Friday, May 4, 2012

Everybody wants to copycat

It's true, everybody wants to be a cat.
"Everybody wants to be a cat, because a cat's the only cat who knows where it's at."

So that's the way it is. Everyone wants to be a cat. Or a copy cat anyway. Even for those who don't want to be copy cats, most of the time we end up doing it anyway. And in the face of hipsters and anyone else who wants to proclaim their uniqueness and individuality, I say "phooey" (yes, phooey), because some of the best traits I have were borrowed from other people.

When I was three I loved Disney more than any other franchise in the world. More than absolutely anything in the world, actually. All of my clothes had Disney character decals from Megara in Hercules to Mickey and Friends. When I wasn't representing the characters by having their faces plastered all over my outfits like a walking billboard, I was dressed in an Esmeralda or an Ariel costume.

Once you reach your early preteen years, though, you become less interested in wearing your Disney pride every day along with your light-up sneakers, and instead you look for new ways to be expressive. In the interim, I forgot about my Disney roots.

From the age of 10 to about 13, I didn't have a Disneyland pass. It is strange to think that for those three years I was virtually detached from the one part of southern California that I love.

But in eighth grade, one of my best friends was a girl named Kristin. And Kristin was obsessed with Disney to a degree that rivaled even the young me. With her I went to Disneyland, re-watched all the animation of my youth, memorized Princess song lyrics and made Team Prince [Eric, Phillip, BEAST] shirts (with Diana and Kelly too, don't think I forgot!).

This isn't the perfect example of copycatting since it had a basis in my pre-existing love of the Disney theme parks and films. Yet I credit Kristin in some ways with the re-inspiration of my life-long love for Walt and his parks and in bringing out the only aspect of Orange County that keeps me connected to my home there.

If I hadn't let myself get carried away by the Disney parks with Kristin, I wouldn't have discovered a huge part of who I am now. Kristin knew "where it was at" and she shared it with me.

In some situations, sharing had nothing to do with my decision to copy.

Throughout elementary school, I remember experimenting with different writing styles. I would watch my friends curl the ends of their "Y"s and decide that I needed to do the same. I'd look at the way they wrote "a" and chose whether to do the single- or double-storied "a".

Looking back through my old childhood notebooks, I see uses of each. In fourth grade specifically, all of my "a"s had visors (they were double-storied), but by the time I arrived in middle school I'd tried to revert back to the normal lettering.

One of my sister's closest friends, Jackie, had the most enviable handwriting of all time. It looked something like the font Century Gothic, but even more crisp, clean and adorable. When I saw her writing, I had to copy her.

I started creating my own form of handwriting that based itself loosely off Jackie's. Even though she had no idea she was affecting such a big aspect of my life, there was no doubting my devotion to stealing her handwriting style.

By the time I arrived in high school, I had found my signature writing style. But it didn't come without a lot of trial and error and copycatting - and a little influence from Jackie too.

Yet for me, it wasn't these experiences that shaped as much of my life as my relationships with my mom and dad.

Both of my parents were sober and didn't use or abuse any substances - except Coca Cola in my mom's case (if that counts). I was raised assuming that a sober life was a happy life.

To this day, my copycatting in this situation has shaped a lot of my personal and social decisions. All of my friends are non-drinkers, non-smokers and none of them do drugs. We're all walking the straight and narrow, and though we don't exorcise those who do, we find pleasure in being ourselves without those influences.

My parents were both very nerdy. My dad still is. Through them, I inherited so much of myself - my political views, my obsessiveness, my favorite television programs and movies, my sensibilities to cultural issues.

When I was 17, I decided to try something I'd been ruminating on for a while - going vegetarian. My dad has been a vegetarian my whole life, so it seemed plausible for me to take on that lifestyle, having seen him live it quite comfortably every day for the past 19 years.

I copycatted my dad and became a vegetarian. And I feel no remorse in being unoriginal for having done so.

It's silly to want to break away from the mainstream to try and carve yourself out from society's norms. All of us are a mix of individuality and complete sameness. Even day to day, we make our decisions based on a set of cultural standards. The only difference between those interactions and the ones that affect our broader life choices is that we don't usually remember the origins of our bigger decisions. Why did we decide not to go to a frat party and get wasted like the rest of our peers? Why do we watch so much 30 Rock?

I enjoy that I can trace back my handwriting to watching other kids write in elementary school. It's fun for me to remember that my friend Kristin helped me gain a renewed interest in Disney culture. And more than anything, I'm glad that I can thank my parents for so much of who I am - party-less and 30 Rock-loving included.

We can try really hard to go against the grain, or we can go along with it and accept that we're a product of who we surround ourselves with. If we're surrounding ourselves well, then there's nothing to be ashamed of. It's the opposite, actually; having influences is something to be proud of (as long as the influences are people to be proud of).

Everybody wants to be a cat because cats know where it's at. Who am I to question that?

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