Friday, October 22, 2010

Love the World Within

dare to be different

Recently in another corner of blogland, I nearly came to virtual blows with someone I only know by their posting name and thumbnail photo. She was making a very valid point about how consciously avoiding stereotypes can be just as bad as blindly embracing them, as both were sides of the same ill-fated coin of doing something not because you want to, but because you feel you should or shouldn’t according to someone else’s standards.  The example she used was a desire to take up knitting and drinking tea, which she refused to do simply because she didn’t want to fall into a stereotype. I fired back that busting stereotypes was fun, and that I am probably one of very few women who enjoy tea and fiber arts, and are also tattooed head to toe. Her reply was that, alas, that was just the sort of stereotype she was trying to avoid!

Later, when the steam (not from tea either) faded from the inside of all the windows in my apartment, and the vein in my forehead stopped throbbing, and I had crafted a very restrained and philosophical response about none of us being as original or weird as we believe, therefore the whole notion of stereotypes and their avoidance or embrace being a waste of time contemplating much less living your life by…I got to thinking about originality, and edginess, and coolness and where exactly I fell on the spectrum that runs from dull and ordinary to awesome and unique.

portrait of the artist as a young invisibility, ca 1975

Back in school, I was about as uncool as it gets. I wasn’t even uncool in an interesting or unique way, the monstrous klutz, the misfit they make movies about, the nerd that goes on to run a company and make millions. I was smart, shy and invisible with all except my closest friends, of whom there were few.  But inside me, I was a rock star, I was a tragic figure worthy of novels, I was an artist, a poet, a dreamer, a being larger than life and destined to become so universally adored one day, all the people who ignored me would regret not noticing my greatness when they had the chance. A failure to match all the coolness I had within to what the world outside could recognize and appreciate was a source of misery for more years than I care to admit.

  portrait of the older artist wishing she were more invisible

Well, the happy ending of this story is there is none.  I’m still not cool. I have no personal style that others might want to imitate. My popularity rating has not changed in all these decades. A few years ago I attended an office Halloween party wearing nothing different from my usual unremarkable all-black attire except for the addition of a feathered carnival mask. I was unanimously voted The Most Unrecognizable. Later, when my mask was off, several people told me they really didn’t know who I was anyway and had to ask other people my name in order to vote for me. Let the irony of that one sink in a moment, and then get this: it was one of the proudest moments of my life.  Because it turns out now that the pursuit of popularity is no longer on my list of things to do, I would like nothing better than to be completely unrecognizable!

 Do I contradict myself? 
Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes -
Walt Whitman

Yes, I hear you, why am I inked from head to toe if I am trying not to be noticed? My reply is the quote above.  My tattoos, whose various histories and meanings will likely be subject of another post here are intensely personal.  The image above is one of the few G-rated  photos in which most of my pieces are visible. They remain something I do for me, first and foremost.  So, it still surprises me when people point and ask about them, as if they were inquiring about my choice of underwear.  You’d think they would drive people away, make me an unapproachable badass. No such luck. I am apparently so approachable and accessible, old ladies walk up to me to ask what they mean and how much time money and pain went into their acquisition.  Tough construction workers stop in the middle of their dirty catcalls to say “wow, that’s beautiful work, who’s your artist?”  Every time the weather gets warm and my clothing less concealing I face interrogations from strangers and acquaintances alike, the latter of whom are ever astonished that on the surface of my very bland and uncool self there could be such a display of counterculture color. These reactions used to horrify me, and now they make me laugh.  Just as I no longer need to be universally sought after for inclusion in the in-crowd, I don’t need to be considered a badass outcast in the outside world because of who I seem to be on the outside.

  I have no idea what the audience makes of me - Keef
I’ve come to love the world within, where I always was and always will be a decadent yet charming rockstar. I don’t need to be edgy. I can dress more like Richard Simmons than Keith Richards and I won’t be any more or less cool than I ever was or will be. And here’s the best part of all – turns out, there is no such thing as this ideal I was always striving for. The popular kids all ended badly shortly after moving from school to stressful jobs, suburbia, divorce, midlife crisis and overpriced therapy sessions in which they talk about how insecure they always were in school, and disbelieving of all the attention and praise they received while inside they were a frightened mess. The edgy kids all ended up in rehab or on the streets because they were also insecure and disbelieving and just because they could look awesome in ripped jeans and a black t-shirt and drink Jack Daniels until dawn apparently didn’t mean they were headed for greatness any more than I was. They never even found a world within to love; they were too busy getting confusing and scary feedback for and from the world outside.

