The Great Pretender
I saw Star Wars in the theater when it first came out. It was way back in the fourth grade, at a classmate's 9th birthday party. I'd heard about the movie all summer and had seen the characters splashed across countless t-shirts, lunchboxes and posters, so I was brimming with excitement when the time came to experience this phenomenon for myself. By the time the first ten minutes had elapsed, I had to admit the truth to myself . . . I was really, really bored. It just wasn't my type of movie - I've never been into sci-fi or fantasy and I just couldn't follow the story or care much about the problems of the various droids, ewoks, and intergalactic characters who populated the film.
But somehow I knew, instinctively, that I should not share my opinion with the other kids in my group. Everyone loved Star Wars - it was practically un-American not to! So when the movie was over I joined in with enthusiastic praise, swooning over the dreaminess of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker and vowing to see it again a dozen more times (in fact I have never seen it since).
That was the first time I remember faking it to fit in with the crowd, but it certainly wasn't the last. All through school I did so in a strenuous attempt to shoehorn myself into the often ill-fitting mold of a typical, cookie-cutter suburban schoolgirl. I festooned my room with pictures of horses, and then with posters of Ricky Schroeder and Ralph Macchio because that was what my friends did. I begged my parents for albums by Kool & the Gang and Blondie since I knew it was more acceptable that admitting "I'm not really into the whole pop music thing - I'd rather play my dad's old folk records from the 50s and 60s. Guantanamera, anyone?" I pretended to care deeply about Luke & Laura's wedding or who shot J.R., though I'd never seen an episode of General Hospital or Dallas in my life.
In high school the big thing to do was to hang out after class at Fro-gurt, a frozen yogurt joint in the shopping center across the street from campus. I was there several days a week, spending all of my meager babysitting cash despite the indisputable fact that I detest frozen yogurt. To me it always tastes bland and chalky no matter how desperately you try to mask it with fruit and candy toppings. Looking back it seems so silly, when I could have just said "How about we go for ice cream this time?" or "I'll come along, but I'll just have a cup of coffee." But that would have involved going out on a limb and being different, a concept which terrified me. I just wanted to blend in and eat my yogurt, no matter how vile I found it.
Luckily, the university I attended had a very groovy, crunchy granola ethos with a big emphasis on "doing your own thing." Very few people joined sororities or paid much attention to things like clothes with designer labels - we were hundreds of miles away from the nearest upscale department store, so people who cared about such things tended to stay far away from our part of the state. It was a perfect fit for me, and for the first time I was at the center, rather than the fringes, of a popular, lively group of friends. In theory it was great to be included in the college social scene and get invited out every weekend. But this, too, had its downside. Unfortunately, I quickly found that I hated crowds, loud drunk people, blaring music, and alcohol - the very staples of collegiate social life.
I just could not see the appeal; I was obviously on a different wavelength than the rest of the crowd. My friends and I would walk into a bar, and I'd think, oh good, it's quiet and not too crowded in here, we can all sit by the fire and have a nice conversation. Meanwhile everyone else would be crying "My god, this place is DEAD - let's get out of here!" Apparently the goal was to find a bar that was practically deafening, thick with smoke, and so jam-packed you could barely squeeze your way in. Then, after you waited forever for your drink, you stood shoved into a corner and shouted at each other over the music. And I put myself through this, week after week, because - yet again - it was what college students did. What they didn't do was say "Parties, shmarties - I think I'll just stay home, make some hot cocoa, and curl up with the ol' Sunday Times puzzle!"
Words cannot describe how much I love being in my thirties, settled down with a family and free from the peer pressures that dominated my youth. I have completely embraced my inner geek, spending as much free time as I can doing crosswords, reading, watching documentaries and listening to the Classic Cabaret channel on AccuRadio to my heart's content. In some ways I have gone to the opposite extreme, firmly planting my feet and refusing to even try to do the accepted thing.
For example, my boss at work is a huge, huge sports fan. For years I have watched with detached amusement as co-workers have tried to curry favor by studying the latest sports headlines and attempting to discuss them with her. I don't participate in this. Rather, I have purposely become as grossly ignorant as possible on the subject. I won't even look at the sports page for fear I might actually learn which teams are competing in the Superbowl. Moreover, I deny any knowledge of the event - when the subject arises at work I just blink quizically and say "Superbowl . . . is that some sort of contest? Like the National Scrabble Championship?"
People probably think I am a complete weirdo . . . and that's just fine with me. At the very least, it means no one will be trying to drag me to see Episode III - Revenge of the Sith!