D.I.Y. is a joke. I think. No one does it by themselves. There is an immense, unquantifiable number of people who were able to give me roasted chicken bites at Bojangle’s this afternoon. There is a blatant lie if I tell others I really live on my own, that I wouldn’t be on the streets if it wasn’t for my parents. When all the stars are aligned and you feel like an important cog in a machine, it is easy to be taken over by feelings of communion and safety, and it’s easier to be consumed by it.
At the very same time I like adhering to the Emersonian ideal, the one of a free-thinker and a rebel by moderation. I am equal parts Southern gentleman and obnoxious punk, but I cannot commit to either side because I forget to call people “Sir” and “Ma’am” and the complete collection of Minor Threat I have is only okay. Every six months I walk into Great Clips and say “Uh, make it normal, like a men’s normal” as if there is a men’s normal, but they get what I mean. People tell me I’m a safe bet. I’m betting I’m not.
I used to get angry a lot easier than I do now. If some anonymous 4chan user didn’t like the same movie I liked, I’d fruitlessly argue about it. If my parents told me to do my homework and I refused, I’d take being locked in the guest room as a good reason to break out. If I saw someone smoking I’d “give up” on them, as if that was a tactile consequence. Because I thought I was smarter. Hell, I am smarter! What are you doing with a limited mind for film and destroying your body with cancer? Parents, you get a pass. But a lot of that has cooled as I’ve gotten older because I’ve seen more lasting change as my own peers have gotten older. Hey, I mean, I’m the one who ate Bojangle’s today, who am I to talk?
I’m the guy who gets the pats on the head by elderly women, I guess. What the hell does that mean? I was among the youngest people in my grade school graduating class, I was the youngest among school friends. At Summit Middle School they already began splitting the students between the “gifted” and the “regular.” I was regular, so I was with the Bears. The people in town said I was nice, not smart. Math made me cry and English’s open nature caused me to get experimental with my papers and fail. All I had was passion and love and the assumption that only those most rudimentary qualities would sustain me until I died. The neurotransmitters in my brain would fire all wrong (to no one’s knowledge but my own) and I couldn’t study for a test if my life depended on it, but I could hug the heck out of my cats. If being friendly to furry friends was what school graded on I’d be awarded a diploma in absentia.
So now I sit in a conference room with honors students, the ones who were recruited to the Gators. And if they weren’t recruited for the Gators, at least they did okay with the Bears. They still went and enjoyed subjects and came home and got their work done and still had enough time to watch Toonami. And when I’m told “You’re good at this,” it’s like I’m being lied to. What, I’m good at something because I held myself back long enough to suddenly be the smartest one of the bunch? The best writer of the bunch? Not even the best, the luckiest. Mature qualities. The ethereal qualities you can’t teach. Here is eight hundred dollars because you’re you, even though you are putting off an academic paper at this very moment. I have impostor syndrome, I think. My clout grows and my fingertips extend and at some point an op-ed will be written about every class I’ve failed. What a shock, we are all so shocked! The man so collected is bleeding from his forehead. He is a “writer” but not a writer, he is a child with a Xanga and an affinity for explosions and colors. He spent his youth reading Star Wars novels and playing video games, only “writing” when it was to vaguely complain about some girl he liked. It sounds nice but is not great. There is no prize, no adaptation. If you’re going to adapt stream-of-consciousness at all there has to be some sort of story, and his story is just him.
My story is just me. When I apply for The Anthology I don’t give a twenty-page fairy tale, I go “Hey, here’s a ramble of indeterminate meaning, have fun!” And that’s what I’ve been doing for a decade. When I was entering first grade, my teacher asked me to go to our books and find a word and read it aloud. She expected me to say “a” or “the,” but I said “mechanic.” So precious, so special. And when have I written about mechanics? The only time I’ve written about mechanics is when I share that story!
It was embarrassing. It is embarrassing, I don’t know. This is the heart-on-sleeve life. This is the giant bundle of nerves and the unexpected, because my only plans in life are to be myself! God knows what that means. I am infinitely more dangerous than I ever expected and the student publications board ever expected, because I’m not a contented partner in a stable relationship of half a decade, I’m not universally nice, I’m not the saint I’ve spent a quarter-century hoping I’d be. I sit in front of class breathing in and out as slowly as possible because I know that when the professor tells us we’re dismissed, I’m going to turn around to the girl sitting behind me to ask her out. And I think, you know, the worst that can happen is to be rejected and sigh and move on, but those fears from grade school are brought up all over again when with a shift of the eyes and a shift of the feet I’m suddenly labeled as the villain once more. Because I have the nerve, the gall, to reveal for a mere second that I’m not loveless and above it all. And I’m told all over again that all those pills I take, all that reading I’ve done, all that time huddled in the corner of my abandoned apartment contacting my eyes to the tile floor is for jack shit because I am not a Gator and I am a failure of a Bear. I’m not just unattractive (that’s okay!), I’m repulsive because I do not for a second fall into any appropriate camp. Who do you think I hang out with on the weekends? D.I.Y. Who do I tell secrets to? Look at this page, D.I.Y. Why am I not dead yet? D.I.Y.
I audibly sigh and silently laugh when those pictures of my aubergines show up online with the red cups and the busy hands because they think they’re different, that they’re punk by giving money to multibillion dollar conglomerations Pabst Brewing Company and Philip Morris International. Punk is always the opposite of something. The opposite of authority, of teachers, of parents. Well, ha ha ha, when every son is prodigal the actual punk is at home with his headphones on. The absence of sides. You think the opposite of left is right, the opposite of right is left, but the opposite is tearing down the fence and realizing that the universe is an ever expanding ball. This is my cake and it is delicious.
Table for one. Fettucini alfredo with Foucault and Kierkegaard. A walk around the park. One hundred and ninety items in the queue. The neighbors don’t exist. Economic control, social control. A friend thinks of a friend and wonders what he’s up to, but no reply. If that’s not rebellion, I don’t know what is.