07 April 2009

smashing it up (maison21 gets personal)

it's amazing how an object, a smell, a taste- something you haven't thought about in years- can instantly transport you back decades. for proust, it was a madeleine (didja ever expect such a highbrow literary reference here at m21?), and for maison21 it was a framed poster for a punk rock single (aaaand... bringing it right back down again).
m21's madeleine

last weekend at the m21 yard sale pop-up store, my neighbors brought over the above poster to sell. i gleefully snatched it up, and was instantly transported back almost 30 years, to the year that probably changed my life more than any other. i carried the little framed poster (originally torn from a british magazine) around the rest of the day, grinning at the incredible memories that were instantly conjured by this object's random appearance in my life- amazing how the universe works sometimes.

you see in the summer between junior high and high school, my parents sold the home i grew up in and uprooted me to an entirely new part of town, where i wouldn't know a soul at the new high school i would be attending. all of the friends and neighbors i grew up with would be left behind- only a 40 minute drive away, but for a kid without a driver's license, it might as well have been mars.
baby m21 in europe

to make up for it, i guess, my parents took me to europe that summer, and without knowing, set me on a journey that would change my life forever. maison21 isn't trying to be fancy here- this was no european grand tour where i discovered the love of my life in beautiful venetian palazzo- that would be a merchant-ivory film, not my life. this was a 3 1/2 week bus tour that was literally "europe's greatest hits- 25 cities in 25 days!". nonetheless, however white trashy the trip was, it had a significance in my life that reverberates to this day, particularly the trip's starting and stopping points.

the simplicity of versailles ;-)

the trip started in london, and ended in paris, and my experience in both places completely changed the course of my life. at the ending, in paris, the pivotal point was taking a trip see the classical splendors of the chateau de versailles one morning, and then taking in the brand spanking new, just opened, post-modern industrialism of the beauborg (pompidou centre), the next. i decided then and there to become an architect (a dream later abandoned in favor of interior design, when i discovered that to be an architect, you had to pass physics- an impossibility for right-brained me). trying to reconcile my love of antiquity, rococo & gilt, with my love of modernism, post-modernism & all things new, has certainly informed the aesthetic of my adult life (and career), and is something that still brings me great joy to this day- like chocolate and peanut butter, m21 simply thinks they are "two great tastes, that taste great together".
the beauborg

at the beginning point of my journey, london, the life changing experience was a bit different, but had perhaps even a stronger impact on forming my adult personality and outlook: in the days before the tour officially started, my parents and i took london's famous taxicabs around the city, and everywhere we went, i saw these little groups of kids with parti-colored hair and strange outfits, laughing and whooping it up- they reminded me of peacocks or parrots in their multi-color exoticism and finally i asked one of the cabbies, what the heck are they about? he replied "they're punkers, into that punk rock. you'll want to stay away from that lot- they're dangerous". well, they didn't look very dangerous to me- they looked carefree, and happy, and cool- like they were having the time of their lives, and could care less what some grumpy old cab driver- or anyone else- thought of them! before we left london, timid little teenaged me made my way to a london record store, where i asked the clerk if i could buy some punk rock (what ever the heck that was). he sold me an album by the damned- "they were the first", in his words, and i carried the record (un-listended to) through the rest of the 24 cities on our tour, and then the 11,000 miles back to san diego, and really didn't give it or the london punk rock kids, another thought for the summer. i was more excited about the preppy and fashionable new clothes i was buying for the school year- in europe, no less- than i was about some record album i couldn't even play in our hotel room...
no, i didn't see dame vivienne westwood in london, but i did glimpse tons of street kids emulating the style she helped create...

back home, i started at my new high school, dressed in the new clothes purchased abroad- candy colored lacoste polos and trendy skinny jeans- thinking i would be hot stuff on my new campus (ironically, tres similar to the uniform i wear today). and i would have ruled the school had i been going to the high school in my old neighborhood where preppy, fashionable and academically inclined were the tickets to popularity. my new school? not so much. being beach adjacent, it was full of surfers and jocks (if you missed a shot on the racket ball courts, it ended up in sea water!)- the dress code of the day there, was flip-flops, board shorts and an old t-shirt. academically inclined? again, not so much. more like "beach & bong" inclined.

