Superpower or super-impotence?

My writing prompts have been severely neglected for the past couple of weeks. I can’t say why, although my excuse is there has been too much going on in the world and that’s been garnering the lion’s share of my attention. I keep trying to solve all the problems in 5,000 words or less.

The world is still a mess this morning, but everyone needs a break right now I think. It’ll still be there in a few hours, and the messy affairs will not miss me during that time. I’ve got a couple of other things to do – clean up a bit, go to the chiropractor, pick up some prescriptions from the pharmacy. This is the stuff I get distracted from and find that it doesn’t work all that well for me to ignore this bit of self-care.

So, anyway, unconventional things I have done. The prompt specifically asked the unconventionality is a super power or a detriment. I reframed that to be superpower vs. impotence, because it felt more like what I am observing. The thing about superpowers is that you get to define them, or at least that’s what I think.

I have never felt that I had any superpowers. I barely had any power at all for a long time, or at least I didn’t use it. People would scream at me to stop giving up my power, but I had no idea what that meant. They assumed I was being manipulative, but that wasn’t the case. I truly did not understand how personal and inherent power works, and how one might surrender it. I feel as though I get it now, mostly, although some habits are harder than others to break. But I digress.

When have I been unconventional? When have I NOT been unconventional is the better question. Compared to my family of origin, I have done very little according to their example. I was raised in the Black community but left it – who does that? I was raised in a city that I love, and left that – who does that? I rode a motorcycle for a while, mainly because I was spending all my money drinking and couldn’t really afford a car. That was mostly comical. I might still ride one if I wasn’t up here in the land of bubba and his long haul Harley collection, and if people could actually drive up here.

But that’s little stuff. I didn’t do too much of what everyone assumed I would do. I learned how to talk proper by going to school with white folks, and found myself more comfortable in that community in certain respects than in the Black community. That’s not how my people did it, but I was having way more trouble relating to Black folks than white folks, so sue me why doncha?

The other unconventional thing is not really something I did, but something I was. Given how my family rolled, we didn’t have no queers. But here I was, even when I didn’t know what that was all about. I just knew that I never fit in with that Barbie and Ken lifestyle, and goodness knows my parents weren’t exactly giving me anything to pine away for in terms of marital bliss. So, my whole life is unconventional if I look at where I came from and the expectations/norms present there.

I no longer have any reqrets about my sexual orientation, although I did for quite some time when I was younger. I felt that I was letting the family down, my mother especially. I wasn’t going to give her grandchildren, or a husband who could do things like put up Christmas lights or cut the grass. I had offered to cut the grass when I was living there, but she told me I would probably cut off my foot with the lawnmower so hiring someone to do it was safer. Alrighty then.

To get past the guilt and regret of the sexual orientation, which for the record I don’t consider a choice, I also had to get past the religion of my childhood. Catholicism is rather insidious in constructing latticework that interconnects guilt and shame with natural behaviors. What I learned, without having words to articulate it, was that if I wanted something or something felt good to me, it was probably wrong in the eyes of God and I should deprive myself of it to be a better Catholic, a better child of God, something like that. All that got me was the deprivation part, which felt like crap. I don’t remember ever feeling that I was a better person for having been deprived; I was just pissed and wanting.

So, while I don’t think my membership in the GLBT community was a choice, but how I present in society is definitely a choice. I have never been a girly-girl, a femme with false eyelashes and makeup. When I tried to wear makeup in adolescence, it made my face itch and I felt like I was wearing a mask. I believed my skin was horrible, and no makeup would ever hide that, so why bother? So, I didn’t wear it and that was just that. I didn’t really know how to navigate that world anyway, and put on makeup all wrong; one day someone told me I looked like a clown because I had covered only certain parts of my face, like a clown’s mask would. So it was just not worth my effort.

I always wanted to be a tomboy. When I was in college I played soccer (badly) and wanted to hang out with the international guys who played around with dribbling and passing on the quad. When I wasn’t hungover. I enjoyed feeling as though I could do that stuff, and it was a great place to chase girls, so there was no down side. Except the hangovers.

