[“Popularity”, which I sent out recently in the newsletter. You can buy the print here etc.]
[Today’s guest post comes from my favorite saucy vixen, AV Flox]
“I wish I could be as impulsive as you are,” he said to me. He said it with a slight smile, but it was an insult. It meant: you’re a child. You’re out of your mind.
We were sitting at a cafe overlooking the islands around Stockholm. I’d suggested going to a pier that night and sleeping under the stars.
“Your feet are planted so firmly in reality, you can’t walk,” I responded, lighting a cigarette.
He took a sip of his coffee: “Wake up and grow up.”
“Let go and live for a change.”
“Anaiis, you have to realize that your independence and self are not separate from cultural and social norms,” he told me, putting the small cup on the table between us. “You can’t go around thinking you don’t belong within the social and cultural borders that, unfortunately, do exist. You think you are above that and you’re not. No one is.”
That was our last real conversation. We finished our coffees in silence. Afterward, we strolled back to the house, where we dined – still in silence, without turning on any lights. When we were finished, I went upstairs and packed.
“I love you, but I hate the way you are,” he said as I pulled my suitcases down the stairs. Then he turned to the piano and started to play Beethoven’s “Quasi una fantasia.”
I left Europe that night, and Magnus with it. But I didn’t leave full of conviction that I preferred to be alone than entangled in someone who didn’t embrace the choices of life, the freedom that we have to sleep in a warm bed or a cold pier. I left crippled with the weight of having said too much and having wanted too much.
At every airport I walked, on every plane I boarded, as I made my way across two continents and two oceans, I looked at the people around me, moving like a herd through security and boarding lines. No one stared or even looked at anything for too long, or – heaven forbid – struck up conversations. No one invaded anyone’s space or time. In the elite line, we were all seasoned travelers. We knew the deal: how to open our carry-ons quickly, what to remove and how to set it on the tray and we did it fluidly, without inconveniencing anyone around us. In the plane, we were quiet, we buckled our seat belts, turned off our phones and pulled out our books.
We knew the rules and remained firmly within them.
During a brief layover in Houston, I found a cafe and sat down to read. A few minutes later, I was interrupted by the sense that someone was watching me. It was a little girl, seven or eight years-old, sitting across from me at one of the gates. I closed my book and smiled at her.
She came to me, messy brown hair and big green eyes, and a Cheshire cat stuffed animal in her arms.
“What are you reading?” she asked me.
“The Bell Jar,” I told her.
“What’s it about?”
The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath is about a young woman stifled by convention who slowly goes mad – how do you explain this to a child?
“Um. It’s the journey of a girl who is confused with who she is,” I replied.
“What chapter are you on?”
“What’s the girl doing?”
“Esther — that’s her name — is a model in New York and even though she has become friends with the girls around her, she feels all alone.”
“That’s sad,” said the little girl, “I’m not lonely, I’m with my mommy.”
Her mother seemed to materialize at the words, carrying a clear Subway bag with sandwiches inside.
“Alyssa,” she called, visibly unsettled by the sight of her daughter talking to a stranger.
Alyssa rose and ran to her, but in the middle of the walkway, she paused and turned back around.
The girl walked back to me slowly and handed me her stuffed animal.
“Don’t get lonely, okay?” she said to me. “Talk to the cat.”
In a sea of people who know where they’ve been and where they’re going, who have every aspect of their trips planned to the minute, people who get in nobody’s way and expect everyone to extend the same courtesy, a little girl handed a stranger her stuffed animal.
I have never believed children are born pure in the standard sense of the word, but I do believe they’re born free of the boundaries we impose on ourselves later as a society – and perhaps this does make children pure.
Or maybe a better term is “free.”
A child would not hesitate to pack up a sleeping bag and sleep on a pier under the stars with you.
Since that flight, whenever people asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I replied, “I want to be a child.”
So if you ever wonder why I share so much of myself with the world, from the sacred to the profane, the answer is that I think everyone could use this license to be who they are and enjoy what that means. We do live in a society with norms about what we can and cannot share, what we can and cannot do, but as Einstein once said: “if the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts.” That’s what I want to do – I want to change the facts.
Your wants are beautiful, your truths are powerful. Maybe you want to sleep on a pier or share a fairytale kiss under every triumphal arch in the world. Maybe you dream of diving the wreckage of a galleon or quitting your job and starting your own company.
