living underground in the real world

self-titled

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This is how it will go.

You will be young, and so small. If we have to get specific, we could say it was sixth grade. Your friend Maggie could tell you about that year—she was your only friend, all year. You wore jeans cut off at the knees with bandannas tied around them, Punky Brewster-style. You wore tie-dyed shirts you had tie-dyed yourself, and weird thrift store sandals and you wrote all over your backpack in marker. You hated everyone in your class (except Maggie) and they hated you (except Maggie).

Sixth grade was the only year you weren’t in the smart class. Your school was unapologetically, brutally hierarchical, and placement tests determined your spot in next year’s classes: the smart kids, the mediocre kids, the stupid kids, the literally mentally retarded kids—a totem pole with white faces perpetually on top. Darker shades were much bigger in population but rarely represented in the top half. Those were your options, and obviously you fucked up that one day in fifth grade, because the first day of sixth grade found you clearly in the mediocre class. Your teacher was an idiot, your classmates were cruel and closed to you. You would ask to go to the bathroom and would sit outside the smart class and try to soak up smarts and try not to cry.

You and Maggie would walk home from school, trying to teach each other how to smoke cigarettes—a skill you still haven’t mastered. Mary DeLeon stole all your stickers one day, then when you tried to ask for them back she said she was going to beat you up after school. You ran home through the alley and along the canals, and the next day you laughed about it, but she was rough and hard, and you were terrified of her every day.

All the typical shit.

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You wore your strange outfits, crazy concoctions of mismatched socks and found hair barrettes, and your classmates continued to laugh at you. You had DARE that year, and your stomach tightened every time the officer came into your classroom. His descriptions of junkies and the world of drugs were completely false, and the proof was in your living room every day. There was a confidential note box on DARE days where you could write a question the officer would answer. You always thought about telling him about the plants in your father’s garden out back and the neat white lines on the mirrored coffee table, the young Australian couple your father found on a golf course who lived in the shed and smoked crack, the trips to mysterious houses after school with your father on your bike. Instead you and Maggie wrote a note about the officer always being late that was supposed to be funny but fell flat as you saw that he was actually hurt by your disrespect for him.

Blah blah. Childhood.

You hated your teacher and pretty much everyone in your school, you hated your household and most of your family. You read books and went on bike rides, and that was sixth grade.

One day the taunts about your outfits got so bad that your teacher had to address the class directly and explain that some people felt “unique” and wanted to express their “uniqueness” through their outfits. It was condescending bullshit, and maybe that was the day, or maybe it was another day. At lunch one of these days you were sitting under a tree—no shit, it’s not that I’m saying I am actually the incarnation of Buddha, but this is seriously how it happened, not a banyan tree, most likely an ornamental orange tree—and it hit you. And it’s cheesey and silly and there is no way to adequately explain how important it was, but: the idea swum right up and lit up your brain and took your breath away:

I am aware. I am here.

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It’s the most personal thing that’s ever happened to you.

It was an actual wall inside yourself, in that you physically felt yourself moving over something.

One minute you were on one side: miserable. And the next you were over it: aware. Here. “Here,” as in: in your head. Not “here” as in: the town you grew up in. It was the most important distinction imaginable at that time in your life. Here and not here. Here, instead of here.

I am aware, and awake, and myself, in the deepest, darkest, most wonderful sense of the word.

That was it, but that was enough.

In a few years you would read Walden, and it again sounds slightly ridiculous, but transcendentalism is what would get you out of your childhood. I don’t have to be here. I am aware of myself as both a physical being and as a freefloating mind in this universe, and that’s all I need.

So, this is how it goes.

It’s, what, maybe twenty years later, and you are in a self-reflecting frame of mind. You’ve spent thirty years plus one year on this earth, and here is what you know of this world. You started knowing what you know that day at lunch under the tree. Here’s what you would say to that twelve-year-old that day:

Your beliefs are shaped by your experiences of the world, so it’s important to keep having experiences and testing and reaffirming those beliefs. The important thing is not to get stale or comfortable. Keep moving.

Your people are artists in the widest sense of the world, and your people are worth holding onto, so be sure to hold onto them. Lavish them with everything you have. The rest of the world will disgust you, so it’s vital that you have a nourishing community that you can stand.

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You will always make people angry or disgusted or repulsed or annoyed or some combination thereof. You will always talk too much and too quickly and about things often no one wants to hear. Even your bestest friends will sometimes need a break from you, which is why it’s vital that you stay friends with yourself.

It’s important to stay wild. Even when you own a house and have to pay taxes, you have to find ways of being wild. The trick is finding the balance between nourishing wildness and grounding creature comforts. Be ever alert against swaying too far to one side or another.

People will not understand you, and this is as it should be.

As long as you stay aware and present inside your own internal world, it will be fine.

It’s 4:30 am in my dark sweet house tucked into my mountain town, thousands of miles from that parched, sun-scorched mega-city I grew up in and have never been back to. I’ve got sweet friends I clutch to me when the world gets too ugly, a job I get to make up as I go along, three cats and one beautiful lover sleeping in the bed next to me, good food, and strange and lovely outfits to put on every day. I sometimes wonder: would I have any of this if I hadn’t had that day under the ornamental orange tree? To what extent does an awareness of one’s most deep and personal self contribute to their ability to enjoy life?

Does it matter?

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8 Responses to “self-titled”

  1. Joshua May

    I spent a week in my old town last week, and it was kind of strange to see my own progression, and how much I feel the town has stagnated.

    And that happened the previous time I moved (from small town to ‘city’).

