I tried to be Stargirl

I tried to write a blog about homeschooling for a while, and then stopped because I don’t want to write about homeschooling most of the time. I want to be much more than my childhood. But this story popped into my head again, and I started to rewrite it, and then I remembered that I’d written it before. It’s a story about singing in class: 

When I was fifteen or so, I read Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl, a book about a boy who falls in love with a strange and fascinating girl. Stargirl was homeschooled until she decided she “wanted to socialize,” and then she went to high school, where she played her ukulele in the cafeteria and wore gowns to class and didn’t understand why people made fun of her. She was my age, and she was bursting with love for the whole world.

I thought about writing to Jerry to let him know that he’d been pretty insulting to us homeschoolers. I knew what to wear! And I socialized plenty. At the same time, though, I kind of wanted to be Stargirl. She didn’t care about anything that her peers did, she just expressed herself, regardless of the results, because she knew who she was.

(I didn’t have a ukulele. source)

Mom was always finding classes for me to attend at the Arts’ Council of Princeton. I was already in an adult guided writing circle, and I’d just started a class in figure painting for high schoolers. The teacher was a young woman with long, straight hair and a placid, clear-eyed face. She looked like she never had to smile because nothing ever merited that extreme of a physical reaction.

 

Stargirl did badly in her classes. She didn’t understand the point of academics. I didn’t understand the point of academics either, but I understood the point of doing well. The painting teacher told me my art didn’t have enough weight. She couldn’t feel the naked woman’s ass where it connected with the floor.

She said “ass,” which impressed me for a few minutes. After class, she took me outside and talked with me for a long time. She told me about her mentor, a famous artist whose work always had lots of weight, who had sculpted a couple having sex, and the man’s hand on the woman’s ass was an exquisitely beautiful moment. You could feel him grabbing her skin. I wondered if she was having sex with her mentor. Probably. But I knew how to talk to adults.

“That’s amazing. What about your own work? I’d love to see it.”

She refused. She didn’t want to influence me. She wrote me little cryptic notes about birds and invisible lines and space. I didn’t have any idea what she was talking about.

“You get it? Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you? Your hand is the bird.”

I nodded solemnly and looked straight into her round eyes. “I think I’m starting to understand.”

She thought my work was improving. I thought it got uglier the more I tried to follow her suggestions.

“Embrace the ugly!” She said. “Find the beauty in shit. Or just paint shit. But I want to smell it. I want it to feel like shit. To stink like shit.”

I wanted to paint beautiful naked women in mysterious settings. Prophetesses. Goddesses. Elvyn queens.

The other students in the painting class already knew each other, from school. I decided I might as well be Stargirl, and maybe I’d have more fun. I decided to do whatever I wanted. I put all my hair under a green cap and smeared Vaseline over my face so that it shone as though I was sweating heavily. I loved the look of my glistening skin.

(I still think green caps are cute. Source.)

“What’s on your face?” asked Dad, driving me to class.

“Vaseline,” I said, admiring myself in the little flip-down mirror.

He shook his head, making a sound that was part laugh and part chide. “You’re weird, girl.”

“Yup!”

I stood in front of my easel in class that evening, and I began to sing as I worked. Stargirl would’ve sung. I made myself sing. Stargirl wouldn’t have cared when people turned to see who was singing, and she wouldn’t have cared what they thought. She would just enjoy the sounds she was making. She was always in her own world. I was painfully aware of everyone’s eyes on me, but I kept singing. If I did it enough, I’d get used to it. In a minute, the teacher came over.

“Are you singing?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“I’m going to have to ask you to stop.”

I was completely ready to stop, but I forced myself to challenge the system. “Why?”

“Because you’re disturbing the other students. They’re trying to concentrate.”

