21 October 2010

a rerun (it gets better, m21 style)

m21 meant to run this yesterday in honor of spirit day, a day of remembrance to honor the gay kids who have struggled and committed suicide,  but no matter- the message stays the same regardless of the date.

this was my own "it gets better" story (kinda), posted on 4/07/09  and i thought it apropos to rerun it again, a year and a half later, in light of current events.  on the off chance a teen should wander across my blog, i want you to know that it does get better- way better-  and whatever problems you are experiencing in high school, they will pass, and happier times will come around, i promise.

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-listened 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 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 racquetball courts, it ended up in sea water!). the dress code of the day 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 at me- 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 i 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:

to find out how you can help GLBT teens in crisis, please visit the trevor project.


MadHat said...

Just read this to my teenager who is dealing with some 'mean girls'. I had a friend like you in high school. We both transferred in late in the year, from the same private school. No one else would talk to us so we stuck together when we could-- he with his bleached hair and thrift store black trench coat, me wearing pendelton kilts and penny loafers. One day a kid spat on him as we walked down the hall and everyone acted as if nothing happened. That pretty much sums up high school in the 80's.

maison21 said...

madhat, i feel so sorry for your teenager- mean girls are the worst. at least guys tend to just get into a fistfight and get over it, whereas mean girls seem to hold a grudge forever... tell her to be strong- high school doesn't last forever!

Teresa at Splendid Sass said...

I believe that the most important thing in life is being yourself and at the same time bettering yourself. It's a mean world out there, and I sometimes wonder what has happened in the life of those inflicting the pain. They couldn't be happy.
Have a great weekend!

Ashley said...

You just brightened my morning. Despite the fact that I'm nearing 30, I, like madhat's teenager, am currently dealing with a crop of mean girls who seem intent on destroying the life I'm trying to build myself (after moving across the country for a "fresh start.") I'm going to print out your simple lessons as a reminder that things will get better, and that this won't last.

abby jenkins said...

high school in the 80s...hated it! I would have certainly hung out with you and embraced our 'freakness' together. Being the youngest of 6 kids I certainly had a self confidence that allowed me to tell the 'mean kids' to eff off. Would run home and eat a box of capt crunch and cry but put on a strong face in front of the bullies...those people who would make fun of me and the blind classmate I would help from class to class. Real classy those kids. Nice to see they haven't advanced and ironic that they attempt to 'friend' me on facebook. Who is the loser now, loser?

On a positive note, what a gift your parents gave you, a trip to Europe. Lifechanging. ROCK ON!

jones said...

Hi Christian, I applauded this post when you originally wrote it; today it remains an inspiration. What was true for high school milieus, holds true for any social situation where conformity seems to be the norm. You apparently have great parents--what a difference that can make. Hopefully, anyone reading this can look in the mirror and say: let me be true to myself. thanks for reposting this. Mary

hello gorgeous said...

This made me smile and cry. It also made me very proud of my daughter who with one of her friends (a boy who was picked on mercilessly throughout school) freshman year started their school's Gay Straight Alliance. It was not easy (they could not even call it Gay Straight Alliance the first year, only GSA, so of course I had the ACLU on the horn pronto but it turned out to be unnecessary because the following year when they called it Gay Straight Alliance, nobody cared! She also had transferred from private to public school, dyed her hair blue or something and began her journey to being true to herself and sticking up for her friends. She's awesome and so are you.

maison21 said...

teresa, i agree wholeheartedly- people who enjoy being mean to others are either tremendously insecure and unhappy or just plain psycho.

ashley- sadly, some people never grow out of the bullying stage. i originally wrote this a year and a half ago in response to a group of women bloggers who thought it was fun to make fun of others. some of them are old enough to be my mother, yet are still pulling junior high school mean girl shenanigans. despicable so sadly, bullies exist at any age. you are right to remove yourself from the situation, and right again to know it will pass in time. be strong!

abby- i hear you! people who would make fun of a blind kid and the girl nice enough to help her are beyond contempt. i'm glad you had the confidence to do what it right- some people NEVER get it, even as adults!

mary- thank you for being such a loyalist, and reading this post the second time around! as your children undoubtedly know as well- knowing your parents love you no matter what, is a great source of strength during difficult childhood years.

gorgeous, please give your daughter a great big hug from me! that is just awesome! she has obviously learned some good life lessons from mom.

julia wheeler said...

i remember when you did this post originally too... it's just as good the second time around. i am so glad to have the thick skin i acquired in junior high and high school... there's nothing better than being different... we've got character!! thanks for sharing again!

Paul Anater said...

Christian, thanks for running this. It's my first time reading it and you just brightened up my living room in ways you could never imagine. You're a good man and it's a pleasure, a great pleasure, to know you.

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...


This post should go down in blogger annals as one of the most poignant, POWERFUL and INSPIRING entries ever (and funny, too -- that's so you, though to make someone laugh while they have a lump in their throat). I am so happy to know you. The life lessons you learned undoubtedly have made you the success you are today. Hearing about your trials and tribulations as a teenager have only made me love you more: how CUTE were you on that Europe trip? And as a punk? (And I am so with you on the physics thing. Retch.)

I never got food thrown at me, but I had to deal with the mean girl issue (bound to happen when your mom convinces you that the red leather maxi coat she bought you in London is bound to be a big hit with the second graders). Funny, I wish I could have that coat back now. :)

Sorry I missed the get-together. Would love to see you soon, though! xx

Yours in love and awe,


Froulala said...

Thanks for sharing your story. Great lessons! I hope someone out there who is feeling a wee bit inferior about themselves will find a renewed sense of confidence after reading your story. Your parents are amazing and what a blessing you are to them as well!