Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Lessons from Burning Man: "Cool"

In which our heroine decides to bid adieu to a chapter in the past once and for all.

I see my trip to Burning Man challenging me in three ways: physically (with the dust storms I talked about earlier), emotionally and spiritually. Today I'm tackling the second one, and it's a doozy, so here is Chapter 1.

First some context...

Around the age of 11, things started to get awkward for me: my hair, once straight and shiny, decided to experiment with curls. It hadn't quite figured it out yet, so it settled on dry frizz. My hormones kicked in, but rather than award me with the menstrual cycle I craved (why oh why?!), it gave me a big swollen chest, a slight furriness above my lip and yes, even MORE hair in even LESS attractive places. (Such is the yoke of the Indian people: we are soooo furry.) Oh, and I wore glasses, big Harry Potter ones. Bren, after finding the following photo of me at this age, likened me to a Mexican drummer for a band like Styx. Lovely.

It's ok. You can laugh. :)

Personality-wise, I was pretty awkward too. I knew I was smart, but I didn't know how uneasy that attribute would make kids around me; I was called a "swot": a studious, over-achieving, lame-o, dorkface, suck-up'ing dweeberson. That was a weird transition, because at home, my intelligence was the most valuable commodity. At school, ironically, it was not.

Soon, a bunch of my friends formed a gang, The Wallyland girls, formed as a quasi-admiration society of some guy named Wally who was a wicked good ice-skater I think.

This is a half-decent photo of me at that age.

All the cool, pretty girls, the ones all the boys were into, the ones even the teachers were drawn to, were in the gang. These were the days of Vanilla Ice remember, so of course, they even had their own rap!

"We're the Wallyland girls and we like to rap. We're the rebel mc's and we take no CRAP!"

I thought it was the silliest thing, and yet I wanted to be able to spit that rap too! Oh man! Isn't it funny what your brain holds onto??

They would hang out together during the lunchtime break, and I don't remember how I knew that I wasn't welcome to sit with them. I suppose I sensed they were shutting me out. Instead, I would sit in our classroom, usually alone, and read.

Anyway, one day, I admit it, I got nosey. I looked in the folder of one my friends (we all carried around these big box files with all our work in them). She had a section with the name of the gang on it, and when I turned to it, I found a list of "applications" each of the members had to fill in and sign. The forms had questions about what kind of music they liked I think... I can't remember honestly. All I remember is scanning down to the bottom of the page, where the initiation-type question was, "Do you hate Aarti (and another girl, Sheetal)?"

One after another, each one of the girls, including the ones who had stayed over at my house and me at theirs, said "yes". Well, except for one girl, Sam, who said she didn't. She always spoke her mind, even if her opinion strayed from the crowd. In retrospect, that's probably why all the girls liked her -- and why, even as an adult, someone who speaks their mind so confidently (even if you don't agree with them) is so charismatic.

Anyway, the reason I bring this story up is because that moment has wrapped its tentacles tightly around my life ever since.

It was the first time that the bubble of sweet innocent childhood popped (and I know it pops a lot earlier and lot harder for other people). Listen, I know they were just being girls, and this stuff happens, and none of them were thinking about how their actions would affect MY long-term sanity. It's not a big deal on paper. But in that moment, I was just an 11-year old Indian Catholic girl with the naive notion that people just aren't capable of being mean or stabbing you in the back.

Yesterday, when I was talking this through with Bren, it dawned on me that my REACTION to that moment probably says more about me than anything else: Rather than lose trust in everyone else, I lost trust in myself. Rather than thinking, "Hey everyone hates me, they must be f*cked up", I thought, "Oh well, I must be f*cked up".

As I said that last part to Bren, my voice cracked and I started crying a little. It's just such a tragic thing to think about yourself, and I realise that I've whispered that mantra to myself, all my life.

Somewhere along the line, I learned that if I did uber-sweet things for people, they had no choice but to like me. At least, I *think* that's what my strategy has been -- I don't have enough distance yet to figure it out. Luckily, I have been blessed with true, deep friends who love me even if I sit on the couch and do nothing (Joo often sat next to me on the couch and ate bacon chips with me. Thankyou Joo!). I haven't completely unpacked that concept yet. But I do know that something to do with that part of my soul came loose at Burning Man.

That's about all I think is fair to lay on you today. More tomorrow. And oh, it's good. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, can you relate? Did you have a similar experience in your adolescent years? Were you one of those rare folks who DIDN'T have these kinds of things happen to you?



elizabeth said...