They’ll say you’re crazy. They’ll say, “I wish I could be as impulsive as you are,” and that you should grow up. Life isn’t like that – there are norms, you know. There are ways to do things. You don’t talk to people at the security line at the airport. You get through it as fast as possible, go to your gate, wait for them to board you, sit down and be quiet. You go to your job, bust your ass, go home, change, go to some social thing, entertain the same questions, go home, watch bad television and do it all over again. Polite, proper, efficient. That’s life, right? Then you get old and maybe play some golf, then you die.
The only way to remember who you are is to refuse to let anyone or anything dictate what you want. I write to share my triumphs and defeats and to remind you that wanting something other than herd-like, soul-crushing monotony is not only natural, but necessary.
And I’ll tell you something: for every e-mail I receive that says I’m out of my fucking mind, I have two more from people sharing their deepest desires. People that much closer to remembering who they are.
And every time, I think, “you don’t have to be lonely – I’ll be your cat.”
[AV Flox is a sex columnist for BlogHer and warrior for self-acceptance and the pursuit of our wants. When she’s not chasing her own desires around the world (and live-tweeting her experiences at @avflox), she’s editing the Los Angeles-based sex news blog Sex and the 405.]
[The “Remember Who You Are” archive is here.]
And this is why I love you, my dear. 🙂
Well…. That made my day.
Thanks for sharing.
Good stuff. Enlightening.
Fantastic writing! It brought back to me the desire to see everything as new to appraoch situations and people without predujice and to find happiness in the little things. Here’s to self perpetuated naivety.
Cheers to that, Chris.
So so true
All I can say about this post is… thank-you (x 1,000).
It’s amazing how one person (a kid) can put everything into perspective. I’ve been working on letting my inner kid out for the past 10 years. Each day it gets a little easier.
I think I would have said no to sleeping on the pier. It makes me a little sad. I know that experience would force me outside my comfort zone into a more creative and fun me.
I’m subscribing to your blog right now.
Don’t wait for experience. Take the chance now. Don’t be afraid of the options that appear uncomfortable. Go there. Dare to make yourself uncomfortable. That’s where life is.
Excellent post! Thank you.
This made me cry.
You have no idea how much I needed to hear this today. No idea.
Crying has such a bad reputation. I think it’s such a necessary thing to do and I’m happy to have been able to inspire that overflowing of emotion in you. Thanks for reading.
Awesome! I can not hear that message enough. Thanks! Sully
Excellent post. Consider though that “grow up” often means “consider others”, not “quit talking to strangers”.
I think you cloud great advice with vague metaphors. Yes, we should maintain the creativity, curiosity and daring of youth. No, we should not behave like children (as self-centered and clueless as they tend to be).
Sean, sounds like you and Magnus (the guy from Stokholm) would get on famously 😉
I support being self-centered. And I hold that without cluelessness, we have no reason to be curious.
Sean, the only child in this story gave their stuffed animal to someone they thought needed it more than them. How is that self-centered?
As for clueless, that’s quite relative. We’re all clueless compared to someone else.
I think it’s a fair point that there’s a huge difference between being childLIKE and being childISH.
Or you could be ADHD as well. LOL I live that way all the time. Drives my sister mad that I talk to people in the market, or in line anywhere, I love to meet people, talk to them, make them laugh. Total strangers tell me their life stories and I find it fascinating and wonderful. Part of knowing that you are not “normal” is embracing your differences and being yourself without judgment. Knowing that “fitting in” isn’t really a possibility frees you to smile, shrug and move on to more fun stuff. Why even try to fit in when being yourself is so much more satisfying? I think that if everyone threw off the burden of their expectations, we could all play together and have a good time. It’s when people create these rules that make no sense that things go badly. Why not talk to the other mom in line at the market? I’ve picked up great tips from them that I wouldn’t have otherwise learned. Everyone has a story, a lesson to teach you, a history filled with wonderment and experience. All you have to do is smile at them and say “Hi” and you can open up whole worlds to yourself. Why close yourself off to those experiences? To stay safe? To be polite? Rubbish. Always talk to strangers, they have the best stories.
“Always talk to strangers, they have the best stories.” Yes.
Strangers ALWAYS have the best stories. And in business as in life, “whoever tells the best stories goes home with the most marbles”.
More listening to strangers and less talking about things that really don’t matter. Thanks Anaiis. x
Really?! Me too! All. the. time. Both my husband and myself. The other day we visited a village in upstate NY. It was so warm. All the natives talked to us.
We came back and told our friends. they said “oh that place is so cold and unfriendly.” Wait? What? No. It’s not.