“Oh, ok. Sorry.” I couldn’t look at her. My body felt gigantic, like I was filling the room, and wouldn’t be able to leave it. Like people would have to squeeze past me to go anywhere. No one could avoid me. I couldn’t avoid anyone. I hated the teacher passionately to myself. She thought she was so liberated, with her invisible lines and her beautiful shit and her weightedness, but she was running this class like every other class in the world, just the way she was supposed to.

A girl near me leaned in and whispered, “That was pretty.”

But it was too late. I wasn’t Stargirl.

The teacher came back over a minute later. She wrinkled her brow at me and whispered, “Are you alright?”

“What?” I said.

“You look like you’re sick. You’re covered in sweat.”

*  *  *

What if you don’t want to fit in, but it’s really awkward to stand out? Have you ever gotten caught in the middle?

Unroast: Today I love the way I look in purple. And someone wrote to me and suggested the idea of making unroasts about more than beauty stuff. I liked that. I think they can be anything, as long as it’s someone you love about yourself RIGHT NOW.  Because part of feeling beautiful is feeling awesome. So today I also love that I am sometimes brave enough to be funny.

23 Comments »

Kate on June 25th 2012 in being different

23 Responses to “I tried to be Stargirl”

  1. katilda responded on 25 Jun 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    oohh mmmyyy! i love these stories! i so relate. i often left my house with crazy ambitions of being unique, only to feel super self conscious when the attention actually came. i remember i once wore maroon eyeshadow straight up to my eyebrows in 7th grade. i remember a cool boy telling me, “didn’t anyone teach you how to wear makeup?” i remember another time when i got new black and red athletic shoes and i thought that it’d be hip if i mixed them with a ruffly black skirt (nobody wore skirts to jr high back then, especially not with athletic shoes) and a cool girl in my english class made fun of my outfit. oh gosh. junior high. i may have been a little of star girl but i cared way too much what people thought, in the end!

  2. Kate responded on 25 Jun 2012 at 1:06 pm #

    @katilda
    Thank you!! After I posted this I was sitting here thinking, “Is this relevant to anything in any way?” Sometimes I just get the urge to share a story. So I’m so glad that you relate. It makes me feel like it was worthwhile. I love the idea of maroon eye shadow.

  3. Kimmy Sue Ruby Lou responded on 25 Jun 2012 at 1:14 pm #

    sweet, sweet story!

  4. K responded on 25 Jun 2012 at 1:25 pm #

    *raises hand*

    I’m married to an identical triplet, and we spend enormous amounts of happy, super fun times with his brothers and their spouses. The six of us are so close it probably freaks other people right out. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

    Having said that, sometimes this family structure makes me act like like a total lunatic. At Thanksgiving and family reunions, at weddings and funerals and all other types of group activities where people walk up to me and say “now which one is ‘yours’?” I find myself desperate to stand out. I say opinionated things, I laugh (or even more awkwardly, refrain from laughing) at weird times, I go out of my way to be either memorable or mysterious, depending on my mood. Anything to carve out an identity of my own.

    Thinking about it now, it’s probably working – I’m probably known as “the weird one” in private conversation :) I can live with that.

  5. Melanie responded on 25 Jun 2012 at 1:25 pm #

    I have ALWAYS stood out. For years I tried to shrink and fit in, but the more I realized it didn’t work, the more I just let my freak flag fly.

    I get really offended when I see people trying so hard to be different, and saying, “Oh yeah, I was born a weirdo” when they were so obviously not. I want to yell, “Those of us who WERE born weird know you’re a ginormous fake!!!” But it’s not my job to call people like that out. It’s just my job to be me, and be happy, and hope that others will be who they truly are some day.

    I have had people say I try to get all the attention when I’m at a party. But I know I don’t. So I stopped toning down and just continued being me. People can say that I’m an attention whore all they want. I know the truth.

  6. ashley responded on 25 Jun 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    What a great story…I feel a series coming along based on StarGirl :) Like Katilda, I too had ambitions of not fitting in by wearing bowling shoes, bright colors and wild hairstyles. When someone snickered or commented, I wanted to hide. Now, it is easier for me to “not fit in”, but I still get those pangs from middle school occasionally at parties, work events, etc. Perhaps that is what keeps us grounded; feeling a bit out of place can be humbling.

