Sunday, December 24, 2006

Rebel Without a Cause

ok, I know. I KNOW! I have to stop stealing cheesy post titles from obvious pop culture references. it's painful and wrong. but they just scream to be stolen! can I help it if I've finally grown into the corny gene passed down by all Jewish parents and doomed to plague all of us for the rest of eternity? I submit to you that it is not. science and fate combine to create in me a guiltless victim, and that I will hold to.
so, as to the actual topic of this post. I've been thinking about this for awhile, and various recent posts on various blogs have gotten me thinking about it again. I got into a heated argument with a friend semi-recently about the definition of rebellion. now I know you can semantics about this any way you like, pretty much like anything else, but at the core of its actual meaning- what is it that makes someone rebellious? by definition. is the defiance of a rule or standard enough, or does it have to be defiance with a purpose? is it simply a railing against contraints? what about railing against ideas?
as a teenager, the idea of rebellion comes with certain connotations; leather jackets, motorcycles, piercings, illegal substance usage, shoplifting. or, if you belong to the frum community, not wearing socks with a short skirt, a lower neckline, shorter sleeves, dying one's hair; long hair and hemp wear, if you're a guy, and sometimes all black clothing and nail polish...for everyone, staying out way too late and hanging out with people of the opposite, piercings, illegal substance usage, and shoplifting. in fact, these earmarks are so easy to identify, it makes it quite a simple thing for teenagers who want to act out to figure out what to do to make that statement. but are they really making a statement?
I have often wondered how many teenagers did things solely because, according to the media promulgated stereotype of a teenager, that was what they were supposed to be doing. or thought they were supposed to be doing. how many of them actually cared or thought at all about it, and how many just didn't want to be the frummy ones.
I have often said that me and my friends in high school were the most rebellious ones there. let me clarify; we were all goody-goodies. a good majority of my class would fit that description. when the teacher hadn't shown up and half the class period had gone by, we were sitting in our seats doing homework. but we all longed desperately to change the system. not one of us was satisfied with the way we were being educated, and a good few of us resolved to go into education just to reform the system. even some of the most Bais Yaakov among us, even those who openly admitted to believing in the system and the hashkafa in general, but still recognized where it was messed up, and wanted to fix it. we discussed it at length -where the flaws were, their causes and effects, and what could possibly be done to make it any different. we went through nearly every day examining all our teachers and authority figures, analyzing what we would take and what we would leave, what we would change around. we wanted to revolutionize from the inside.
meanwhile, the girls who wore too much make-up and too low necklines, who hung out with boys and did various other things frowned upon by our school and by the system in general....most of them straightened up by senior year so they could get into the right seminary and land a good shidduch.
I'm not being entirely clear. since my experience is largely with frum girls, this is the demographic I will speak from. and the so-called "rebellious" ones from this demographic can be broken down into categories.
1) the kids who come from good families (bonus points if parents are on the board/have a lot of money) who decide to screw around and have fun in high school, bc they know they can get away with it, then straighten up either by senior year or in Israel, and get serious just in time for the shidduch market, which will overlook teenage indiscretions if the family has enough money. or if you're a boy.
2) the people who were never down with the system, and made no bones about making this clear to everyone. vaguely anti-social, don't deal well with authority figures, although they may not actually be into any "delinquent" behaviors. will have a very hard time getting a shidduch and will eventually move to NY where they can blend in and live their own lives more easily.
3) people who appear to be down with the system bc they play by the rules, but really hate it intensely, or hate its flaws intensely. will either find another community, or else come back to their own community and try to reform it from the inside out.

which of these people are the true rebels? those that stand for something and try to do something about it? or those who are only concerned with having a rebellious image, or the good time that only rebellious people can have, while planning to fall in with the game plan eventually anyway?