Speaking of the hangovers, that’s another unconventional thing for how I was raised and what I believe the expectations were for me, especially as a girl child. I had one great aunt who was a lush, but she was a fun lush and she was pretty much kept undercover. I heard my grandmother and mother talk about her, and didn’t want her to babysit me much. “That Hazel could set the house on fire and kill that child with all that liquor in her!” my grandmother would say. But I rather liked Aunt Hazel, because she cussed and she was fun and talked in French a lot. She was an aunt by marriage; my Uncle Clarence was my grandmother’s brother. But for me to be more like Hazel was unconventional to say the least.

Other unconventional things…well, I had a grand old time in college with just about every illicit substance I could find. Blotter acid was a favorite, because I got to shed the mortal coil and go away for a bit. The only thing I never did was heroin, or any injectable drug, because I was terrified of needles. That was probably a good thing, because at 18 I was a cockroach and could not be killed. No matter what. The fear of needles probably deterred me from an overdose because I never know when to stop.

Like I said, though, how I presented in society has been unconventional. When I started working after college, my mother was very excited that I would be in an office. She took me shopping for suitable clothes. Unfortunately, they were suitable in her eyes and not mine. My feet are not made for 10-hour days in sensible pumps. I though I looked like a bubble-butt heiffer, and it just made me not want to leave the house every morning. You can put a business ensemble on a heiffer, but it’s not going to change much – it’s still a cow, and now it’s a bit irate because its hooves hurt.

The natural state of how I present is somewhat androgynous, no makeup, natural hairstyle that requires no preening, sweatpants and t-shirts. That’s my style. For about the past 20 years or so, my t-shirts are opportunities for public statement. They say all kinds of things. One of my favorites says, “I suck at apologies so unfuck you or whatever.” I also have silly ones saying “Nope. Not today” and “I have 3 things working for me – thick thigs, resting bitch face, and sarcasm”. These usually save me a lot of time when I have to navigate in the real world. That is definitely unique to my family, even now. None of my cousins would be caught dead in things like that.

So, unconventionality is something I generally pride myself on I enjoy having people think I’m some scruffy fat chick with not a brain cell in her head, only to find out I do have brain cells that can run them around the block backwards. I don’t think I’m brilliant or anything, but I can hold my own in an argument and debate. People inclined to write me off before they get to know me are generally not the sharpest tools in the shed anyway, and even if they are they’re not people I will generally be clamoring to befriend. I do not like to be seen as predictable, or easy to “figure out”. That’s where the superpower lves, and nobody gets into that part of me.

Related to that are my viewpoints. Nobody taught me or pushed me to think the way I do, or to believe the way I do. That has all come very naturally to me. Some call me a die-hard bleeding heart liberal queer whose very existence means death of this nation, or the world in general. I never thought I was that powerful. I just believe getting on in the world is more complicated than let’s just all remember that we’re part of the HUMAN race and sing the Coca-Cola song or Kumbaya or something while roasting marshmallow. That’s not how I see it.

I have polished a lot of my rougher edges, but I choose to keep some of them because I need them. The world can be indiscriminately cruel, and for those of us who take that to heart, holding back a bit is not a bad idea. I can’t go into the revolution defenseless. So, I still have a sword and battle armor, although I get so tired of feeling the need to use those artifacts.

My mother, in particular, was always ready for a fight, always sharpening her sabre. She would literally chop a person off at the knees if they offended her, which was not hard to do. She didn’t care who the eff you were, but you were going to call her “Mrs.” or you were gonna have your hat shoved up an orifice not even close to the customary position for a hat to be worn. She was always frustrated by my “it’s ok, let’s just move along” attitude, so I was really unconventional in that sense. I was constantly getting lectures from her that warned me not to be a “chump”, not to let people take advantage of me, stand up for myself. In her mind, I didn’t do that but…interestingly enough…she found me to be kind. I’ll take that.

