The Cool Outsider

Posted on 30 April 2017

CCBY 2.0 Tristan from Luxembourg

I would be very careful of a rebellious transgressive identity. It sounds freeing, but it can be its own prison.

When I was a kid we moved around every three years from small town to small town. At one point I realised that no matter what I did, I was going to be an outsider. So, I might as well dress as I pleased, like what I pleased, do what I pleased. Of course this became exaggerated and outrageous to a certain degree, because you know, “Fuck you” to all the other kids. Only I was too sensitive to go too far down that route.

Nevertheless, there were the “cool” kids who were on this wavelength. They weren’t the “popular” kids, but they held a similar allure and behaved at least as badly. The “popular” kids were out to dominate. The “cool” kids were out to destroy (so, they could eventually dominate). The problem with cool kid destruction is that it often becomes self destructive.

This isn’t entirely self hatred. Though, certainly an element of that creeps in. Sometimes it’s more like holding a gun to your own head saying, “Treat me better, or I get it!” Often it’s to show the rest of the world that you’re strong enough and tough enough to take chances with your life, so people shouldn’t mess with you.

My mother tried very hard to force me into the rebellious kid mould. That way she could justify hating me and putting me down to her friends for not stepping in line with her worldview. When my sister and I were living together at university, my mother would regularly call my sister to check on whether or not I was taking drugs or having sex. It was enough to make me want to go do those things to punish her. However, I refused to let her dictate to me who I was: “good” or “bad”.

Since I chose the arts for my tertiary studies, I met a lot of other young people who went for the “outrageous outsider” role. We were a herd of black sheep, but I could see that we were still sheep. That’s when I stopped trying so hard to be different. I already was different. I didn’t have to do anything special. I just needed to keep affirming the value of my personal choices. I recognised the value in collaborating to create truly awesome art, and that cooperation doesn’t preclude creativity or individuality. What it requires is an emotional maturity that makes interdependence possible.

Some arts friends who succumbed to “coolkiditis” slowly destroyed themselves with cigarettes and alcohol. A few others destroyed themselves quickly through heroine overdoses. One American friend died in Australia from an overdose. The police called me and asked if I would inform his mother and sister about his death. They thought it would be gentler hearing the news from someone with an American accent. It was heartrending. I don’t judge the artists who experiment, but I refrain from becoming close friends, because I don’t want to have my heart broken over and over again in this way.

If someone—or a group of someones—hurts you, then being the things they hate or fear to punish them is a trap. It means you always have to be aware of what they think, value, or feel in order to plot your own behaviour. Often you become their dark side…but not yourself. Much better is to recognise their complexity: keep what is useful to you, learn what is not, then walk away without a second thought. Perpetually feeding an inner fire so that you are ready to attack or counter-attack your enemies will drain your days of joy and grind your humanity to a pulp. We need to learn grace, compassion, and non-attachment. A good start is to forgive ourselves for getting involved with hurtful people. Do not take individuality out to the point of isolation: it’s not who we are as human beings. Take it to the point of having something unique to contribute to this planet.

In peace,
Katherine


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