 My Cool Mom, ca 1968
So what is cool? Where is cool? Who is cool? It certainly isn’t this latest version of me, sitting here in an oversized Portland Maine sweatshirt, track pants and flipflops, sipping scotch and soda while I type on a laptop, with balls of yarn and bags full of buttons nearby, more concerned with launching a business that will keep me from a desk job than whether I can pull off a form-fitting outfit made entirely of safety pins and vinyl. I still want to have a unique and memorable style. I want people to see me and immediately understand the depth of my soul, the darkness of my fire, instead of mistaking me for my mother. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. My Mom used to wear patterned stockings and thigh high boots, sheath dresses patterned after Mondrian and drink martinis at house parties full of intellectuals who smoked pipes and wore tweed jackets!  Pretty cool in her day.  Of course, she never believed it.

I think what I’ve finally figured out is that cool is in the eye of the beholder. We are none of us as unique as we believe, but we are also none of us as pathetic as we believe. I am always surprised to hear people respond to my bellyaching about not being cool with “oh, but you ARE!! I wish I were more like you!” to which I respond by looking behind me to see who they are really talking to.  Maybe the grass is always greener, and the cool is always cooler, on the other side.


  1. Once again Gabriella a great post! Love your images. You and your mom look fantastic in your own way. I guess it is also a matter of maturing, experiencing and learning to like ourselves better and being happy with ourselves and what we do at least that is my case. Thanks again for your words.

  2. Beautiful "chinese painting-like" photography!
    Dare to be different ...
    is not easy to embrase ...
    Both in my full time profession and photography hobby, I have been trying very hard to be different ...

  3. yeh, I'm with you on this one. just be yourself,

    do what you want to do, be what you wanna be, yeh (whoops a bit of russel morris there)

    anyway, when I think about it all the pretentious people that I know talk about not being or being a stereotypical this and that. and they are all pretty trendy in what they are or try to be. Whoops trendy is a stereotype too. damn.

    this post has got me thinking about the mob, conformists, social behaviours, and happiness. hmmmm


  4. Ah, Luis - this is one of the few GOOD things about getting old -- er, older! You finally grow into your own skin and learn not only who you are, but to be happy with that. Shame it takes so long, but better late than never! I'm glad you've come into your own as well. It feels great, doesn't it?

    Wong - I am so glad you noticed the Chinese influence in the photo! This shot was from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden - there is a large concrete fish pond with lilies and fish and it always gives me a feeling of old Chinese painting when I stare into its depths! Yes, it's hard to be different - and even harder to be who you are, whether that ends up being different or not! The best way is the middle way - be true to yourself.

    T - perhaps that was my hidden point - that if stereotypes are sometimes unavoidable, but they happen to be who you naturally are, why waste time identifying them as such? Just be, and leave the label-making to others. I can see where you're going though about social behaviors...we do have an urge to "follow" and it really can mess you up! I'm glad you enjoyed this post and it got you thinking!

  5. It´s so important do what you want, keep the calm and be secure that you`re not doing nothing wrong but being yourself.
    I understand you very well, in general i have little tolerance with people who don`t understand my way of life, my actions, my silence. They are always trying to force me make part of the mass. They don´t understand that be a instrospective person doesn´t mean be pessimist or negative. Some people just prefer work their criativity with more discretion. But nobody told us it won´t be easy. Be called a freak for prefering work with intimacy was not expected.
    What i try to do is: the negative energy of the people doesn´t reflect in a reciprocal way about my work or me.

    I support your cause. Keep in love.
    Kisses, dear Gabriella!!!