i was instantly a fish out of water, and over time, though i tried desperately to adapt and fit in, i was branded a freak, and worse- a fag (true, of course, but it sure wasn't fun to hear at the time). i spent the first semester of my sophomore year wandering the halls during lunch period because i didn't have any friends to sit with, and was too scared to venture into the populated cafeteria or quad for fear of getting food thrown at me (really- food thrown- no lie).

after school though, my thoughts returned to the record i bought in london- i would go home and listen to it over and over, and even added more to my punk rock LP collection by laboriously searching out the one record store in town where english imports were available- no small feat in pre-internet suburban san diego. as i listened, i'd think of those brightly colored punk rock kids i saw in london- seemingly so happy and carefree, and so very opposite of the way i was feeling at school everyday. at some point i just said screw it- why bother even trying to fit in if i'm never going to be accepted? if the kids at school think i'm a freak and a fag, then i'll show 'em freaky and faggy! so i went to the salvation army, bought an armful of vintage clothes, and then to the drug store for a box o' hair dye,and never looked back.
People call me weird, oh it's such a shame
Maybe it's my clothes, must be to blame
I don't even care if I look a mess
Don't wanna be a sucker like all the rest
smash it up- the single from my yard sale find at the top of the post, and my teen-aged self's oft repeated mantra.
30 years later this may not sound so radical- we see freakier kids all the time now, right? , but trust me, at the time it was weird. i was officially the only freak at my high school, and you know what? it was the best thing i could have done. the taunts just didn't sting as much, once i had made up my mind not to give a flying you-know-what.

within no time at all, i had a circle of friends outside of high school (college age kids... who could buy beer!) and at school, i eventually developed a circle of new wave girlfriends to laugh and eat lunch with. the threats would still come- jocks would wanna kick my "faggot punk rock ass" or call my girlfriends "new wave sluts" but i would just respond "is it going to make you a more of a man, to beat up a girl or a fag?" and 9 times out of 10, they would slink away. the tenth time, i'd get punched, but it was worth it to stick up for my friends (and myself too).
moi at 15? 16? this was the evening of my transformation from preppy to punk- my mom chronicled the event with our polaroid.

though i ended up never to going to prom, or any other high school landmarks, i had a blast doing my own thing, and funny thing is in the years after graduation, more often than not, what i heard from the people who knew me then, was: "i really admired you in high school & i wish i could have been more like you- i was just miserable trying to fit in all the time". one dude who tried to make my life particularly miserable ended up crying during his apology! i told him there was nothing to be sorry for- not being part of the in-group was one of the best life lessons i could have received, and literally, made me into the person i am today. i'll never be scared to do something different than the norm, march to my own drummer, or miss an opportunity, solely because "nobody else is doing it". things i might have never learned if things were different!
my 17th birthday, with freshly bleached hair- it must have been my gift to myself...

so what does this have to to with decorating, or design? nothing really. it's just been on my mind, and hey, since it's my blog, i think it's important remind my adult self every so often, of the simple lessons i was lucky enough to learn as a teen:

#1- be true to yourself and stand up for your beliefs,
#2- not to worry so much about what others think of you- they'll come around as long as you follow #1
and last, #3- sometimes, it feels good to take a punch for a friend.


now, if you made it this far, and want to listen to some music that for better or worse, helped shape yours truly, i give you "smash it up" by the damned:

36 comments:

Pigtown-Design said...

bravo!

mary said...

so many touching things about that post..raising three children in Orange County was a challenge as they had to face those issues everyday. You would understand that - living in the area. Trying to raise normal teenagers in Laguna Beach - OMG. The most touching thing for me was the photo your mom took -. how wonderful that she stood beside you.

barbara said...

Wonderful story to kick off ones day and a kick in the pants to be true to oneself,Thanks for sharing!!

mary said...

Thanks for reminding me of the essentials in life--true to oneself, personal integrity and commitment.
I think that your post has everything to do with interior design: daring to do the unexpected, embracing life and going for it! I love your MOM!

Leah said...

LOVE LOVE LOVE this post, M21! I could have written it myself -- albeit the female, suburban San Jose version. I think we were living in parallel universes, complete with the move to a new school; the summer trip to London, where the possibility of a whole new world opened up; and the cretinous classmates who solidified my determination to NOT follow the herd. I just wish you had been at my high school -- I would've happily joined your harem of new wave girlfriends.

katiedid said...

