Friday, May 24, 2013

Illusion of Individuality pt. 7

In 1982, I was born in a suburb of Los Angeles, a first and only child. In a few years my family would move to New England. Where another few years would pass by. Nothing spectacular to mention of these early years combined with limited memories of those times; houses in relatively quiet suburban neighborhoods, playmates with the children of nearby families, a broken leg at the age of two and what seemed like an eternity in a plaster body cast, a typical middle-class beginning. Just before turning six, November of ‘88, my family would move again, from Nashua, New Hampshire to the South Minneapolis area of Minnesota.
We settled in a quiet area of the city, again on a quiet block surrounded by similar families. Everyone seemed to be working towards and achieving almost identical goals; own a good home with continuous remodeling and upgrading, send the children to a good “progressive” schools,[i] achieve more lucrative employment, buy a new car every few years, celebrate and gather with each other reinforcing the idyllic urban community of the late 80’s – eat, drink, work, play, and be merry.
Of course, there were the unavoidable dramas of life. There were arguments between the otherwise playful children of the block. I was the one only child, but fortunately I was in the middle of the pack age-wise, so there was almost always a neighbor to play or watch cartoons with. Yet whatever conflicts may have arisen between the kids, I was young enough to be shielded by the naivety from the strange troubles the neighborhood parents.
And so life continued that way for several years. Although too young to consciously understand the ideals and the process of imprinting them upon me, this was the lifestyle that would remain the unchallenged goal of mine for many years to come. And only through a long and varied painful process of experimental lifestyles, relationships, and philosophies would I come to grasp the fragility, ultimate falsehood, and potential alternatives to that moment in time which for countless reasons I would never be able to return to.
A few years rolled by, and in that time my corporate father climbed that ladder. In doing so, the raises in pay led to the natural tendency to afford a bigger home in a more affluent suburb, commuted to in a shinier car, etc. etc. I was moved to a more “affluent” school[ii] (The International School of Minnesota) for the fourth grade, so the social reset button was pressed again; new place, new people, new set of rules. In the mean time, my mother was climbing a ladder of her own, as a school psychologist. Aside from wildly the unprofessional dinner table anecdotes of her “clients” situations, every new version of each diagnostic test that came across her desk required a guinea pig; a.k.a. me. In addition to the pains & humiliations of grade school, I would be continuously subjected to the rigors of every coming version of the MMPI, Rorschach, I.Q. etc. etc. All this focus on professional progress in my little family just isolated each one of us from each other.
It was 1995 and the age of thirteen was a big year for me. The private school I was in was divided between an upper and lower school. The Upper school started at 6th grade, thus I was one of the “big” kids now. Early that same year I “broke up” with my first mock-girlfriend. In the year or so we had been close we had never even kissed, but it despite it not being more of a roll-play, it was an emotional milestone. So was seeing her immediately move on to someone who until that time had been a relatively good friend of mine. That was not to last either. At the end of that year, her family packed up and moved to Cincinnati.
Those were by no means the only memorable parts of the 6th grade, math league and show choir provided interesting scenarios as well. But I had always slacked off in school, and it was getting worse. I never cared much for homework and managed to weasel out of most of it. The same year a classmate of mine and I would start to sneak a cigarette behind the sports field on campus, or smoke grass rolled in paper thinking it was all the same. They were all hilariously uniformed acts of breaking out and rebelling against a society we had little concept of. If “they” didn’t want us in the “group,” then we would actively attempt to fulfill that assigned roll.
I really just craved some sense of belonging. So, if the easiest way to do that was to learn to surpass the expectations of what I felt others thought of me, then so be it. I couldn’t be the athletic, carefree, have to study really, really, hard to get by, but it ultimately doesn’t matter kid in the center of a ring of adoring classmates who always gets saved the best seat at the lunch table. I wanted to, don’t get me wrong, I wanted the popularity but I was smart and creative and passionate add to that with my delicate face and frame, traditional popularity wasn’t going to be the case apparently.
I will argue that the disintegrating security of home probably played a roll in this as well. My parents would try and hide the arguments and growing animosity, but the more they tried the more obvious it was. These patterns of pubescent delinquency and tiptoeing around a marriage under stress continued into the next school year. And like any pattern of behavior, the longer it continues; the more intense and ingrained it becomes. By the time I was halfway through 7th grade, there were fights at school and a growing sense of disconnect and ambivalence. I got picked on and in turn picked on the one kid who was even scrawnier than me. There were other kids that were friendly with me and I to them, but none I would consider friends. That December my folks pulled me out of the school and put me in the local public middle school. Now, we lived in the same affluent suburb we had been in for the past two years. And by that, the local public school was as well funded as many private institutions, there were just more kids, less rigid supervision and greater opportunity to fight the yolk of conformity. And so my path was set. From then on I would see the “norm” with growing cynicism for with each passing year it would seem to only offer greater disillusion and discontent.
so, when the time came around age 15, when it was observed that I wasn’t “adjusting” well, I treated the “professionals” I was forced to visit as nothing more than a game; given my knowledge of my parents’ discipline, its testing, labeling and compartmentalizing it was more engaging for me to see how wildly I could swing the pendulum of clinical diagnosis from one visit to the next. Keep them on their toes to prevent a harmful classification to place me neatly within the rigid confines of their big black bible, the DSM-IV…
that hatred of possibly being categorized like insect at a museum or a particular strain of virus, that fear of being labeled, kept me with one toehold across the doorframe of many different social groups for years until I lost control of the juggling act and succumb to the grander, yet equally ignored problems facing the whole of civilization and ultimately the planet.

[i] The Waldorf School,  (accessed April 21, 2013).
[ii] The International School of Minnesota, (accessed April 21, 2013).

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