  6. Ah, Crissant - we have two introspective persons in this household (three if you count the cat!) so I know just what you mean - sometimes quiet is just quiet, not a negative thing - in fact, it's the opposite, it's positive, it is how we go into ourselves and renew our energies! But this is not considered "normal" by the, never mind the masses! Your comments always make me smile, my dear. Thanks or stopping by!

  7. Gabriella. I like this post. And to see your picture all tat's and all gives me an image altered but somehow the same.

    What people see what people give context to may not always or ever be the real person in front of them.

    To let someone in really, no really, is cool. We might have pocket protectors or studded jackets with a dozen Harley's out back.

    What we share in honestly with others is very cool.

    I have recently exposed myself to erin in a way I have never before with anyone. Opened a flood gate of truth in trust. I trusted. maybe that is cool. Maybe.

    I like this post. It poses questions people should ask and answer with the heart.


  8. oh Gabriella I understand you so much.. really

    like a lot the photo you put toghether for this post, compliment for your taste, and don't forget that I like you very much

    we are simil

  9. Robert - I do hope your recent willingness to trust another with "full exposure" proves to be cool in more than just a "maybe" way! I'm glad that the musings that go on in my head all the time and find their way into this blog seem to be reaching people, making them think, laugh, and feel. I've always been a very trusting person - often to my detriment, but I know no other way - so it comes naturally to me to share honestly, but it has taken a long time to accept the results, good or bad, and just continue to be myself, regardless! All the best to you.

  10. T Becque - another county heard from! And the vote is

    Be Yourself Unapologetically - 6
    Conform to the Masses - ZERO!

    Many thanks for your comment.

  11. Laura - it means so much to know you understand! It always makes me smile to see you here. I am just catching up online after a busy day at the art market, but will be visiting your site soon to see what beautiful things you have to offer - have a wonderful week, my dear!

  12. Yup.... I agree with everyone who has said * be yourself*. Girlfriend....besides that.... you are totally cool...... my kind of cool.
    I was a cheerleader in my high school but knew I didn't fit into that. Like you I was shy, smart and artistic. I knew I didn't fit into the norm. Now.... I like not fitting btw..... I don't knit but I love tea. All teas and especially the ceremonial Matcha tea.
    Btw...btw..... I think I've already told you about my own plans of coming back to my next life as a *cool* or a quirky rocker chick....... I'm so with you on those

  13. Manon, you're my kind of cool too! So it turns out you don't find or earn coolness, you just go out there (or go within) and make your own! Then you can decide who you want to hang out with based on whether they appreciate your quirky style. Anyone else, so long, sucka! In the next life, in which I will either be a cat or a rocker chick like you, either way I'll be looking for you!

  14.'s taken me a long time to respond, because this post is so full and opens up so many thoughts and one who lives in the interior world, it takes me some time to know what I think. I still can't say anything coherent, as these are large we identify with ourselves, with the larger world and how those notions change over time. I've always been an introvert, prefering to explore ideas in my interior world...makes it hard, often times, to fit in to an easy going, outgoing world, but I am finally comfortable in my own you say, better late than never. Wonderful post!

  15. Patti, I do seem to tackle the big topics, don't I? Each one of these posts could be an entire book-length essay, it seems! I have to exhibit a little restraint not to come back the next day with "and another thing.." to make sure I've fully examined all the angles of this multi-faceted item I've tried to shed some light on. That too is a benefit of age. I don't feel I have to say it all, get it right, not invite correction or conflict of opinion. It's good enough just to put some thoughts out there and see what happens. I am very much a happy resident of the interior world. I wonder now if I should be grateful to the outside world that rejected me long ago, because it gave me more time to focus within, which is how I became who I am today? Yes, of necessity, I've acquired some social skills to make life "on the outside" a less anxious-making, but really, I'm still 100% introvert! Thanks for your comments!

  16. Excellent post Gabriella! Yeah, be yourself! Everything you need is inside. That's a hard one to learn... took years for me to get over looking outside myself for validation and acceptance (and i still fall off the wagon at times) but it's so sweet when we get it.

    btw, you're pretty damn cool in my book.

  17. Thanks, Douglas! I knew you'd sympathize. And I swear I wasn't using this post as a clever way to get people to tell me I'm cool after all! Not that it's such a bad thing to hear!