Growing some teenagers myself right now that are marching to their own drum, and doing the same myself at their age, I can certainly relate! But I have confidence that my girls will turn out to be wonderfully creative thinkers and accomplished adults that have empathy and admiration for those that don't color inside the lines. Just like you! Thanks for the visit to your your wonderful and brave past! Loved it!

Tracy said...

You really ARE an 80's boy, aren't you?! Isn't it something how tame The Damned and their contemporaries seem now? I was a teenager in the 70's (Van Halen, Fleetwood Mac, stoner surfers, Farrah hair and Candies shoes - yikes!) and we had very few *freaks* at my high school. (I'm sure they were there, just not out about it) I can hardly imagine how brave you had to be simply to live your life and be yourself -- those of us considered *normal* had a hard enough time. Anyone who says they *loved* high school is either lying or delusional, don't you think?! Great story. Great hair. Great mom to document it for posterity!

THE PICKLED HUTCH said...

This story really shows what inner core strength we possess. And what can happen when we embrace it and live by it. You were lucky to be so young when you found it and it sounds like mum was a great support as well.
Lisa & Alfie

maison21 said...

thanks, meg!

mary, southern california is a treacherous place to grow up. i applaud anyone who has the fortitude to rasie teenagers, perior, let alone here! and yes, my mom was pretty indulgent- looking back it's another thing i'm pretty grateful for! your kids seem pretty lucky too!

barbara- thank you! one of the reasons i felt compelled to write the post was to remind myself about the importance of standing up for myself and those i care for, even if it's unpopular. i'm glad it resonates with others, too.

maison21 said...

mary, i was reminding myself of those essentials, but i'm glad you enjoyed them too! i actually did have a paragraph tying it back into interiors, but took it out- seemed a bit superfluous on proofreading, but i believe it most definitely applies- cookie cutter interiors are boring! do your own thing! or at least hire m21 to do your own thing for you! ;-P

and i love my mom too- she was pretty indulgent of her little freak...

leah-

we could have had a great times together! (though the magic of facebook, i just spent a couple of days in the company of one of my former new wave gf's, and was pleaed to see that she is still marching to her own beat as well. it sticks with us, doesn't it?)

amazing you had a transformative trip to london too! it was such a creative and electrifying place at the time. even though i was only 14 or 15 and didn't quite understand it, i could sure feel it...

katie-

thank you, and god bless you for being supportive mother to your kids. it's such a tough time as it is, i can't imagine what it would be like to not have the love and support of your parents! good on you!

maison21 said...

tracy- i'm so 80's, i scare myself. (class of 81, btw- i was trying to figure out the time line for this whole thing through some pretty hazy memories- 1977? 1978?, i'm just not sure!).

god, wasn't high school a bitch, though? my own nieces and nephews seem to have pulled through a little easier, but i would imagine from their point of, it was just as difficult to navigate. no one gets through unscathed!

thanks for the props- i did indeed have both a great mom and great hair! i think i probably thought the hair was more important at the time, though! ;-)

lisa & alfie-

i would imagine knowing i was loved at home had a lot to do with being able to find courage at a young age! without it, who knows? thanks for your kind words and for visiting...

Anonymous said...

Yawn...

maison21 said...

well, "yawn..." anon at 2:33:43 from NEW ORLEANS- i'm sad you didn't learn anything from my boring post. guess you can't teach an old troll new tricks.

Tracy said...

Had to go back for another look at this post. I think I have high school on the brain lately. My daughter graduated last June and is safely off to college, living on her own and doing really well. She's smart and creative and open to anything that sounds like fun. I wasn't sure whether any of us would survive her senior year though. Oh, the drama! Seriously. Scary and so unnecessary. So relieved it's over. Again. But then, quite recently, I received an invite to my 30th (!!!) reunion (Class of '79. Ugh) If I ever find out who gave up my current address, that person will be dead to me. Don't get me wrong, I had plenty of fun in high school: drill team (way bigger than cheer at my school), dances (no prom - too cliche), Friday nites at Shakeys Pizza after the game, clothes and shoes and pool parties! But I also had braces, divorcing parents, a goody-two-shoes rep that kept the boys away and a general disinterest in being *popular*. So when high school was over it was OVER and I was GONE. I tried to tell my daughter that it would be that way for her too. That the people, the problems, the stesses of her senior year would be gone for her too if she could just see past them, get past them, with her heart and integrity intact. She seems to believe me now. Finally. With (almost) two semesters of college behind her and lots of plans ahead of her, high school, she says, seems so long ago already.
Didn't mean to ramble. And you don't even have to post this comment. Clearly I have *issues* that your post brought to the surface. Just know that I appreciate and enjoy how you do what you do: whether you're writing about design, or your life, or art, or your dog, or your business, or your hair... with sincerity and intelligence and just the right amount of smart-ass to keep it real. Thanks!

