It only recently occurred to me that I was and at times am a rebel. I am the most unbadass rebel you will ever see. If I came any less badass, I’d wear a pocket protector whether or not I had pockets. Watch yourself or I’ll whip out my pen and write on you!
Note: family dynamics stuff ahead
It’s not that I set out to buck a system, and I think anarchy is for overprivileged brats who like to graffiti fur coats and piss off their parents dumpster diving. In fact, it’s not even that I fight “authority” or “convention” as it is, in the course of my daily thought process, I find these figures and concepts simply irrelevant to whatever it is I’m trying to get done.
Authority/power really only works if the thing or person you rule consents to it, and convention only works on people who wish to fit in. After years of school rejection and authorities taking out crazy on me induced by some screwed up professional competition with my father, I decided I couldn’t win if I engaged. So mostly I just shut them out. Funny, but it’s hard to maintain authority or enforce convention upon a person who simply ignores you and ignores most if not all unspoken rules that you might rely on to encourage conformity. I must frustrate the hell out of a lot of people, not because I’m hateful or difficult, but because in 98% of cases, I just don’t care what a room full of strangers thinks.
This complex analysis comes from an a-ha! over a recurring behavior I’ve noticed among extended relatives. Nearly every relative of my mother’s I encounter feels the need to bring up how I live in Minnesota. After my father’s funeral, my now-husband actually said, “What the fuck? They’re acting like we’re living on Pluto!”
I have long been puzzled by the hostile behavior. The way I understood it, when you grow up, you move away and become a better adult with better prospects because of a wider network. How far you move is often just a matter of fate and self direction. My family being the way they were, I did not consider them a source of support but of demand, and this has remained true over the years. I could only see the demands, already pretty excessive, increasing if I remained close at hand as I built up resources of my own – not to mention the curse of never having furniture of my own that I actually wanted. Seriously, I don’t like antiques and while I regret that my ex took the ones I owned, I always did see them as a burden, not a gift. It was just one more way of forcing a lifestyle on me that sucked the joy out of my life.
So today while doing my morning pages, I had an A-ha! I finally got an aerial view, and noticed a pattern: most of my mother’s extended family stayed close to their parents during their adult lives. Nearly all of them stayed in the state of their birth, especially the girls. The one “allowed” exception to the rule is if someone’s husband got relocated because of the military or because of his job. Even the two more career-driven female cousins ended up following their spouse or staying close to their parents in some way.
Maybe it’s because I rarely saw those cousins and extended cousins, or because when I did see them I always had an unpleasant experience ((Seriously, my aunt’s funeral I got buttonholed by one of these people so she could talk about her new car. I did not ask or care about the new car, but she wanted to carry on about it to me for fifteen minutes straight. I think I was supposed to be jealous, but mostly I just thought she was a shallow waste of brain cells and was extremely relieved when someone rescued me from her. The next funeral I saw her at I just walked away while she was talking. Judging from the subject and approach my presence wasn’t necessary – for all I know, she kept talking to blank air.)) I did not develop a concept of “normal” based on my cousins or my mother’s other relatives. In fact, most of my concepts for who I absolutely do not want to be wound up based on them, and on my mother and sister. They all seem kind of miserable to me. While I’m not sure where I came up with placing a value on my own happiness – my family is not one that ever said “we want you to be happy” and in fact my mother wanted her children to live in a specific way that she had decided for us ((that sucks)) – somewhere, deep down, I chose myself over the approval of others.
I just didn’t think of it as setting out to prove everybody wrong. When I thought about it at all, I always conjure up this portrait I did with my parents when I was 18. My hair was cut the way my mother liked it, my clothing were things that she liked, and when I saw the picture, I was horrified: I looked like one of those women in their late 30s who’ve convinced themselves there’s such a thing as spinsterhood. My only real conscious thought on the subject was that I wanted to hit twenty looking like I was twenty.
So the reason for the snarking at me is almost entirely because I’m a trailblazer: I’m the first girl in the family who moved away without a man’s guidance, imprisonment or approval. If the people who snark at me are even aware of their underlying assumptions about it, they don’t dare speak them out loud: a woman shouldn’t do such things, and that would just invite me to give them a blistering lecture involving heads, asses and crowbars. But by trying to make it some guilty thing as my family is so burdened without my presence ((they’re really not, and if they ever drop the hypocrisy they really prefer me gone and I prefer to be gone)) they make it sound like they are so virtuous – so concerned for my family – rather than being the narrowminded hegemonous assholes they are.
They’re probably also worried that their grandkids might get ideas from me.
One of these days, I know someone’s going to cross a line with me and I’m going to ask point blank, “Why on earth do you think your opinion is relevant to me?”