So unconventional for me is boiling down to how I didn’t do what was so obviously expected of me, what was the norm for my family. By the time I was an adolescent, I knew what they were expecting, and took great delight in not coming through with the ordinary responses. But to do that, I was always at war. I was at war with them and with myself, because there was a part of me that felt as though I was crazy and had no good reason to not fit into that mold. But I just couldn’t squeeze myself into some fragile plastic design and call it my life. I am pretty much WYSIWYG – what you see is what you get. It pains me to think I’ve presented a good front to people, only to have them find out the truth about me later and be disappointed. Some of that is imposter syndrome, I guess, but it came from a healthy wellspring on ancestral lands.

I have no desire to be conventional, but I do have a desire to be accepted by people I’ve more or less chosen to be in community with. Those folks with societal norms who make me feel like the proverbial bull in a china shop function in the same fashion as my mother did when she was convinced I could be made into a competent career woman if I ony had the right suits and accessories. That was never me, and it’s never going to be me. So explaining to me in small words how people who cuss make other people uncomfortable, and I don’t need to do that because I’m so…articulate…is never going to change me into a middle-American woman with 2.3 children, a dog, and a Volvo. Just not happening.

All of that said, I suppose I am more or less a rebel at heart, just lacking the courage to carry of revolutionary acts on my own. I can be a team player, though, and that’s valid. I just really don’t want anybody’s values to intersect mine. If we disagree that’s fine, but don’t be making conditions on how we come together or work together that are based on my conformity to something I don’t even believe in. The older I get, the more I try to be intentional about standing in my integrity. I don’t ever want to go back to lying about everything because I felt if it was going well I had just failed to remember some way to screw it all up.

I roll in my own way, and often without a clearly defined path in mind. Meandering seems to work. The Mississippi River meanders, not because it’s a bad river, because it’s an old and wise river that has no need of rules and traditions for how rivers are supposed to be rivers. That’s more or less where I land as well. I may screw up, I may do some damage, but I try very hard to not inflict the screw ups and the damage on other people these days. I’m my own worst enemy, but making some progress about not shooting myself in the temple every chance I get.

My whole way of life deviates from my family’s quite a bit, and not intentionally. Once again, I do what seems right to me and what is natural to me. I can’t lie worth a damn, and when there are too many lies out there I forget which story I’ve told. It’s hell when you can’t keep your stories together. Sometimes I have to query myself about that, asking what’s so terrible about the truth that you feel the need to lie? That sometimes gets really sticky, and I usually don’t want to know the answers, but I keep trying.

Is my unconventionality a superpower? Some days it doesn’t feel that way. Some days it feels that I am comfortable being on the outside of everybody’s radar, that I have no right to be wearing a badge that says I’m an OK person. Most days it doesn’t feel as though I have any superpower, except sometimes when I’ve written something that hits the mark. That’s doesn’t happen a lot, because I am more self-critical than anyone else could ever be.

Be that as it may, I suppose conventionality is a necessary evil – I don’t really have any choice most of the time. As I said, I couldn’t present as a middle-America career woman if my life depended on it. It’s now me, and I can’t even carry of the lie for a a few hours out of the day. I see no point in trying to be someone else.

The only hang-up I have about being defiantly unconventional is that I have to accept the consequences of that choice from time to time. If someone is signing my paycheck and wants me to do something in a particular way or present in a particular way, conventional wisdom says I had best do that. But usually I can’t. I can’t swallow it, can’t stomach it. But I still have my integrity when I say no. It may cost me, but usually I am more than willing to foot that bill. I sleep better at night.

So, there’s unconventional, or maybe even anti-conventional. I’m not sure it’s supposed to make logical sense, anymore than an eaglet makes logical sense when it’s hopping up and down on one foot and flapping its wings arbitrarily. I have to just do my thing, as they used to say. And … it’s my thing, I do what I wanna do, because can’t nobody tell me who to sock it to. So there.

This is very nice, but predictable. I am not predictable.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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