I’m not a total weirdo, but for most of my life, I’ve always done things a little different. I’m blond, blue-eyed, 5’5″ and visually I’m your average American (I’m statistically average as just about everything about me, height, weight, shoe size is ‘average.’)
But I’ve always done things a little different from the average. For example? Senior year in high school I decided that I would go straight-edge, which means no drinking, smoking or drugs. Why? Well, honestly, it wasn’t any strong political or emotional stance. I just thought that everybody drinks so much last year in high school, first year in college I didn’t want to do it. Then, aside from a crazy european summer, I didn’t drink for over a decade just ’cause.
That’s how my whole life has been. I’ve always been stubborn and kinda done my own thing. Even though the result is I have a life to please myself, not others, there is still one thing that bothers me. And I’m going to get it off my chest right now. #beginrant
I always have to defend myself.
Whenever I do something not expected, not normal for my clique or society at large I get accused of doing something stupid, or meaningless or being weird (not in a good way), or hurting myself, emotionally, financially or actually physically. (“Isn’t China dangerous?”)
When I began Moo-Cow Fan Club Magazine in college, everybody laughed at me (including my ex who later became a part of it) because what the hell was I doing basing a magazine on some stuffed animal?
Or when I decided to come to China. I worked 80-hours a week for months with every extra penny going into the bank for the trip. But a lot of people didn’t support me. Instead they would call me stingy, they would say I was anti-social, they would say that I was annoying and a loser and why couldn’t I “just lighten up for once.” Just because I didn’t want to go out to dinner with them on a friday night (and blow $100 it took me so hard to work for.)
And I have to defend myself all the fucking time. “No, I’m not an anti-social loser, I just want to go to China, and I don’t have enough money to eat out and go to China, so I’m choosing China.” I’ve learned to blow off a lot of it, I don’t need to justify myself to strangers or acquaintances, but even at my age there is still constant peer pressure.
Another example is drugs. I’ve never tried any drug, not even pot. And it’s not because I haven’t had access to any. I’ve been to Amsterdam two times and went to art school. Art school, people. The peer pressure was relentless.
“What, are you scared?”
“Why are you such a baby?”
“You know what would be awesome? Just you and me, hanging out, smoking pot. It’ll be chill and relax and you’ll love it.”
Different people have tried different approaches over the years. I thought maybe after college it would stop, but no, it just goes on and on. (Though I finally figured out a good response to shut them up. “Why would me smoking pot make you feel better?” It kind of points out the absurdity of their argument.)
I’ve also eschewed ‘real’ jobs. Despite my strange attraction to cubicles, working in a big corporation, in an office, with 9-5 hours is my biggest nightmare. That kind of job, with office politics and overtime and a commute, is something no salary is worth.
This has always bothered my parents (okay, actually my dad) who wants me to work in a big company for 40 years then retire rich and finally do what I want to do. But I never wanted that and have lived my life so. That meant, in my mid-20’s after graduating an expensive college and traveling the world for a bit, I was happily working in a small stationary shop in a small New England town. Was I making much money? No, but I got to work with an awesome family, walked to the shop everyday (no commute for me) and got to be a part of a small, tight-knit community.
One day, one of the customers had a kid who was just accepted to my alma mater. It had gotten some prestige in the years since I went there and this dad was really excited because it was a reach, but his son got in. When he found out I was a graduate he asked me a million questions about it.
Then I saw it. At some point he registered that despite going to this good, very expensive school, I was living in a tiny New Hampshire town making peanuts working in retail. I could actually see his face sink as he realized this fact. It was almost as if a little word balloon popped over his head saying “Is my kid going to be stuck in retail if he goes to this school?!” I couldn’t help but smile at that moment. He didn’t know it was my choice to work there.
And I don’t regret anything I have, or haven’t, done. Somehow I’ve managed to build myself a life that one only reads about in self help books. (Which came home to me recently when I did the “If I won a million dollars” daydream. I realized I wouldn’t actually change anything about my life except maybe a few more trips to Europe and a new Galaxy s4 phone.)
But it still sucks. In fact, it almost sucks more now that I am so happy, living such a good life that people can clearly see and I STILL have to justify myself. “But you’re not married.” “But your salary is so low.””But you don’t have kids.” “Don’t you want to come back to America where things are better?” “But you don’t have a house.” “You’re going to be lonely when you get older.” I almost lost my shit on a darling student when he said “I just want you to find the right man and be happy.” As if my happiness depends on a man!
But I had a realization the other day, and for the first time I think I understand it.
A former student was texting me and asking if I was happy in life and I said the same stuff as usual, love my job, love living in China, blah, blah, blah. Then she asked,
“Yeah. But I worry that you aren’t really happy.”
My first reaction was to say, well, its not my job to convince other people that I am happy, but then I had a Oprah A-ha moment (Oprah being another thing I’ve gotten a lot of slack over liking in my life. In my circles liking Oprah just ain’t cool. But I don’t care.)
This was my realization: She wasn’t asking me because she thought I was secretly unhappy. She was asking me because she was unhappy. And I realized that all the criticism I’ve gotten over the years actually hasn’t been about me at all. It’s been about the other person. Call me a loser cause I don’t want to go out? They are afraid that if they don’t join the gang for everything they will be forgotten. Worried I’m going to be a lonely when I get old? It’s actually because they are lonely. Other people have been projecting their fears, their feelings and worries on me.
Maybe everyone has figured this out years ago and I’m late to the party, but for me big A-ha moment.
Because not everyone has given me a hard time. Some people just get it. They get what and why I am doing something because we have the same mindset. I would never tell a fellow traveler “aren’t you worried about being lonely when you get older?” because I know I can adapt and make friends wherever I am, so they can too. I’m not going to give someone shit, call them unrealistic, or ask how they are going to put food on their table if they write a book, make an album, do some painting because I know the non-material benefits of doing those kind of things.
And I guess I need to start looking at other people’s lives a little differently. I’ve always thought my 9-5er friends, with the McMansions, 3 cars and daily routines that never change were secretly miserable. How could anyone be happy doing that? But now I realize maybe they are. Just because that is my idea of hell doesn’t mean everyone is the same as me.
I think this realization is important for me, moving forward, but I know no matter what, the criticism won’t stop. People will still look at me and find fault, think I’m stupid, a loser, whatever. But how about from now on we all try to be a little more understanding. When you see someone living a life, either conventional or non-conventional how about we don’t berate them, don’t try to make them more like you, and just let them live the way they want to, kay?
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