Aarti, let me remind you of a moment when we were sitting in the dining hall (I can't even remember the name anymore!) freshman year, and you looked around at our little group of friends and said "I can't believe it, I've never been in the cool crowd before!" and the rest of us had to break it to you that NONE of us had ever been in the cool crowd. (It occurs to me know that our honesty may have partially been driven by the fact that Mikael and I knew each other since we were 12 and thus couldn't pretend otherwise!). I think the revelation of that moment was that we suddenly found a group of people with which we could be content - and within which we were no longer pining to be part of some other group. And, therefore, we felt cool, even though, let's be honest, we still weren't (aren't:).

So, basically, yes. I totally identify with your story. That may be why we clicked so early. Young wounds from b*tchy girls and all that. Our school's group didn't have a rap (or maybe I wasn't even close enough to them to know about their rap!) but the story definitely resonates.

aartilla the fun said...

oh my god i just wrote about that for tomorrow. daamn it!

bodaat said...

I am so lost for words but full of emotion. I never knew that you went through this and my heart breaks hearing that story. I mean really, my heart is shedding a tear just thinking of the hurt. I;m not sure what else I can say right now other than I have always thought of you as my older, braver, independent, cooler big sister. Oh wait, I still do!! LOVE YOU!!!

Patte said...

My precious darling daughter-in-law, I have too many stories like that to write out. They are still painful for me, but you know what was the place of healing & joy & forgiveness & acceptance for me? The moment that I came to know Jesus, the One for whom I was created. When I recognized my own sin & unworthiness (genuine unworthiness before GOD not before men) & Christ revealed Himself to me as the One who would love & embrace me & beautify me with His grace & make me His bride, I was literally born-again. All things became new & I saw things entirely differently. Sin still pricks & I still am aware of the pain - but now it serves to give me compassion for others & to remind me of the preciousness of the eternal love of my Savior!

I love you, dear Aarth!

Rosesq said...

Dearest Aaru, I do remember those days!! But you wanted to fight your own battles your own way.That itself makes you a winner. You may have not won any popularity contests in school, but those friends did not deserve the wonderfully loving, affectionate and generous person you are. That is the way the Lord made you and sees you. Today the Lord spoke to me about a person in our group and He said that if we cannot love the person we can see, then how can we love the God we do not see!! So being nice to your friends does not make you a loser, rather more Christ like.

Rest assured that those who really know you, really love you and that is what matters in the final analysis.Pls. read 2 Cor 5:17

We are so proud of our three daughters and I am glad that God let you survive the long ordeal of your birth - with no brain damage:)

Love and hugs


bodaat said...

Are you sure there was no brain damage? Just kidding!! haha!! Love you Aaru!

mandi said...

It's a wonder any of us ever survive growing up. I, too, have similar stories. And mind you, there were only 8 or 9 girls in my grade school class! There were not that many places to turn if one clique decided you were out one day. I'll never forget the horrible nickname ALL the girls came up with at the sleepover party where I was the only one who couldn't attend. The feelings of hurt and isolation were probably as overwhelming as your awful discovery.
I'm so glad to finally get to a point where this arbitrary idea of cool is gone. Where we are more or less comfortable with ourselves and the traits that are valuable are intelligence, honesty, and being true-blue. And Aarti, you are true-blue! love you!

rustyboy said...

I said goodbye two years ago to the scared little boy I once was. I gave him a hug, messed up his blonde little 70s mop-top, and kissed his forehead.

This happened during the time period I slept on your sofa. And both of you were there to guide me to live in the present and appreciate and love that frightened child, but no longer live as him.

You are a beautiful person, Aarti. Your actions don't make you that beautiful person. You simply *are* that beautiful person.

Patte said...

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.
~ Dr Suess

; )

JAMIE said...

Wow, Aarti. When I read your blog I suddenly felt like the little, skinny girl I was in junior high. I too had glasses and I had a big gap between my two front teeth. I remember when my best friend turned on me. It was so sudden. I had no idea what I had done to make this happen. She would walk behind me in the halls at school and yell, "Bitch" at me. I felt like a coward because I was afraid to confront her. I would just walk away with tears in my eyes. It is amazing how easily we can be tricked into believing that we are "f*d up" (as you so eloquently nailed it). Thank you for sharing such a personal story. I think you are so COOL!

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