While waiting to meet a friend for lunch yesterday, I was scrolling through my ‘reader’, checking in on some of the blogs I follow. When I got to The World according to Dina, the first thing I saw was a quote. It really resonated with me. It’s from the Japanese writer and translator, Haruki Murakami.
“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
It’s a philosophy I have subscribed to, my whole life.
I have long preferred to zig when everyone around me zagged. I have always fought convention. I’ve always found it stifling. Too unimaginative. Boring. From the time I was very little. Four or five years old, little. My poor parents. I put them through the ringer. But now, when I look back, I realize they encouraged me. How lucky am I??
For as long as I remember, they always asked my opinion. And I didn’t need much more encouragement. They got it. And they listened. And if and when they disagreed with me, we’d discuss it. Debate it. Argue about it, sometimes. They never just shut me down. Neither did I always get my way. But at least I knew why. At least I’d been given a chance to state my case.
At two I’d shake my head “no” when my mother would start to dress me. I wanted to pick out my own clothes. At four I declared I hated milk; and said I didn’t understand why I couldn’t have coffee. We ‘discussed’ it. We compromised. A demitasse-sized spoonful of coffee added to my milk totally satisfied me. For a couple of years, anyway.
You’re beginning to hate me, aren’t you? I wasn’t a brat, you know. My parents were teaching me to question, to formulate my own ideas and opinions. To become my own person. To challenge the status quo. And to learn how to develop compelling arguments. To win some. And accept losing others.
By the time I turned seven or eight, maybe nine, most girls my age were playing ‘house’. They’d stuff pillows under their sweaters and pretend they were pregnant. They’d feed and bathe and burp their dolls. Change their diapers. Dress and undress them. They were doing what was ‘expected’, actually. Rehearsing. Preparing to fulfill their destinies. As determined by someone else.
Not me. I was playing ‘offices’. I’d take one of the tables in the basement and turn it into a desk. I’d have stacks of papers on it. A typewriter. A telephone. And I’d pretend I was working.
Even as a child I didn’t follow the crowd. I didn’t care what everybody else was doing. Or thinking. Or wearing.
When I was a young woman in Montreal, when it was in its heyday, what I loved most was how the women (and men) were not slaves to fashion, like they are elsewhere. Everyone was an ‘individual’, with his or her own, distinctive style. No one ever looked like they’d just walked out of a fashion magazine. No two people ever looked alike. There was never a risk of going to a party and finding your exact double standing at the bar. No one followed ‘rules’.
Our hair was different. Our make up was different. The way we put ourselves together was different. We took chances. When colour was the rage, we wore black. When Vogue featured dainty jewelry, we had bangles stacked half way up our arms. Iona Monahan, one of Montreal’s better known fashion editors, had a dozen copies of the exact same black dress. It was her uniform and she wore it for years and years and years. Winter. Spring. Summer. Fall.
Jewel neck, long sleeves, and absolutely shapeless. It hit her mid-knee; and with it she wore black tights and black ballet-type flats. Her only adornment was the same antique locket, on a long gold chain; and her hair was always tied back, in a small bun at the nape of her neck.
And as much as it made her ‘invisible’, she also stood out. Because it was so distinctive. So ‘her’. It was her signature. All hers. And only hers. She’s remembered for it, to this day.
What a legacy to leave. A one-of-a-kind, impossible-to-duplicate, original, YOU.