Friday, August 22, 2014

"And you can only wear your hair in a ponytail once a week..."

Today was my first day in a high school classroom in almost two years. It was…okay. Classroom management was less than ideal, but what the hell is a substitute supposed to do? It’s not like we know anything about the established rules or discipline procedures. It’s not like we have any real power to enact consequences. After class got out today, I immediately googled “substitute teacher classroom management tips.” I’ve got a handful of good ideas to try. I’m choosing to mark this day down as a learning experience.

But here’s something that was kind of awesome. I was reminded that artistic people are, in general, an accepting group. Drama kids are a welcoming group. I was subbing an acting class, and (classroom discipline aside) it was kind of awesome. I saw every shade of hair color, including blue, green, purple, and orange. I saw Betty Page bangs and lipstick, and boys with Steelers jerseys. I saw piercings and heard people walk in with a cheerful, “I’m here and I’m queer!” I saw boys with long hair and girls with short hair. I saw fat kids and kids with learning disabilities and kids with no concepts of personal space. And no one was left out. I saw kids who would be eaten alive in any other class be EMBRACED, literally and figuratively, in that drama room. I love that. That’s beautiful to me.

And it was a good reminder as Jacob and I find our footing here in Utah.

I’ve never felt like I could “fit in” anywhere except for a drama room, or a theatre (or at home). Even places that should be welcoming haven’t always been. (Young Women’s group, circa 1998, anyone?) It’s like…okay, I read this YA novel a few months ago called This Song Will Change Your Life, and it’s awesome. The main character in it has trouble making friends among her high school peers. At one point, she says:

“I feel sometimes like…there are all these rules. Just to be a person. You know? You’re supposed to carry a shoulder bag, not a backpack. You’re supposed to wear headbands, or you’re not supposed to wear headbands. It’s okay to describe yourself as likable, but it’s not okay to call yourself eloquent. You can sit in the front of the school bus, but you can’t sit in the middle…There are so many rules, and they don’t make any sense, and I just can’t learn them all.”

I’ve spent most of my life feeling exactly the same way. I could sense the rules around me, and sometimes pick up on them, but either I didn’t actually get it, or it was always too late. I was wearing baggy t-shirts until 2001, even though I think they went out of style around the early 90s. But I can’t be sure, because I could never pick up on the rules in time. I’d figure out one day that everyone around me was wearing button-down shirts from The Gap. So the next school year, when we went school shopping, I’d get a button-down shirt. But by that time, everyone was wearing graphic t-shirts from Hot Topic.

But the stupid thing is that as a teenager or young kid, if you’ve been marked as a pariah, it doesn’t matter if you follow the rules or not. If you’re the kid with bushy eyebrows and a button-down shirt from The Gap when Hot Topic is the new thing, you’re “not cool.” And if you notice, and you DO get your shirt from Hot Topic, by then, you’re just trying too hard.

(I know I’m bringing up a lot of angsty stuff from my childhood here, but this stuff sticks with you, man. I’m trying to embrace my vulnerability and say something important, so stick with me.)

There were also times, apparently, when I thought I was accepted and actually wasn’t. When I was fourteen or so, maybe fifteen, I went to Girl’s Camp. We’d just moved to a new ward and I didn’t really know many people, maybe one or two girls. But we had this fun cabin and an AWESOME leader, and I spent most of that week feeling pretty good about the new friends I was making. But towards the end of the week, the one girl I knew pretty well said something while we were sitting along in the cabin. I don’t remember how it came up, or her exact words, but she said something to the effect of, “Well, so-and-so and I were talking about how you’re kind of the odd one out, that like, you don’t really have any friends in our cabin, like no one in our cabin really likes you.” (In retrospect, what a bitchy thing to say.) But more than being hurt at her saying such a mean thing, at the time I felt a wave of confusion. I was disoriented because “not having any friends, not being liked, being the odd man out” was news to me. I had been completely unaware that I was still “not cool.” I thought I was making friends, connecting to people, having fun. The fact that I could be so incorrect was shocking to me. It’s a revelation that mystifies me to this day.

But it’s also an event that I still think about. When I am thrown into a new situation, especially. If I was so unaware then, is it possible I could still be just as ignorant now? Do these friendly acquaintances actually not like me? Are we not actually friends? It’s made worse when, Mean Girls style, I see people act friendly towards people they’ll say later that they can’t stand. THEN HOW DO I KNOW YOU’RE ACTUALLY BEING FRIENDLY TO ME? You could just as easily turn around when I leave and say I drive you crazy. It’s certainly possible that I don’t belong…she’s so much prettier than I am, he’s so much better-looking, she’s so much more stylish, he’s so much funnier. I mean, I think the last joke I made was a pun based on ancient scripture. I prefer trees to blockbuster films and I love jigsaw puzzles. I’m obsessed with Ancient Aliens and Star Trek: TNG. I’ve had some of my clothes since I was a sophomore in high school, which was roughly thirteen years ago. I HAVE ADULT ACNE, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. This is the epitome of uncool.

And it’s true that there has been the occasional drama geek that has noticed this and treated me with disdain for it. But I think about every single close friend I have today, and here’s the thing. Every single one of them I met because of theatre. Our friendship solidified on stages and in acting studios. On the nasty couches that all acting classrooms have. In the tech booth. In the Dairy Queen after improv shows. My husband and I met while playing husband and wife in a One Act play. Annie and Sarah and Jordan and the whole gang from Rexburg all came about because of “Comedy of Errors” and “Crazy for You” and every other show in between. Carrie and I became friends in 2004 when we did a final scene in Acting I together (which we almost failed because we would just talk instead of rehearse). I can’t even begin to name how many other friendships were born because we all just followed our bliss.

Because sometime around 2002, right before my senior year of high school, I decided that if I couldn’t figure out the rules, if I couldn’t follow them, I’d just be myself. I’d follow my own rules. I had spent so long trying to fit in where I didn’t even belong. And I had loved theatre my whole life anyway. So I auditioned for “Little Women” in my high school drama department and never looked back.

So I guess what I’m saying is, find your tribe. Find your people. Follow your passions and be yourself and you’ll find the group of people who will embrace you for it. And if all else fails, join the drama kids. We’ll take just about anybody.


Jamey Meteer said...

PREACH. I love this. Totally feel the same way. Why do you think artist/actors/creators tend to fit this criteria of acceptance? Are we just more in tune with empathy and feeeelings or what? Because it seems pretty consistent across the board that creative people are more tolerant and accepting, at least in my experience...? Great read Liz. And don't let them High school girls get you down. They were to busy thinkin about the size of their bra rather than the size of their heart and mind ;)

Paul said...

Sharing this with my teens & tweens. Daughters and son.

Brandilyn said...

I think misfits gravitate towards theater because it's a safe place to be someone else, which is comforting when you don't feel safe being who you really are (especially in high school, but absolutely in college and the adult world too). Plus, all the "rules" are laid out for you in a script--here's how this person does their hair, how they talk, how they react to the other people in the scene. And in improv, every character you create is the right one and every decision they make is the right one, too! It's very cool to think about, and very cool that those kids are finding each other in drama classes and banding together.

Olivia King said...

Love this post.