a lifelong love letter
“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road
I want to tell you a story. Some of it happened years ago. Some of it happened today. Everything about it is important.
I got a letter in the mail today. Funny, how some things arrive just when you need them. Funny, how some words are said just when they ought to be. Funny, how some people matter – and how they often show you yourself. This letter was from a dear friend. We often exchange letters, telling stories and sharing parts of ourselves. It’s nice, honestly, to see actual mail in the mailbox, not ads or bills.
By the end of her letter, I was completely in tears. By the last line, I cried ugly tears. In the last paragraph, she was talking about me – about who I am, and what I’ve shown her – and she said, “Never stop.”
It reminded me of how often we are told to change who we are. To be this or to be that. To fit in to a mold, when we are told as children to stand out. To stay inside the lines that are so old no one can quite remember who drew them.
The secret is: I’ve never fit in. I’ve always been friendly. People have always, for the most part, liked me. But I remember a friend giving a speech once, about seeing a girl talking to everyone – and how she judged her, formed an opinion based on an easy smile. When she actually got to know her, her opinion changed. That person was me. And it struck me, then, how people tend to judge others in odd ways, for reasons one might not consider. It also reminded me that what you see may not always be what is. Because, as Nin said, “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.”
And today, my friend told me, “Never stop.” She meant that I should never stop being who I am. And, let’s face it: it’s not always an easy thing. I’m a little odd. I’m usually well-meaning. And I’m crazy.
But not the bad crazy. Not the boiled bunny version. Not the bitchy version. I’m just…irrevocably marching to the beat of my own taco. Or something. My point is that another person – a few weeks ago – implied that my kind of crazy was somehow…not okay. That maybe I was the wrong kind of crazy. If you know me, you know I take things like that to heart, even when I crack a joke and toss out a smile. The truth of that moment was that it was a dumb thing of him to say. In retrospect, I get it. Sometimes, we say things to push other people away. Because it’s easier. Or we’re scared. Or a myriad of other reasons. If we can make somebody run, it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy of our own perceived unworthiness.
The thing is, I don’t run. I don’t flinch. And I think that is sometimes…surprising. But that’s another story and a whole bottle of tequila.
This brings us to my story of when I was three years old. I was a precocious little thing, a hank of curly brown hair and completely infatuated with life. At the time, my family was staying at a friend’s house, while we were building ours. My godmother was watching me, and there was a local tornado warning, which was usual for the area. My parents were somewhere else. The place was a farm, and there were cows and shutters – things that needed to be housed and battened down. After all that was done, my godmother was worried I’d be afraid, so she was keeping me distracted. I did something funny, but I don’t quite remember what it was. And teasingly, she turned to me and said, “Alison, are you crazy?” Without missing a beat, three year old me said, “Crazy as a loon!”
I was an unusual kid, but damn, did I mean that when I said. And it’s true. I’m crazy. I’m strange. I am as likely to start singing in the middle of a grocery store as I am to hug you when I see you. But all this talk in my life, recently, about being crazy – and being true to yourself – has really made me stop and take stock. You know, it’s okay to be crazy. And it’s damned okay to be who you are, because who else are you fucking going to BE? I mean it. I’m asking.
You can’t be true to anything else, if you aren’t true to yourself. It’s like trying to build foundation on top of glass. Eventually, that glass is going to crack. Eventually, everything is going to shatter and shift. And then what? Everything you’ve built on top of that false foundation is going to fall. It’s a ugly thing to watch happen. It’s an ugly thing to survive. It’s something that’s survivable, sure. But it isn’t easy.
There’s nothing inherently noble about being, or seeming, normal. It shows a lack of courage. An absence of will. Sometimes, you just need to throw yourself into the fire, or off a cliff, or right into that hot-as-hell volcano. Sometimes, the only real thing to do – the only true thing – is the crazy thing.
Nobody gets anywhere by sticking to the rules or playing it safe. If they did, we’d still think the world was flat, and nobody would’ve ventured into outer space. Skeptics might say it can’t be done. Cynics may say it won’t be done. Others may point out that you look stupid or foolish. But, to quote Ted Hughes, “The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.”
Nothing else really counts. So, you might as well be crazy. I know that I am. That is, at least, part of my story. What’s part of yours?