    Have a great week!

  18. Remain outstanding as you are!!
    Have a very good week,

  19. Dear Gabriella, such a great post this is! (again) I love all your posts to get me thinking and laughing and feeling.
    I so can relate to you as the shy, silent girl at highschool who didn't fit in. But strange enough, feeling an alien didn't hold me back to wear 'strange'hippie-clothes that draws attention.
    Okay i was writing a long answer about my (un)cool self, but that's not appropriate. Maybe i write a post about it too if you don't mind. Don't wanna be a copycat but lots of thoughts of who i am is flowing inside my mind right now. Lol That's what your posts do with me and i like that.

    The photo with the fish is awesome! I love it a lot. All fits so perfect in this post, the words and wonderful images, the thoughts and feelings. I cannot knit for being too impatient but i love tea a lot. My favourite is Chai tea. :-D
    I know you weren't fishing but i think you are very cool, so is your mom btw.
    And yes the pleasant thing about getting older is that being cool isn't that important any longer. Although.... ;-)
    Sweet greetz and xoxo

  20. Oh, Luna, of course you can write anything you like! This is such a big topic, and everyone has their own experience to recount and their own way of doing it - I certainly do not own the exclusive rights, and I frankly would LOVE to see what you can do with it! The thoughts are flowing, girl, so let them flow!

    I am very fond of my fish photo too. Taken with a regular lens, leaning over the pond only inches away from the water! I love these fish, they are at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden which I visit whenever I am visiting my parents in New York, and they always make these patterns like a Chinese painting! It is so serene just watching them...artistic fish! Have a happy week, my dear.

  21. Great post, Gabriella. Great blog. Hubble bubble, here’s my eye of newt to throw into the mix of discussion.

    Methinks it’s hard to be both cool and kind. Coolness is about emotional non-responsiveness, disengagement, aloofness even. Yes, those designated cool care about what others think – of them. Kind people care about other people – full stop. Cool is cruel. In a life that has its inevitable shocks to the nervous system, kindness is a precious commodity. When the chips are down, who do you want by your side, Andy Warhol or Mother Teresa?

    Hang on, just a found a toe of sloth. Into the brew it goes. Maybe coolness is a defence forced on us by a world that’s too hot. I mean, take school. How unnatural and weird is that. Crowded into a room all day with a big bunch of strangers just because they are your age and society insists it’s good for you. Every academic year, yet another bunch of strangers. I won’t even talk about walking the city streets or living in a crowded apartment block or riding the subway at peak hour.

    Yet i read once that we evolved as tribal. Meaning, we are genetically programmed to live with just the same 60 people all our lives. Therefore meeting strangers was dangerous. You had to wear war-paint or a mask of menace. And walk tall. Walk cool.

    Great to meet someone in a blog who is willing to lift their mask. That’s real cool.

  22. Oh, most wise! Good to see you here Harry as what you've added to the mix has proven to be that perfect last ingredient that brings the whole brew to perfection! You are so right about coolness as defense, as a kind of cruelty. I suppose this ties in with my theory that humanity can be sorted into two camps - the perpetrators and the accommodators, the former caring for themselves and seeing the rest of the world in their image - or at their service - and the latter, however anti-social these introverts might become after years of social grief, still seeing their role in the world as basically one of service to and caring for others. There are always extremes, and degrees...but it does seem we fall into those categories so early - the actors and the acted upon. But both are in it for the same reason - survival.

    Don't even get me started on the unnatural abomination of apartment dwelling, much less (shiver) school!

    Thanks for your insight. Don't be a stranger. And have a great week, Mr. K!

  23. Great post, Gabriella, and so so cool. We are all born in search of an audience. We need one otherwise we die. Generally our first audience is our parents. I write to get noticed, others do other hings but all in all there's nothing wrong with wanting it, to be noticed that is.

    You might be interested to read this essay by Jacqueline Rose on the notion of celebrity: I find it fascinating.

    We want celebrity and yet it has its down size. Being cool is not quite the same as being a celebrity, but I think they might be on a continuum.