  7. Kate responded on 25 Jun 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    @K
    Wow. Wow. An identical triplet? That’s amazing. And I get why you’d want to stand out. And being known as the “weird one” is probably not the worst thing. At least people are talking about you :-)

  8. Courtney Warren responded on 25 Jun 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    …brave enough to be funny…

    I really get that. Being funny has often been the way I disassociate from what’s really going on so in my story I love that I often feel brave enough to cry in front of others.

    I once wore a tiara all day at school; I was 14 and a freshman in high school and, for one day, I didn’t give a damn about what others thought about me. It was awesome!

  9. Kate responded on 25 Jun 2012 at 1:34 pm #

    @Courtney Warren
    Tiaras are pretty. Did people comment?

  10. lik_11 responded on 25 Jun 2012 at 2:28 pm #

    Just this weekend, I saw a random (40-something) Stargirl on the street. My husband made a comment about her being “interesting”. After a moment- I told him that’s the type of person I always thought I would be. So he asked me if I was sad that I appear much more normal than I thought I would- and I had to truthfully answer that it depends on the day. I miss my piercings and crazy colored hair… but I got (and am keeping) a good paying position in a conservative town.

    Today- I would love to be stargirl.

  11. morgaine responded on 25 Jun 2012 at 4:45 pm #

    I wore Halloween costumes to school for about seven years. I adopted paganism when I was 12 (still going strong) and I showed it: I wore capes and witch hats and pentacles all the time. I love the stage, and I still can’t resist performing everywhere I go. I had fun, and I attracted some amazing people who are still in my life, but, in retrospect, I realize I didn’t really *know* I was weird. I don’t read social situations very well (it’s been suggested I have Asperger’s), and I was that kid who really did think a snide “love your outfit” was a compliment. Only now do I realize how mean people were. I don’t know how I feel about it – whether I’d rather have not noticed and been happy, or felt the sting but been more socially perceptive. I wish it weren’t a trade-off.

  12. morgaine responded on 25 Jun 2012 at 4:47 pm #

    Now, though, I have a lot more confidence that people who compliment me actually mean it. I’m an adult now, and I’ll never have to do middle-school-girl drama again.

  13. Anna responded on 25 Jun 2012 at 5:21 pm #

    I tried to be her too. Until about halfway into my 7th grade year, I was this nature-inspired Wiccan, peaceable person. When I decided the deep, nature-y gothic scene was making me an outcast and I wanted friends, I got into the ‘scene queen’ style. I got my long, crazy hair razored into something fluffy and wild, started wearing make-up and changed the way I dressed literally over night. I thought I was being so much cooler and unique but in all actuality I had given up being a Stargirl and instead decided to become a part of a clique.

    Now, I act like and dress in whatever I want because I realized I was putting way too much effort into making others think I was cool. Now, all of the people I hang out with hang out with me out of mutual respect and interest, rather than a need to be ‘just so kawaii scene awesome’

  14. San D responded on 25 Jun 2012 at 6:46 pm #

    I wear little boys Spiderman sneakers that light up when you walk, and I’m a 63 year old woman. Go figure. LOL

  15. Patricia responded on 26 Jun 2012 at 12:45 am #

    I would love to be able to fit in light up sneakers!! I gave up pretending to be normal quite some time ago… I wear alot of bright colors and have an entire collection of camp t shirts, and crazy hoodies. My family has given up and now indulges my peculiarities lol. For most of December I wear ‘Christmas pants’ my most straight-laced sister just bought me 2 new pairs of Christmas pants for my birthday lol

  16. Abby responded on 26 Jun 2012 at 1:12 am #

    I wanted so, so bad to be that person. I mean, I was always a weird kid. I enjoyed weird things. One time I walked around school wearing a fake mustache…just because I wanted to. For the longest time I carried them around in my purse. I had these stripey rainbow knee-high socks that I loved to wear with my rainbow headband. And for my senior…not quite a prank, I dressed up as the Queen and had a tea in the lunchroom for my friends, with a tablecloth and a teapot and everything. It didn’t exactly go as planned…but I had tea with the superintendent, so I’m choosing to remember it as a happy memory!

