Monday, January 09, 2006

The closet non-conformist

Be regular and orderly in your life,
so that you may be violent and original in your work.
-- Gustave Flaubert

Break all the rules. Just look good doing so. -- Lady Astor
Those are two of my favorite quotes. When I was younger, particularly in college, the people I knew in creative fields tried to set themselves apart from regular, ordinary people. Of course I grew up in a southern suburb where the pressure to fit a certain mold was strong. Then I went to college in a tiny town with many students from other small towns. That was where I learned the true pressure of conformity. It wasn't the college environment, but what I have learned and since experienced of small town life. People who think and act a little differently are sometimes regarded with the same combination of curiousity, disgust and pity as the obviously mentally ill and in need of hospitalization homeless person ranting to themselves as they walk down the street. (Yes, they exist in small towns too.)

That pressure sometimes drove people into rebellion. Embracing their true nature and the uniqueness that set them apart wasn't enough. They had to make a point of showing their community they were different. Of course, it was exacerbated by the excesses of adolescence. I grew tired of people who had to make a point about how hard it was to find Gauloise cigarettes in the convenience store on the outskirts of a town of 3000 people. I wanted to rub the hypocrisy of judging people who cared about fashion or hygiene as mindless conformists in the faces of those who took false pride in slovenliness as a badge of creativity. I got particularly sick of people who couldn't have a conversation without bringing up their last theater role, their work-in-progress or how their new sound equipment really upped the quality of their last gig, regardless of what everybody else was discussing.

Pretension is pretension wherever you find it, and that was what was really bugging me. I didn't care if it was social, creative or religious pretension, I found it all annoying, especially when it would pop up in me. I yearned for discussions about the creative fields and spirituality that exceeded the boundaries of fundamentalism. When other social contacts turned solely into conversations about the new purchase for the house or the wardrobe or gossip, I found myself distancing myself. I could hold my own in any of those arenas, but I didn't want to. As I got older, most of my social interactions eventually structured themselves around doing things. The details of a class or a volunteer project could fill endless conversations, and most people never knew I was a writer or anything other than a proper, traditional church lady and child-activity mom. (You can't be a soccer mom when your kid doesn't play soccer.)

Part of me still chafed at the ordinariness of it all though. My life is small and normal, and I have to embrace that as much I embrace the qualities that make me feel so different much of the time. There is part of me that would love to be bold and flamboyant. (Hello Madame Glinka, love you dear!) Though I've misplaced that ability to push my behavior, I do long for that violence, that originality to fill my writing. Honesty is where I can begin. Observation is the next step, to really look and see the horror and the beauty in the details of ordinary life. Courage comes next, I can't hide from what I see. Selflessness follows. I have to set aside my ego and become a conduit for it all to travel through me and end up on paper. Those are rules I can't break. I will look and act like a proper small town business woman and mother, but that will never be all that I am.


Blogger Wenda said...

I only know you through your blog, of course, and haven't been reading you that long, but the word "ordinary" has never been one I would use to describe you or your wonderful writing.

January 10, 2006 12:41 AM  
Blogger Theresa Williams said...

So WELL SAID, Cynthia. I look to poets like Neruda and William Blake to show me the magic in ordinary life. Then there's always the Bible: Moses saw God in the burning bush. Why was it burning? Because that's what all bushes do, they ignite with the power of life. So do trees, so does salt, so do eggs and cheese and butter and milk and...

January 10, 2006 3:20 AM  
Blogger Tammy said...

I certainly don't see you as ordinary. I just did an entry on an ordinary day can be made extraordinary. Must be a reflective time of year:)

January 10, 2006 4:27 PM  
Blogger Gannet Girl said...

Well, as long as you have cool clothes, Cynthia, you will never be small-town.

January 10, 2006 8:29 PM  

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