And they did tell us *the best* stories. About dogs that live to 16 (and he slowly wrapped me up in his leash while his owner talked) and grape vines that want to eat a house and the best people to rent from and … and those to avoid. Oh yes. They told us great stories.
“Or you could be ADHD as well. LOL I live that way all the time. Drives my sister mad that I talk to people in the market, or in line anywhere, I love to meet people, talk to them, make them laugh. Total strangers tell me their life stories and I find it fascinating and wonderful.”
I grew up in a semi-rural town in the north of England. We call deviations from that behaviour “antisocial” and “ignorant” (which, to be fair, isn’t always the case). A London relative despairs of my family’s habit of smiling at people in the street and shops, cracking jokes with strangers, and chatting with random people in queues. He says we’re going to get mugged or murdered on one of our visits, but I tell you, almost everyone responds really well to being smiled at and treated like a human – even Londoners.
I am so glad finding the wife I have. We went chasing rainbows one Spring. Hopped in the car and drive behind the thunderstorm that had rolled over us.
That is a memory that will last forever.
OTOH we had a friend who was bipolar who was like that a lot, too. 🙁
Describes my current situation! Great!
[…] “a child would not hesitate to pack up a sleeping bag and sleep on a pier under the stars with you…. 0 […]
[…] “a child would not hesitate to pack up a sleeping bag and sleep on a pier under the stars with you…. 0 […]
I understand what Sean means. Sometimes kids will give you a treasured stuffed animal to make you happy, but sometimes they can be very cruel. Anybody who remembers childhood remembers this.
Fortunately, this has nothing to do with sleeping on the pier.
On another note:
“The only way to remember who you are is to refuse to let anyone or anything dictate what you want.”
THAT would make a great framed print. I don’t always get what I want. I don’t always go after what I want, because of other responsibilities. But I will never pretend I don’t want it. Desire will keep me true to myself even when I’m not free to pursue every dream.
This is amazing: “I don’t always go after what I want, because of other responsibilities. But I will never pretend I don’t want it. Desire will keep me true to myself even when I’m not free to pursue every dream.” Yes, yes, yes a thousand times.
wow – that story absolutely left me in tears, and I don’t admit that easily.
i find myself in anaiis’ position, ready and willing to be the child. i’d sleep under the stars in a second – i just haven’t had the courage to try to change the world around me.
I’m printing this post out, and I’m hanging it at my desk.
Anaiis, thank you for sharing this.
Thank you for reading, TJ. Let’s not forget. Every choice is a ripple — if you have the courage to sleep under the peer and the courage to share that truth, you’re doing your part to change the world around you.
Being inspired allows you to inspire. Being inspired requires that you never lose sight of who you are.
An emotional and inspiring post Anaiis! Thank you.
[…] Want to be a Child” April 1, 2010 by Lou This post via gaping void was too good to simply Tweet. I feel it deserves its proper space, a day or two to […]
That was really good, thank you.
“I’m not paying for any more sessions. They’re not working.”
[read: “You’re evolving into someone I don’t understand anymore.”]
My own mothlike/Woodstockian flutter path through life is exactly what it needed to be in order for me to be me. Thanks for a great post.
I loved reading this post. And I say, “Yes! We all need to sleep on piers, whatever those are to us!”
Thanks for this great reminder!
What a beautiful sentiment. I have tears in my eyes. I want to sleep on that pier with you and whomever would be free enough from societal constraints to do so.
Everbody needs to hear this, but most dont. Fortunately I grew up in a family that was like that.
I left my ex for the same reasons as you. And Im leaving the academic world now, starting up my own business. I can’t be happy in a place, where I can’t be allowed to try and change things, where we do as we always have done, because we always have done it. So from now on Im gonna be like a kid in a candystore 🙂
Thanx for sharing your story!
I’m on the pier…. thank you for sharing a life altering context.
I’ve been reading Hugh’s blog for years, got the book, belong to the CDF so it wasn’t unsual that as I sat down for my coffee this morning that I wolud go to Hugh’s page. What I wasn’t expecting was to find this post. I’ve been giving alot of thought lately to what and where I want to be. How does one start the journey, how does one deal with the societal norms that are in place? Thank you Anaiis for a starting point, I’m going to go out and look for a pier.Thank you again
[…] Anaiis Flox shares a vulnerable, heartfelt account of mismatched expectations — the inherent conflict between (her ex-boyfriend’s) rational, ordered, cultural norms […]
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