all my life I've been rebelling against the system, partly bc I thought as an intellectual, it was what I was supposed to be doing. and partly bc they got a whole bunch of stuff wrong, in my opinion. but I think in my heart of hearts, I always wanted them to be sort of right, to have basically gotten it. and then one day I woke up and realized that no, no they don't. at best they get about half of it. it's damn depressing to finally be vindicated. so where does that put me in the equation? a good girl, intellectually rebellious, who wanted to fall in with the game plan to reform the system, and now can barely stand to be within the confines of any community at all bc of the neverending predictability? who understands the need for a system while needing to be outside of it? in the infallibly human process of perception, I can't escape categorization, if only out of the need to remove myself from it. but that in itself is a category, the category of all those liberal intellectuals who refuse to be categorized. which is basically a cop-out. in backing away from one box, we inevitably back ourselves into another. there is nothing but boxes, it's an endless maze of box after box after boxafter box.... anyway....the point of all this is...rebellion is another name for another box, another steryotype, already pre-planned and paved, at least the persona is.

so if real rebellion is more than just a persona, a role waiting for someone to step into it, then what is it?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

This Used To Be My Playground

We all started out playing on the same playground. We were happy there, and protected. There was a tall chain link fence all the way around. We were confident of the strength of all the things we touched and played with, the ground firm beneath our feet, always room for just one more on the tire swing. The tire swing was everybody's favorite.

Our numbers began depleting when we got older. A few ran away, claiming a need for escape. Others swore they were chased out. Everyone claimed a reason, everyone had a story.

There was one who was battered and beaten, another was racked with a pain she couldn't deal with any other way, a third was always in and out for her own various and vague reasons. One claimed he'd never been there to begin with, another claimed he was still there when he really wasn't. And then there was her. She had always been tormented by shifting ground, mini-earthquakes that caused her to trip and stumble. But she stayed on the playground bc she didn't know anywhere else, and she didn't want to venture into unknown territory unless she was sure.

I was the strong one. Always so sure, an answer for everything, never faltering for a minute, and completely unable to comprehend the loved ones around me who faded in and out, away and around, without any very concrete explanations. I kept asking people why they were leaving, demanding an argument I could understand, but they were unable to explain.

So I remained secure. Happy and confident in my rightful place, I continued to play in the sandbox, on the slides, the tire swing. The tire swing had always been everyone's favorite.

One day I did slip. I hadn't slept well in days, maybe weeks, and one morning I woke up, and the playground had been vandalized. The fence had been torn down in places, the slides were grafitied, the swings had been all looped over the top bar. There was glass in the sandbox. Even the tire swing had been slashed. I could feel the ground slipping out from under me and everything was just hanging in this weightless, rootless void. The playground suddenly felt homesick and abandoned. It was the first time I had actually seen the possibility that I wasn't in the right place, the safe place.

But then I woke up the next day and everything had righted itself, intact, in place, as if nothing had happened at all. Everything back to normal, with no ramifications, explanations, or excuses, and no damage to control.

And so it continued. While various other former members of the playground gang drifted around, I manned it, held down the fort so to speak, waiting for people to come back and visit, or maybe, I hoped, to stay.

She was always more or less there. She never really went anywhere. But she struggled a lot, just beyond the fence. She figured out various things on her own. Various other things she gave up on. She said she always came back for the tire swing. The tire swing was everybody's favorite.

And then my turn came. It wasn't quite the same as the last time.
The playground wasn't vandalized or destroyed like the last time. It was simply that I was seeing it truly for once. For the first time, I noticed the barbed wire and watch towers that surrounded it. For the first time, I noticed the blood stains in the sandbox and on the woodchip piles. The ground was still there, but it was no longer solid. It was still the right place, and yet no longer safe. The security of the playground was suddenly false - it wouldn't protect me from the world, even though the fence was still there. It was simply no longer trustworthy. It was fallible.

As I searched desperately for a place to sit and hide my face a bit, I noticed her sitting on the swings. I went over and took the swing beside her.
"So," I said.
"Yup," she said.
"This is what you meant the whole time?"
"This is it. Welcome to real life, babe."
"It's really, really cold."
She pulled out an extra sweater and tossed it to me. "I came prepared," she said.
"And it hurts like hell."
"Yeah. That bit gets a little better with time, but it never really goes away."

We sat in silence for a really long time. It wasn't that it was wrong. But it had turned from our little paradise into a prison, and the fact that it was right was partly what made it so. It may be hell, but there was nowhere else to go.

"So...what do we do now?"
She shrugged. "I don't know..." We stared reflectively at the woodchips while I tried to determine by the shade of red exactly how old the bloodstains were. Fifteen years? Sixty? Two thousand?

"We could go play on the tire swing," she suggested.

So that was what we did.