Did you change your mind about something you wrote? (And other stories about growth and change.)
Like any other young teenager, I entered high school wanting to fit in.
It didn’t work.
It quickly became clear that pretzeling myself into popularity would not work. But more importantly, I realized I didn’t want to. It wasn’t me. I didn’t want to be like everybody else.
I didn’t like normal.
I liked weird.
I can actually remember the moment I thought, “F**k this. I’m a freak, that’s who I’ll be."
And things instantly got better.
Strange was free; strange was fun.
Luckily, I was not alone. I had a few other weirdos to be freakish with. I had a twin sister, and together we were pretty content to give the “normal” world the middle finger.
And I had punk rock. I had Bowie. If there was an ultimate inspiration to embrace my own weird, he was it.
My sister and I moved my parents' old record player into her bedroom. That shitty old stereo was a gateway to all the music that would change my life. Records were cheap at London’s CityLights bookstore and I quickly amassed a thorough collection.
I would go to thrift stores and fill up garbage bags full of strange clothes. One of them was an oversize, frilly, avocado green, silky blouse that I nicknamed my Bowie shirt.
Heads were shaved. Hair was coloured.
Clothes were made -- experiments that didn’t always work out. (Hint: you cannot skip sewing and just staple patches onto your clothes. They will not feel pleasant to wear.)
The weirdness was an art.
One of the best things I've ever done.
My sister and I, sometimes joined by friends, sunk our hands deep into the world of cut and paste, and made zines.
We cut up old magazines, wrote essays, drew comics, interviewed bands, made collages. The very first issue of our flagship zine (which was called Wrench in the Machinery) was held together with safety pins.
When our photocopied masterpiece was finished, we were convinced other people would think it “sucked” and we sold it for next to nothing — 25 cents I recall — but we also didn’t really care.
Making the thing was important.
Like I said, I was lucky. Because while other kids kept trying to fit in, we were pouring hours into the clearest, most authentic form of self-expression you could find.
At the same time, things were not all rosy. As a teenager I also suffered from pretty serious depression. I used to hate it when people (especially doctors) told me “these are the best years of your life.” People, please do not say this to severely depressed teenagers, it will only make them want to kill themselves more.
But making those zines still stands out as one of the best, most enjoyable, most fulfilling things I’ve ever done.
Reinvention is a lifesaver.
And also, we must be allowed to change our minds.
One of the things I gained from those early experiences — of loving Bowie and re-costuming my identity and making weird art for the fun of it — was discovering the joy of reinvention.
Being able to reinvent myself has saved my life. I might not look that different on the outside. (My hair is still coloured kinda weird at the moment.)
But reinvention has allowed me to change careers (multiple times), survive and make meaning from a personal trauma, rewrite and share the story of my heart. To name a few.
Also, embracing reinvention allows me to write.
And by that I mean: I try to allow myself to be weird. And I try to allow myself to change my mind.
(I say try because sometimes my own thought police come in and I have to put on my combat boots and remind them they are not welcome. Like most things worth doing, being true to myself is an ongoing practice of discovery, one I never expect to really master. I slip back into old habits like everyone else.)
It seems we are supposed to grow out of ‘weird.'
We are supposed to let go of our strange. We are supposed to stop reinventing ourselves. Pick a side, pick a place, a personality. Pick somebody to be and just ride that identity out — steady and steadfast.
That is super boring, is it not?
Today is a new day; feel free to change.
Leaders or politicians who change or reverse course are called “wishy-washy”.
We hear lots about consistency and focus are getting things done. And while these are important values, we hear less about the value of trying things on, changing your mind, or the art of curiosity.
But changing your mind is a wonderful thing.
Changing your mind means being willing to see things from different perspectives, and shifting your worldview or understanding of things accordingly.
Changing your mind requires empathy, vulnerability, and humility.
Not only does it give you the opportunity to connect with others, or correct mistakes and re-set your course, it gives you the opportunity to change yourself.
Each day, you get to look at you with fresh eyes.
Decide who you want to be today.
Choose which story you want to tell.
This makes writing feel scary.
There’s a very real and practical component of this when it comes to writing.
Did you write something you’ve since changed your mind about?
Writing can feel scary for many reasons. One of the reasons it’s scary is the sense of permanence. Words on a page are stuck there.
Even worse if your work is published. And if you have readers? Oh, my. Now what? I’ve said it. I can’t un-say it!
And yet, sometimes we change.
Nutritionists and fitness trainers become body love advocates. Gourmands become nutrition bloggers.
Sex and marriage “experts” get divorced. Independent female authors get married.
Dog lovers “come out” as cat lovers. And so on.
We must give ourselves and others the room to change.
And when we change, we must forgive our old words.
Forgive your old words for no longer making sense, for preaching something you no longer believe in, for representing your younger self.
Forgive them, and keep writing as you are, today.
My old zines are me, and they are not me.
A while ago I came across a couple of those old zines. I have great affection for them.
Some of the things we wrote are now hysterically funny. After all, we were teenagers. I had about 300 words in there about the semiotic meaning of punk suspenders. Priceless.
But in all seriousness, some of the issues we argued about with great defensiveness and determination are now topics I see differently.
Case in point: I, a girl who was once nearly nabbed by the cops for using chalk to grafitti “alcohol is a social crutch” on a brewery, recently published an article on the potential health/happiness benefits of booze.
When I look back on this article two years from now or maybe just tomorrow, I might agree or disagree with myself. I may see the world differently. Or I might actually be inspired by my previous self.
I have to take the leap every time I write. I have to accept that this is me now, today, putting something into the world. And the world will keep turning, and change tomorrow.
Every time we make something, every time we tell a story, every time we show up as ourselves, it is a risk we have to take.
I have to let the work be as temporary as it is permanent.
The best I can possibly aim for is that experience of zine making. In my whole life of writing and making art and doing work, I suspect that is the best it will ever get, and I am completely okay with that.
But I will carry forth something of that time:
The freedom to be weird. The freedom to assume we’ll go unread.
The joy of making things.
The artistic, punk rock pursuit of packing my work with as much emotion, truth, and guts as I can.
Even if I feel differently tomorrow.
So for today, I put my words here.
For today, I give you me.