Goth (part 3)

This is the third installment in a six-part series.  You can read the first and second parts by clicking on these links:

Embracing My Inner Goth (part 1)

Embracing My Inner Goth (part 2)

It’s better to read them in order, of course.  Enjoy!

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Part III:  If You Want to Learn Something, Try Looking in a Book

I have an unusual name. Or so I have been led to believe by a series of recurring circumstances in my life:

  1. Very few people can pronounce it correctly, even when I enunciate — very clearly — as I introduce myself and am wearing a nametag to boot.
  2. When I was a kid and personalization was all the rage — think bicycle license tags, backpacks, parasols, jewelry, lunch kits, stickers, stationery, and bookmarks with your name on them — not a single item ever had my name on it.
  3. The only time I’ve ever found my name in a baby name book was in a book I found while vacationing in Canada, printed in Belgium.
  4. The only times I’ve ever run across my name in literature, the character was a ghost, a vampire, a witch, or a combination thereof. (Oh, except for in Molière’s Le Malade Imaginaire, and then she was an ingenue. Yeah, that’s much better.)

I began having mild identity crises from a young age. I was not a popular child. I had a few close friends early on in elementary school and a lot of them in high school (and, fortunately, ever since), but those middle years were brutal.

Make it stop! Make it stop!

Since it was pretty obvious to me that trying to fit in with the cool kids in my grade school was never going to happen, I resigned myself to being the weird kid and decided that since I was there, I might as well enjoy myself.

I didn’t have enough of a social life to take up my time, but I loved to read, so I dove in. In third grade, my favorite book was Bunnicula, a children’s novel about a vampire bunny who goes around the neighborhood draining vegetables. A close second? Dracula is a Pain in the Neck. I was afraid of my own shadow, but vampires were the one scary creature that intrigued rather than bothered me.  When I got to middle school, it became apparent that my peers were not on the vampire lit. train with me, so I found other ways to express my uniqueness that I thought might make me more palatable to them.  I first devoured Pride and Prejudice in fifth grade when I found the graphic novel version in my classroom.  (The real thing followed not too many years after.)  I read everything by Louisa May Alcott I could get my hands on, and my bored cousin’s discarded copy of Little Women became my first annual reading tradition.  But my hands-down favorite during those years was, without a doubt, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass.

I had an edition which contained both books together, replete with original illustrations.  This was another find in my fifth grade teacher’s classroom; she had three pristine copies on the shelf.  I loved it so much, I asked her if I could please keep one of the copies, since the academic year was coming to a close and I wouldn’t have access to her bookshelf in sixth grade.  She smiled and said, “Sure,” possibly pleased that someone was reading it.  And I read it over and over again.  The book, which I still have, bears the external signs of childhood love:  dog-eared creases, pale chocolate milk stains, a purple unicorn bookplate, a frayed paperback cover, my name doodled repeatedly in ink on the spine and edges.  I’m pretty sure that at some point in middle school, I wanted to be Alice, a long-haired and pinafored girl on a surreal adventure in which she could change herself (“Eat this.  Drink this.”) to adapt to her surroundings, she could be the normal person at the tea party, and — something that made such a tremendous impression on me that I memorized the following passage and never forgot it — she could outwit anyone who threatened her.

***

At this moment the King, who had for some time been busily writing in his notebook, called out, “Silence!” and read out from his book, “Rule Forty-two. All persons more than a mile high to leave the court.

Everybody looked at Alice.

“I’m not a mile high,” said Alice.

“Nearly two miles high,” added the Queen.

“Well, I sha’n’t go, at any rate,” said Alice. “Besides, that’s not a regular rule: you invented it just now.”

“It’s the oldest rule in the book,” said the King.

“Then it ought to be Number One,” said Alice.

