I still think about that bit of graffiti we used to see in the back parking lot down in Northampton in the 80s, spray-painted impossibly high up on a brick wall and perfectly visible from Main Street if you looked directly down Cracker Barrel Alley, just around the corner from Main Street Music. It was just one word, deliberately spelled: ANARCY.
For some people, it was pure collegiate thinking so typical of the Pioneer Valley — next-level meta tagging against The Man as well as against the Rebellion. For others it was simply a bit of clever smartassery. For me it was a bit of both. I liked the idea that not only were they rebelling against the mainstream, they were also rebelling against the ‘alternative’ mainstream, so to speak. It made me think about what it means to be a nonconformist: there’s more to it than just being the opposite of whatever the prevailing crowd is doing, even if that particular crowd is full of alternative-minded people. I also loved that it made you look twice and say “Heyyy, wait a minute…”
I’ll be honest, I wish I’d taken a picture of it at the time, because it’s one of my fondest memories of the 80s.
Why this ongoing fascination with nonconformity lately, you ask? Good question, and I think I have more than a single answer for it.
First, it’s a part of my revisiting some of my old ideas that worked out really well that I’d put aside for a while, for one reason or another. It’s not just reminiscing about my teen years of listening to college radio and wearing weird tee shirts and ugly duster jackets and being a weirdo. I’m not trying to recapture that. It’s me thinking about why I was like that, how I felt when I gave myself that sense of emotional, intellectual and social freedom. Thinking about it thirty years on, it’s less about trying to recreate that mood — an error I made countless times over the years — and more about following up on the philosophy behind it all. Maybe there’s some truth to what I was thinking back then, that I can finally act upon, now that I have the knowledge and experience and a different setting.
Second, it’s part of coming to terms with why I didn’t completely follow up with it all. I had reasons for holding back how far I could go with it. It clashed with my instinct for wanting to please others before myself (which would get the best of me more often than I care to admit). I didn’t necessarily want to make waves within my own family, not when I really had no reason to in the first place. And it’s kind of hard to rebel against a mainstream when the social cliques of a small New England town in the 80s couldn’t be bothered either way. They just call you a weirdo, make fun of you for a few moments, and leave you alone. In the end, sometimes you just wanted to be a normal kid and leave it at that.
Third, it’s part of figuring out who I am now, within the context of the society we live in at this time. I’m now seeing a lot of parallels between my past and present, what with all the talk about a popular idiot I can’t stand, who delights in ruining the days of others because it makes him feel better about himself, pretending that he’s the alpha. There’s also the parallel of the incurious, unquestioning followers of said alpha, who’ll just join in on the fun of punching down. My instinctive emotional reaction wants to take over, now as then, only this time take it to the white noise of social media, and I would not be alone in taking that route. But I no longer want to take that route. As I keep saying — I’d only be adding to the noise that’s already there. [I’m not dismissing this soapboxing as a valid step here…I’m just saying it’s something I no longer want to do.] I could hide behind my notebooks (or go online) and bleed out my emotions just like I did thirty years ago, but I no longer want to do that. It’s therapy, but it’s not entirely productive for me.
So where am I now? Where I am is relearning my intellectual instincts. I’ve had those in the past, I just didn’t always follow them, often to my own annoyance or misery. I’ve cleared the road of as many distractions and pathetic reasonings as I could, and the path is a hell of a lot clearer than it was in the past. Owning up to who I am and what I want to be, and doing my best to stick to it. And most importantly, any response I have to events and situations has become thought-out and processed instead of reactionary.
And how does this tie in with my writing, you ask? Another good question. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately as well. As I’ve said, it’s one of the main reasons I chose to self-publish; a lot of my stories are interstitial, meaning that they don’t quite fit perfectly into the expectations of more mainstream stories. I don’t mind that I don’t quite fit in; in fact, just like my personal life, I embrace that. The few times I have tried writing mainstream, it was disastrous. I’m a fringe writer. Not necessarily writing about the fringes, but being a writer whose style doesn’t quite fit in to the mold of mainstream publishing.
It wasn’t a path I chose lightly, but it was the one that was available to me, and the one that made the most sense to me. It’s not exactly a harder road to take, but it’s a lot of work and I have to be up for it. There’s a lot to learn and remember. I’m still learning to this day. It’s a strange balance of figuring out how the mainstream pros do it and implementing that into your own production. It’s okay to imitate the cool kids if it gets you were you need to be, you just don’t have to be one of the cool kids in the process.
A bit of anarcy never hurt anyone, when used correctly.