The Original Cheetah-Hating Anon said...

Awwwwwww M21, what a bittersweet tale! And one that I can relate to so much.

I had a similar experience during middle and HS years.

I spent most of my time a.) trying to make myself invisible and b.) ducking the bullies.

Those years sucked. I don't know if it was just L.A. or that we as a society were making our entry into the era of greed, but at my school if you didn't have rich parents, hair that feathered just so, or the right brand of expensive shoes, (K-Swiss for guys, Famolares for girsl) you were an outcast.

Two years abroad at a boarding school in Latin America changed everything for me.

From ages 15 to 17, I discovered there was a bigger world out there. And I realized how small and petty my LA classmates were.

By the time I returned to my Los Angeles HS during senior year, I had developed a deep sense of who I was and no longer cared about trying to fit in. I was ready for bigger and better things!



Anyway, thanks for this non-decor post! Really enjoyed it.

Suzy said...

What a great story - I wish we'd been in high school together! I love the bleach blonde hair. I went through a bit of a punk phase too at that age

Oh, and by the way - I wanted to be an architect too until they told me I'd have to drop all my art subjects to do maths and physics...

Cote de Texas said...

hehehe - great minds think alike - I graduated high school in 1972 - so I was older and grown up when i went through this phase in my 20s. My boyfriend was in the hottest punk band in Houston "Really Red" - google them -!! They opened for the Clash when they came to town and we hung with them and every other great band from England that came through Houston. my dad told me he would buy me any car I wanted if I would just break up with him - Kelly told me to take the Ferrari. ha!!! I didn't. We broke up after about 8 years and the next week I met Ben - the preppiest prep in Texas. My clothes changed but not my taste in music.

maison21 said...

tracy-

i tried to let all my nieces and nephews know when they went through all the high school crap, that it would pass, and when they left, they could be whoever they wanted to be. but when you are young, it really does seem like your whole life will be that way forever! only 'til you get our age do you realize, NOTHING is forever, and life can change on a dime...

and please ramble- this post generated more emails sent to me than any other i've ever published. seems like EVERYONE had miserable high school issues lurking in their psyche, and lots of them didn't want to live them out again in the public comment section!

your kind words are also very appreciated. thank you! *he says blushing*

maison21 said...

tocha- boarding school abroad sounds like a life changing experience- lucky you! i think i asked my parents to send me to a boarding school at one point during that horrible 1st year of HS, but i was hoping for something in england in brideshead revisited mode- you know full of dreamy aristocratic english boys. ;-)

glad you liked the post- thanks for the comment too.

maison21 said...

joni-

i googled your ex-bf, and watched a video of them play live, and was trying to figure out which girl in the mosh pit was you!

i love that under that chic french country exterior you have a hidden punk rock past! LOVE! i'm picturing a tattooed dude with a mohawk, swiggin' a beer, on your pretty white sofas with the zebra pillows... ;-) i'm also pretty envious of your hanging out the clash!

ps- send me a picture of punk rock joni sometime- i promise not to share!

maison21 said...

suzy, i wish we had hung out too! you & leah could have joined my new wave girlfriends & i on the lawn of the quad for lunch. some days, lunch was a thermos full of vodka and oj, and we'd giggle our way through our last two periods! aaaaah, youth. still got good grades, though...

and your point about architects having to take math and physics at the expense of art and design is something i use as a cautionary tale for clients- i advise having a designer consult from the very beginning on new construction as some (but certainly not all ) architects just don't have that art & design background happening.

Jill said...

3 Cheers to you! I moved the Summer of my freshman year. New High School, new people and clothes! Which was terrifying. I had gone to small Catholic schools prior...so uniforms were all I knew.

Your European jaunt sounds wonderful. What great memories it provided.

YSLGuy said...

You just told my life story! Except for the European trip. We were too poor for that.

My freshman year I left my mother in Florida to go live with my father in rural Ohio. I adapted into this punk rock kid that was the gossip of the school since I was openly gay and very different.