***

I spent most of my free time in middle school reading and writing, in what I now recognize was a fervent quest to find myself.  In middle school, I was often defined by my peers by what I was not.  I don’t think my classmates were bad or mean; I just think middle school (or junior high, as we called it back then) is a rough time developmentally for humans, and most kids that age don’t handle the experience with aplomb.  And so I’m not even angry when I think of the ways in which I was reminded, repeatedly, that I failed to measure up.

Ever feel out of step with the rest of the people around you? Here’s Alice trying to play croquet with a flamingo.

I was not a cheerleader.  I was not bubbly.  I was not a smiler.  I was not someone who brought only reliably American food in her lunchbox.  I was not as tall as anyone in my grade.  I was not athletic.  I was not a blonde.  I was not the older sister of a “normal” brother*.  I was not especially pretty.  I was not funny to anyone else.  I was not able to get away with being smart without being ridiculed by the smart boys.  I was not comfortable in my skin.

I was a small adolescent in a school where bullying was ignored by most of the teachers.

A lot of the novels I could get my hands on in our school library were about teenagers in the 1950s and 1960s, and I gravitated to stories like Love Is A Four-Letter Word, Janie and Johnny, and the Trixie Belden mysteries, among others.  I wrote short stories in which my cousins and I were the main characters.  I wrote editorials for the school newspaper — for example about the crass marketing surrounding the Pope’s visit to San Antonio — which were deemed “opinionated.”

Eventually, I became quiet.

stretched to breaking

We are now a lot more equipped, psychologically, to shepherd our own children through this rough time in life than our parents were to help us, thanks to cultural shifts over the last twenty-five years in thinking about the differences in the expectations society places on boys and girls.  (And yes, boys have just as many limitations and damaging messages to contend with in the media as girls do; they’re just different ones.)  So a lot of women I know in my age group are still spending time in their adulthood healing from the damage of adolescence.  We are finding ourselves and getting over it as we marshal our emotional resources to be good role models for our daughters.

We are trying, really hard, to figure out what we are and to be that to the best of our abilities.

My dear friend Amber, who lives in Los Angeles, always goes out shopping with me when I visit.  She encourages me to wear styles that I really like but wouldn’t normally attempt living in Texas, challenging my entrenched ideas about what people are going to think of me based on my appearance, about how much people are really going to care if my hemline is at my knee or two inches above it.

“What do you mean, you’re too old?” she counters.  “I’m four weeks older than you, and I can wear it.”  I can hear the Good grief! snapping in her voice, and it makes me smile.

Sometimes I go along for the ride, and sometimes I hold back.  But what Amber’s really doing, through the convenient vehicle of clothing, is forcing me to challenge my own complacency about who I am as a person.

This past summer, over gourmet pizza and pinot grigio, she laughed affectionately at me and said I should just embrace my “inner goth.”

“Get over it,” she said.  “You’re fine.”

Figure out who you are and be you.

A significant goth undercurrent runs through the women in my family, on my mother’s side. Most of them do not appear to be aware of it — or at least aren’t letting on that it’s there — until you get to my generation, and then it becomes hard to ignore. My sister is the singer/songwriter Victoria Love whose music can best be classified as industrial rock/world crossover. Our mom reads and watches every vampire series out there, as long as it’s PG-13. (My sister and I are a little more inclusive in our tastes.) Our cousin, a fan of Poe, has a glorious tattoo on the inside of her forearm of a raven spilling forth into flight from a dripping fountain pen.  She and I both planned our weddings to be right around Hallowe’en, in no small part so we could have masques associated with the nuptials. We throw the BEST Hallowe’en parties. I could go on, but it’s probably best not to.

At Half-Price Books a couple of summers ago, I ran across a book entitled Goth Craft, which catalogues and explains the various subsets of Goth culture.  It even has pictures, in case you’re trying to find yourself in there.  It’s a fascinating little primer, and one day when I have the time, I will actually sit down and read it rather than just browse through it occasionally.  I have yet to see myself in the photos.  At least, I haven’t seen what everyone else sees of me in there.