    I agree with you, too, that none of us are so unique as to be extraordinary and yet at the same time we are all unique and extraordinary. I enjoy contradictions, too.

    Thanks for a wonderful and refreshing trip through this topic, from nerd to cool and back again, then back again, again.

  24. Welcome, Elisabeth! Perhaps you are right, the pursuit of coolness, even though it often manifests itself as a rebellion against our parents, may just be our way of securing an audience as attentive and unquestioning as they once were for us! So many contradictions, ally and align oneself with some group in order to be "special," to want to be yourself and unique, unless of course no one's looking! And then as an adult to find so many likeminded solitary souls, lone wolves and misfits and malcontents all, but somehow connecting, alike, and kind to each other...

    Hope your leg heals quickly and well, by the way! I am well acquainted with the betrayals of the body...just over a knee injury that took six months to feel "right" again...except now I have to start all over from the beginning with what I had come to rely upon (take for granted?) as my physical abilities! Best to you.

  25. Thank you for speaking at my blog! Giants fever aside, I love your skin art and am compelled to admit I am a bit behind schedule on my own inking intentions. I only have something monochrome tossed over my left shoulder. I vaguely recall the conversation and comment you aver to at the top, but I cannot remember where it was. Doesn't matter. As you might see if you put up with enough of my words, I'm immersed in a form of identity crisis and it never occurs to me to wonder how well or poorly I fit this or that stereotype. That might come from hitting a certain age, though, and not just being too busy. Nor is age meant to imply maturity. I might just be too tired to care right now. I'll get my sports car and gold chains and chest hair implants later.

  26. Hey, Don - thanks for visiting me here and the compliments on the tats. I got a late start, but my inking intentions have been realized rather extensively in recent years! I expect all future plans (it's always about the NEXT tattoo) will be on hold for a while until my finances allow, so not to worry about being behind schedule, the schedule will be what it'll be and it is never too late...

    Oh, and I do check out your blog so I know all about your identity crisis and I actually admire your full immersion in the quest to get this whole who the heck is Don thing all sorted out! Go for it, my friend. But, listen, if you go the route of the gold chains, I don't know ya! Best to you.

  27. TT - this made me smile - I was a smart, sporty, nerd at school which was a weird combo. But at least I wasn't arty! It's such an exploration isn't it this thing called life? And I guess we're never done learning. I love your contradictions and I'll take a bit longer to get my head around the stereotype comments from that other person - my head went spinny trying to work it out! Go well

  28. Hi Fiona! I had a very small class at school, so all the categories were that much more intense, some did overlap (we had a smart sporty nerd too!) and some found themselves in a clique of one (our sole artist chick)! By the way, I'm still not sure I fully understand those stereotype comments either, all I know is I am what I am, and do what I do, and if any of that happens to be someone else's idea of a stereotype, well, who cares? I think this may have been the point that other person was trying to make, that one shouldn't make decisions based on anyone else's standards, but I guess I don't get around much, because I had no idea that there were enough tattooed tea drinking crocheters out there to constitute a stereotype! I will persist in my belief that even if there are, I'm still unique! Thanks for stopping by!

  29. Gabriella , tea and fiber.... for people that lives our generation is a revolution... one thing is if you are a house wife in the Maine or some englis-shire ... it is an steriotype....
    but imagine me here in Sao Paulo drinking tea and making hadcraft ... it is the most rebel someone can be in days as today. It is against everything. look at you !! hahah! it is really cool to imagine you Knitting. It is totaly unspected ... i am sorry this blogger , but steriotyped is to imagine that knitting and tea is a steriotype today . It is a revolution . hahah! i am serious.
    you know , i was always that trouble maker kid in the school , later as teenager , i was a junk one .... I was cool and friend of the most popular kids and of the nerd kids too. I prefered the nerds for two reasons :
    first they understood more about bands and literature than everyone else.
    Then because i think that every junk guy is a bit nerd , is a misfit ... more than a populer guy , people saw me as crazy or cool but i knew i was only a shy rebel explosive problematic kid.
    Today i walk down the streets and someones feel afrad to talk to me , even with my extremely conventional sosial cloths , the ones i use everyday. People think i am in a bad mood or I am a psycho. When they know i always listen : "But you are so nice and polite" . hahahah!!!
    So i am the opisite of you but at the same time identical .
    I think you would classify me as "edgy kid " . as i ended that way you described .
    I have no tatoos or even try to have a look , i get dressed as an 80 year old man , really , same cloths , as i buy used in charity markets , the cloths fron the old guy that just died are cheaper. hahah!!
    but i have my long hair and the bad ass motherfucker face i need to survive in a city as Sao Paulo. i think this is what scares people .
    other day a student of mine in the class said that i had no class to get dressed but was magnetic anyway. hahah!!i pretended that didn't understand or didn't listen that .
    why did i lose this post ?
    i can't beleive i didn't see this when you posted .