I really love alot of the bands that got me through those years - The Smiths, The Cure, Pixies, etc.

It's good to know that I wasn't the only one!

Tracy said...

Wait. I could have emailed you and shared what I *really* think??!! Oh, you're in trouble now! (kidding - kinda)

Habitually Chic said...

That is the sweetest post I have ever read! I completely agree with Tracy who says, "Anyone who says they *loved* high school is either lying or delusional, don't you think?!" You couldn't pay me to go back there!

Thank you Christian for being my friend and taking a punch for me recently. The blogoshere has made me realize that some people will never grow out of their high school mean girl mentality. Or maybe it's just all the hair dye.

I think we can get all dressed up hold our own prom when I finally visit LA. Wouldn't that be a hoot?!

maison21 said...

jill, i imagine the transition from catholic school to public school was terrifying- i'm glad you survived! ;-)

maison21 said...

yslguy- i think you were probably far braver than i- openly gay in SD was probably a heck of a lot easier than rural ohio! we gays had it pretty tough in school though, so it was easy to become the misfit, though our keen sense of fashion meant we were always trés stylish misfits!

as for the bands, i still probably listen to the smiths/morrissey more than any other band from the 80s' just timeless for me, i guess.

maison21 said...

tracy- you (and anyone) are ALWAYS welcome to email and share! just be prepared that i'm not always able to email back- i'm not shunning anyone, but there are only so many hours in the day, so when busy, something's gotta give, and that's usually blog stuff! not so much of problem though in our current economy- emails, i gots time for! ;-)

maison21 said...

heather, for reals about high school right? everyone was miserable, even the prom queens!

and too bad our little corner of blogosphere is getting a bit high schooly of late, isn't it? but i hope it's not the hair dye that causes the meanness because during that period of my life, my hair was every color of the rainbow! from bozo red to deepest aubergine (my favorite back then). of course i was just a kid when i thought those hair colors were cute, and i've grown up a bit since- thank god! ;-)

as for taking a punch for you- anytime! you'd do the same...

Patricia Gray said...

Thanks for sharing this about yourself. My heart was crying for you in your teens. Kids can be so mean. I am glad that you found youself through all the pain. That takes great courage and I admire you for being true to yourself, which is no easy FEAT!!! Keep on your own path and keep 'Following your Bliss'. You're the greatest.
Patricia

maison21 said...

patricia, you are just the sweetest and kindest. thank you for your comment and your email, they both mean much to me.

c.

YSLGuy said...

Morrissey is still my ultimate favorite (even over bands today). You should check out his album that just came out last month. It's amazing!

forristera said...

i LOVE the damned. And many other punk and metal bands. See I went to a small high school in Central MA (about 700 kids) those who had their own identities definitely stood out like a sore thumb. For the first two years I was "the goth chick" and really the only one... the last two years I was "the art chick" who was responsible for designing and delegating all that had to do with sets for the school plays. Luckily, I did not get too much crap from the other kids as I did tend to either keep to myself or talk to any of the other kids that the general HS populous were afraid of. Now I am only a few years out of high school and into my third year in an interior design program with only about 30 other people. As they run around in their Hollister tees and Ugg boots I'm still showing up to class in heavy metal and punk tees, skinny jeans and combat boots. I wouldn't have it any other way. One must ALWAYS stay true to one's self. Do what makes you feel good.

maison21 said...

yslguy-

i have a friend- a 44 year old male friend, mind you -that had to rush out to buy the new morrissey because of his half-nekkid photo on the art. i actually found it sweet that inside a grown man, beats the heart of 13 y.o. school girl with a crush...

maison21 said...

you go forristera! thanks for sharing your tale, and i hope by the time you graduate your ID program, the economy has recovered enough that our industry is hiring again!

and speaking of goth girls, did you know yours truly invented goth? and punk rock, the internets and gangsta rap? swear:
http://maison21.blogspot.com/2007/12/eeeek-not-chic-this-one-is-for-kids-and.html

Easy and Elegant Life said...

Last summer I passed a kid (seriously, he was about 18) wearing a Minor Threat button on his backpack. Instant time warp. Somewhere there's a photo of me with spiked hair and an earring eating a Dan Fogleberg tape that my roommate refused to stop playing.

Like the man sang... "Ccccchanggges..."