A while ago, I realized with some surprise that I never experienced the anger, rebelliousness and adolescent angst that characterize teenage years; I was the perfect traditionalist – the clean-cut kid with the shy tee-shirt, two books in hand, and a stuttered prayer on my lips when I had the unfortunate occasion of running into a horde of girls. I was the nerd-pride of my school – the one that sat close enough to the board to write on it; my chin wore the un-bearded glint of innocence – much unlike my peers, who had the nestlings of face-hair configurations that would have made the Persians as ferocious as Barney the Dinosaur. I was the status-quo apologist, the anomalous exemplar of saintly juvenile conformity.
In every possible way I could imagine, I worked hard to demonstrate my irrevocable allegiance to the ‘system’ that kept me safe from dull headed bullies and wicked fools who did not have the good sense to repay the tireless system with fabulous grades and obedience. My secret plan was to ascend the revered priesthood of super teenagers by outstripping all established expectations. So I obeyed harder than anyone, studied harder than anyone, and tested my allegiance to institutionalized education by refusing to copy notes in class. As expected, I won laurels throughout my schooling days, secretly enjoyed it when my colleagues mocked me for being a ‘goody-two-shoes’, and graduated the very top of every class I ever attended. Yes. My hard work paid out in ways I had planned – but also in ways that I couldn’t have planned for. One could say because I ran so fast, I quickly ‘reached’ the boundary walls of the life of over-achievement and absolute religious faith I had thrived in for so long. And in those dusty swamplands where there were no correct answers behind the books, and where the twilight terrain was not static or convenient, and where the sun rose in the night and set at dawn, and where the wintry chill of a shrill wind haunted my most profound orthodoxies, I sought out the familiar shadows of correctness to protect myself, to preserve my sanity. When the moon rose in the morning, the stony boulder I had rested against had grown into a juicy shady tree – and for the first time I wasn’t threatened by the absurdity of that moment.
Like a wild fool in love, feeling the first taste of freedom from the regimes of sanity, I explored the groundless island, the craggy mountaintops, the disinterested clouds and the psychedelic streams of water that poured out from cracks in the mountain with the freshness and sternness of the Exodus. Perched atop a tall tree, I could see afar off the fences I once owned – the race I once ran, the motivations I once cherished, the myths I once subscribed to, the lessons I once conquered, and the empty throne with my name on its head-rest. I was lost – and in ways too convoluted for impoverished words to capture – I was found. I had gone astray – gone off the beaten tracks, and in doing so found that one is never lost where there are no maps, where predetermined directions aren’t given, where names and labels are not yet assigned, where the horizon is an invitation to weave new coordinates, and where everywhere is home. I was lost – not in a sense of being a weird distant ‘other’, but in a sense that proved how groundless and illusory my ‘otherness’ was.
This is a story of how I got my groove back – even though I never had it before. It came to pass that the queer subversion, the un-articulable groaning of growing up in a disenchanted system, the anger of living in a virtual reality that was made up to be inevitable – what the hegemonic lords called delinquency – which I had somehow avoided as a ‘child’ became mine as an ‘adult’. Today, I am enjoying the new bursts of unbridled wonder and adventure that comes with doubt, play, and courageous questions. My former programming ‘often’ kicks in, but I strive to remember that I need not be a citizen of the city. I dwell in borderless lands that nurture me. There are no thrones here – no ladders to climb, no trophies to win, no scores to settle, no laurels to claim – not necessarily. There are only stories, wounded healings, playful beliefs, enchanted dreams, stern moments, intense relationships, slowness, and an abundance that reminds me why our devices and creeds often get in the way of what we really want. I’m fully alive – and, yes, yes, I have a beard as well.
April 29 2013