    all the best ...
    and HEY !! wow... all that body of the picture is for Brian ?
    Luck Brian , i can see why he is always nice in good mood and thinking properly . it fix any man's life and head .

  30. Hah! CAIO!! Everything you say is so true and makes me smile - it's okay you missed this post and didn't write until now, because how could anyone say anything next? This is the ultimate.

    I love to read about what you were like as a kid. you are unapproachable and I am too approachable, and no one really knows what goes on inside either of us! Yes we are alike, especially, it seems, in our fashion choices!

    But, funny, when I still lived in Manhattan, I had my motherfucker face too, for walking bad streets at night, and the drug dealers and homeless all stayed away from me! But if one of the "locals" sitting on their front steps asked me how I was and wished me a good night in Spanish, the nice/polite face came back. I cannot believe now the chances I took in the places I walked through, but they were not chances, the eyes of the neighborhood knew and protected me. Once I moved to Boston I didn't need to be tough anymore! I sort of miss being a badass!

    Oh and I think Brian knows just how lucky he is - I am a very lucky girl in a good mood too because of him!

    Thanks for your comment, my friend!

  31. there are lots of us out in blogland that totally relate to what you say here. I know, I for one, could not have expressed it as well as you did.

  32. Hi Deanna! It was such a surprise that T directed her readers over here to my humble blog! I am so glad that by writing this piece I not only got something off my chest, and helped myself to understand better an issue (or two or three..) I've been pondering for many years, but also was able to reach a few good folks out there who sympathize. I had no idea it would reverberate so. It would seem there are quite a few of us who think this same way, and that we are not alone, and that it is okay to talk now about the miseries and awkwardness we once went through! I hope we all arrive at wisdom and peace soon enough to enjoy many happy years of being our true selves no matter what anyone else thinks! Thanks for the follow, and don't be a stranger! Best to you.

  33. this was great.
    it made me laugh
    more than once.


  34. Welcome, Mnemosyne - I am glad someone finally commented on the humor in this piece! Laughter helps a lot when dealing with such weighty issues...many thanks for visiting!

  35. great post. I have been there too.
    You're so right: being comfortable with yourself. Just being you. I constantly ask my self why I choose for something, whether it is really me.

  36. Hi Sandra - now that I have seen by your last post that you are pressed for time I am all the more honored and pleased you came to visit me here! Many thanks. This post got the biggest reaction ever from my followers, it really has touched something in everyone! Stay true.

  37. I'm so glad I came to see you, learn more of you. Robert has been telling me of you and of this post specifically. I see why. Two Tigers, indeed. Countless ones, I kinda guess.

    Cool/beauty, I think, often lives in the eye of the beholder, but in the eye of the beholden, as well. It's up to us to see our cool and to brave enough to live it. Perhaps that's why you are so accessible? Maybe you draw people in because you're brave enough to be - well, you.

    Good to meet you.

    (god help me, I xo)

  38. Hi Erin - How good of Robert to direct you here! This post got the biggest response of any I have written to date. The coolness conundrum has been on my mind for a long time, and I think writing about it was a way to get a better grip on the subject, and that of course required complete honesty regarding my own insecurities. Now that I've arrived at this point of self-acceptance, it doesn't feel so brave to be me - I really find the alternative - constantly curtailing or re-making myself in someone else's image - takes way more thought and energy! But I do like your idea of seeing our own cool and bravely living it! Don't be a stranger! XO back at ya.