    I think that’s my way to be wild. To keep moving, putting myself in new situations with new challenges, learning new things, and starting fresh. It’s the complete opposite of stagnation, and the more I think about it, the more I know that adversity and dire circumstance builds quality of life (even if at the time, it feels like hell).

    And it’s only a couple of months until I throw it all away again and head over to your continent for a couple of years.

    I think I blossomed a lot longer after you though – I only really ‘arrived’ in eleventh grade (after moving from the small town). I mean, for a long time I think I was close, but introvertedjosh kind his head low and eyes to the ground. The anonymity of a new town, though, gave me the confidence essentially to be me.

    If only I could shake my worry about money, I think I’d be largely ‘free’. I don’t cost much to survive, so why the hell am I so afraid of being unemployed at the moment? (read: freelancing, and keeping head well above water). I think it’s all subconciously part of the anti-stagnation, that I never know what’s coming tomorrow, and that I should ‘plan for the worst’ and horde money.

    Anyway. This is a long comment. I stop now :)

    Reply
  2. sijeka

    That was great. I really enjoyed reading that entry for some reason. And what are the pics of? I wanna live there!

    Reply
  3. Dustin Rhodes

    My grandma just died —a grandma I was (once) very close to. Her death, in a roundabout sort of way, reminds me of themes in your blog entry: awareness, the importance of kindness, change, stagnancy and not getting too caught up in the goings-on of the world.

    Death, no matter how or when it happens, feels sudden. My mother actually called the funeral home to tell them that she expected my grandma to pass away soon, but even she was completely caught off guard that the phone call and my grandmother’s death happened on the same day. I also expected her to die any day, and then she did, and I still feel surprised.

    I know this isn’t exactly respectful, or the way we are expected to revere the deceased by only holding in memory all that is good, but what I am going to most remember about my grandmother is the depression and bitterness she suffered with the last many years of her life. For the last couple of years, while she was in an assisted care facility, I called her at least once a month. We’d usually talk for an hour or so, and the vast majority of that time was spent listening to her complain or say negative things about the people and situations she encountered. Needless to say, I often dreaded calling her, even though I loved her dearly. She was a different person, unraveling.

    Being the perpetual pollyanna that I am, I always made a mental note, before and after our conversations, to not grow up to be this person; I saw my grandmother as the messenger of a profound, life-altering reminder to do everything within my power to remain positive, hopeful, kind; to keep friends and try to build community–as if my own life depended on it. My grandmother, in her moribund old age, became negative, cynical, repellent.

    Regardless of my temptation to make fun of New Age thought and easy-breezy spirituality, I do actually know some of it to be true: human beings can remain kind, positive and hopeful, and while it might be the work of an entire lifetime, it’s not just our destiny, it’s our responsibility–to our self and others. We may not ever be able to control anything (let alone life’s circumstances) but we sure can control our reactions, our day to day words and actions; what we do and who we are. We can refuse, no matter what, to contribute to the world’s suffering.

    I, too, am choosing to remember the grandmother of my youth: the one who broke her arm roller skating when she was in her late 60’s; the grandmother who traveled the world and went on cruises and loved putting giant puzzles together and playing archaic, difficult card games. I’ll always remember the grandmother who was easy to laugh and make laugh, the one who was a terrible driver (but who mysteriously never had a car accident). That grandmother was magical and wild. And I was madly, deeply in love with her.

    Reply
  4. Marla

    That was lovely, Lagusta. I wish we knew each other in the sixth grade so we could have been there for each other. What an ugly time. At the same time, in retrospect, it’s helped to form us into knowing exactly what we want out of life and what we most definitely do not. Most people are not so fortunate as to get such an early start, and some never figure it out at all. But, oh, sixth grade sucked for us “differents.”

    Reply
  5. Maggie

    Oh Lagusta, I cried when I was reading this because it took me back to that horrible time in our lives. 6th grade was the worst time of my life. Actually 6th-8th grade was the worst time in my life.
    Everyone was so mean to us. I was glad that I had you. I wish I hadn’t been so meek and timid. There are at least three times that stand out in that class that I wish I would have stood up and said something to these assholes that were so unnecessarily mean. But I was afraid to talk back to these people.
    Ugh! Mary DeLeon. That is one name I will never forget. She was an awful person. She threaten to beat me up too because I wouldn’t get her free cassette tapes (pre cd’s) from Zia Records.
    I remember that silly letter we wrote to the DARE officer. I felt so stupid and lousy after he read it out loud and I could see that he was upset and then people in the class all gasped because they thought it was so rude. I felt awkward about it, but at the same time didn’t care.

    It was totally obvious at our school there was the “smart class” “the less than smart class” “the not dumb, but not totally smart class” and then “the border line retard class.”

    I’ll probably write you an email as my comment is getting long and there are other things from this time I would like to discuss.

    I’m glad we had each other in 6th grade, I just feel like I could have and should have been there more for you.

    Reply
  6. lagusta

    Oh Maggie! I just had some sort of major therapy-type breakthrough writing this and reading your response. Thanks for saving me all the money I could have spent on therapy. How nice that we’re all grown up, right?

    You’re my only childhood friend. What would I do without you? I don’t want to know!

    Reply
  7. lagusta

    Heya Jess (sijeka), for some reason your comment got caught in a spam filter for a while. Ahhh, isn’t it beautiful? It’s my gorgeous land!!
    https://lagusta.wordpress.com/2008/06/12/taken-by-trees/

    Also–I notice you’re a Twitterer. Can I read your tweets without signing up for Twitter, do you know? I don’t want to sign up for Twitter because then I will start Twittering myself, and….I just can’t go down that path, as much as it tempts me. But I like to read other people’s Twitters!

    Reply

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