I’m not finished yet.  For once, I’m just like everyone else:  still a work-in-progress.

*  There is absolutely nothing wrong with my brother.  He’s awesome.  In elementary school, he was an individual and an intelligent, independent thinker; these qualities were not valued they way they should have been in the strict parochial environment where we were.

***

Click on these links to be taken to the rest of the posts in this series.  Thanks for reading!

Embracing My Inner Goth (part 4)

Embracing My Inner Goth (part 5)

Embracing My Inner Goth (part 6)

 

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16 thoughts on “Embracing My Inner Goth (part 3)

  1. I was all over the map. Loner, “look at me!,” silent, comedian, goth, “hey let’s be friends…”

    The only thing I think everyone would agree on is that I dressed quite strangely, but (I like to think) refused to compromise on what I liked to wear. Oh so important in those days.

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    1. Haha! 🙂 You should see the gorgeous turquoise lace dress she convinced me to buy and then encouraged me to wear to dinner that night. You know, so I couldn’t take it back after thinking about it a little longer. 😉 I have to say, though, it paired beautifully with some very tall fuschia suede heels…

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  2. Catching up, because I missed this one somehow [glares at reader].

    I was pretty close to tears reading this, I think we had similar childhood/adolescent experiences. I’m still working on getting past the hurts of my youth (sadly, many of them were exacerbated by the adults in my life), but I think every day I get a little closer to being the person I want my children to see me as.

    As an aside, I was so used to being the weird girl at my tiny little school that when I moved to a LARGE school (we had over 1000 in my graduating class) I didn’t even need to reinvent myself, there were just more people that were willing to accept me as I was.

    I refused to try to be a part of any one group, and as a result, had…if not friends, then slightly more than acquaintances in each group.

    It was weird for me, having come from a situation where I had few friends to a situation where I was able to make friends with relative ease.

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    1. *hugs*

      I think those hurts don’t ever really go away, they just get less painful. And if we’re really lucky, they can become funny to us later. Sometimes MUCH later!

      I found I didn’t have to change, either. Not that I could have. But the larger the school or community I was in, the less “weird” people thought I was. And one of the nice things about blogging is that people who have an affinity for my proclivities will gravitate toward me, and the others who don’t won’t be stuck with me. That can make for a small subscribership, but oh well. 😉

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  3. I love this series… And yes, the pressures boys face can be constricting as well (or at least, they were when I was in junior high) — and being “smart” (ie. enjoys reading; being good at anything academic) doesn’t necessarily help you when the tough dude is grinding your face to the floor in shops class.
    That said, I did have a strong group of friends in the geek mould who didn’t back down from the dorks and that really helped me buck up and stop taking abuse. I finally found solace in embracing my inner headbanger… who still read Tolkien. I’m sure there’s a term for that now, but there wasn’t when I was in high school.
    BTW, your name wouldn’t have been out of place at all up here in Manitoba 🙂 Lots of good francophone names among the people I knew growing up.

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    1. I’m so glad you’re enjoying it. 🙂 I actually had planned to do this series during the month of October, leading up to Hallowe’en, but in the end delayed and delayed in part, I think, because I wasn’t sure it would be well received. But then, as I’ve said before, the blogosphere is sometimes where we find our affinity groups.

      It’s good that you were able to find that group in school. It sounds like it was lucky you did.

      One of the things we used to talk about in the fairy tales class I used to teach was the damaging stereotypes those stories gave to boys. Yes, the images they serve up to girls, largely of being catatonic and powerless while waiting for “true love’s first kiss” was ridiculous, and the knee-jerk and equally clich stories about that first kiss being no better than the Huntsman’s rape of Snow White didn’t really go very far toward fixing that problem. But the boys had what to look up to? An endless quest, endless expectations from the women who wanted them to fix everything? Exhausting.

      The first *Shrek* movie had some good bits in it that addressed these problems, if in a tangential way.

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