    Looking back (okay, like a year or two) to high school, though, there was always a…need to be different. I NEEDED to stand out in some way, to “prove” that I was weird, really I was, I was the weirdest person ever. Now…I think college has made me feel a lot more secure in my weirdness and less worried about what other people think of my weirdness, if that makes any sense. Now I don’t think so much about what other people will think of my strange clothing or quirky habits or the way I think of things (well, most of the time. Still working on that!). Instead, I focus on wearing what I want to wear, doing what I want to do. This year especially, I’ve become more interested in fashion and my clothing.

    It’s so much more relaxing, not constantly worrying about toeing that line between being “weird enough” without being “too weird.” Especially now that weird, or at least different, is seen as being cool. (I once saw three girls wearing the EXACT SAME “dare to be different” t-shirt on the same day at school. No joke. Also, I apologize for my always superlong comments. I just have a lot to say!)

  17. P Flooers responded on 26 Jun 2012 at 6:35 am #

    I’ve always been a stargirl type of girl. In school I wore strange clothes and hung out with strange people–even though I was supposed to be a popular girl. I refused to wear shoes. As a young adult I dropped out of college, lived strange places, held unusual jobs, and studied home birth. I pierced my nose (before it was common.) As an adult I keep diary animals in the suburbs and produce a lot of my family’s food.

    But the very most radical life-changing unusual thing I’ve ever done is unschooling my children. Nothing else has taught me more about the value of stepping outside society’s norms to find your own path through life.

  18. Sarah the Violinist responded on 26 Jun 2012 at 8:11 am #

    I love all the stories of women embracing their quirky tastes (“Quirky according to who,?” I might ask.). I’ve always been somewhat like this as well (and wound up at Oberlin for five years — talk about being different, just like everyone else!). In fact, as I’m writing this I’m having a bit of a chuckle. I’m on a cross-country flight and nabbed a coveted seat near the front of the plane; despite the desirable real estate next to me, I find that people are very reluctant to sit next to the woman in long black clothes and leopard-print Converse, sporting a nose ring, funky jewelry, and an impressive black eye (I fell off a horse last week.) HA!

  19. Sooz responded on 26 Jun 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    I loved that book, Stargirl. but honestly, i don’t think it ever works. being so outside the box doesn’t seem to work. you just get isolated and made fun of…not looked up to. i don’t know. maybe i’m just too much of a pessimist. i’m sorry you kinda got crushed by that teacher in your painting class.

  20. Kate responded on 26 Jun 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    @Sooz
    Yeah, there doesn’t seem to be a ton of room to be very weird in certain standard environments. And don’t be sorry– in the end, I think it makes for sort of a funny story. She was trying so so hard to be cool and original and quirky, but a little singing in class was definitely too much for her :-)

  21. Stephanie responded on 28 Jun 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    Dude. This post resonates with me so much. I was twelve when I read Stargirl and that book was my Bible, man. I was homeschooled and made my own corduroy skirts, and she taught me that sticking out wasn’t a bad thing. But I wasn’t about to challenge authority either.

    Mostly my inner stargirl was channelled into dressing extremely weirdly. :-)

    I second the idea of a series of stargirl posts! About sticking out, challenging the norm, creativity, etc.

  22. Kate responded on 28 Jun 2012 at 5:48 pm #

    @Stephanie
    I like the idea of doing a Stargirl series! Maybe I’ll try that

  23. Giant Comfort » I’d Rather Be Happy responded on 01 Jul 2012 at 7:22 am #

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