Sunday, May 31, 2015

Who are we if not the people we have always been?

Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day. (ceedub13 / Flickr)

Something occurred to me a few weeks ago. Driving around and feeling a simultaneous rush of adrenaline and rising indignation, I decided to turn my iPod to Green Day.

Firstly, yes I still have an iPod. Secondly, yes I still listen to Green Day. These are possibly very strange things for you, the reader, to read as they both seem vaguely anachronistic. But let's not get carried away with the petty details.

What I discovered was a piece of myself that, though squished into the recesses of my brain for years, was still vibrant as ever: my preteen spirit.

I like to think of those preteen years as the "black eyeliner stage." Between the ages of 12 and 14, as I began the search to find myself, I felt - as many young adults do - disenfranchised and misunderstood. As a show of rebellion and an attempt to hide myself from my peers, I wore dark everything - black clothing which blended in with my black hair and dark eyes, black eyeliner and black nail polish.

Frustrated by society's desire to pin me into given categories - ethnically, religiously, politically, socioeconomically - I wanted out. I felt alien and abnormal, as if I didn't belong to just one minority group within my community, but many. I soon became paranoid and distrustful, believing everyone was judging me harshly for being whatever it was that made me "different."

In desiring a place to fit in, I pinned myself into new categories. Isolation made me search for kindred spirits, but where I found true compassion was in the arts.

Without even being old enough to understand the meaning of the term "Green Day," I fell into a deeply dependent relationship with the band and their music. Drug references and tales of illegal activities went over my head, while the music gave me an outlet for the new emotions I was combatting.

Those preteen years were some of my loneliest - they saw me lose the most friends and encounter the most bullies. They also simultaneously motivated me to work harder than I ever had in my life. I was a machine - clocking in at 7 am and out between 5 and 6 pm. My days were tireless, and my music had to be as well.

The energy of Dookie, Insomniac and American Idiot were the antidote to my already hyper-intense reality. They were the substitute for screaming into a pillow and punching my hand through a wall. And I didn't realize it then, but they got me through the bleak moments and made me smarter and stronger.

Yet as the black eyeliner became more subdued and the black nail polish was replaced with blues and purples and pinks, the angst-ridden songs I listened to on a loop became my past. I replaced them with beautiful friendships and elevated goals, pretty songs and hopeful thinking.

But to those who defend this by saying one changes throughout life, you're missing one important and essential element.  We are the result of our past, present and future - in no particular order. Our timeline isn't strictly linear. Every time we start a new job or a new school year, we are the meek children walking into our first days of kindergarten, doe-eyed and frightened as hell. As we exit university, we fall back into old routines: living at home and hanging out with high school friends. Just because time has passed doesn't mean everything must change. Just because something has changed doesn't mean it is forever altered.
NBC / BuzzFeed

In so many ways, I bear no resemblance to my middle school persona. I am an adult who makes money and knows how to drive a car. I pay taxes, for goodness' sake. But in other - more personal - ways I'm still the exact same person using her hair as a curtain to hide her face and possessing a demeanor not unlike April Ludgate in Parks and Recreation.

Life is full of valleys and plateaus, and Green Day just happened to come to me twice during deep and defining valleys. To me, their music proves that what is lost once isn't necessarily lost forever. And when something touches your heart, there's a distinct possibility it will do so again.

We are all the sum of our parts, and I plan to never underestimate a single part of myself again. If I do, there's a good chance it'll come right back to surprise me.

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