I felt like everyone else had a secret manual. At least the cool kids definitely had access to the manual. I know I didn’t. But I looked and listened and picked up clues as to what was in the manual. There were lots of rules regarding what to wear, what not to wear, what to say, what not to say, how to act, etc. One obvious rule was, “You must always obey all the rules of the secret manual or risk complete ostracization.” Well, that was enough for me, no one wants to be ostracized. I did my best to learn the rules and follow them perfectly. I knew whenever I broke a rule. I was instantly ridiculed. I quickly made a solid note of the rule I learned and vowed never to break it again.
One thing that I quickly learned gave one many popularity points in the secret manual was to be viewed as attractive to the male gaze. What I wouldn’t do for popularity points!!! It was great to not be ridiculed, but to actually be admired? I’d do anything! However, I didn’t know what the male lens viewed as attractive. But I knew that if I could figure it out, I would instantly be very popular. And the way one knows if one is attractive to the male gaze is if your life becomes like a bad 80’s movie and heads turn whenever you walk past. So, I spent hours in front of the mirror. Experimenting with different ways of applying makeup or doing my hair. Without direct access to the secret manual myself, I didn’t know what look was I was going for, but I would go to school with my new look and test the impact. I kept waiting for that day where my life would turn into an 80’s movie. It never happened. I decided I was fundamentally flawed. There must just be something wrong about me that no combination of makeup or hairdo is making it so that people can’t help but stare at my beauty. My Mom told me that they were intimidated by me because I was so beautiful and so smart. Ha! “Thanks Mom. But its a Mom’s job to be supportive like that and I don’t believe you for a second.”
Somewhere during this time, I had what felt like a huge philosophical/spiritual epiphany. I had a realization deep in my bones that we were put on this Earth to find our way back to the Garden of Eden. (I was Catholic at the time and viewed everything through a Catholic lens.) I felt that God had kicked us out of the Garden of Eden, but if we as humans could find ways to come back together, with love, we could live in blissful abundance again. If we just learned to love again. From this foundation, I had many other epiphanies. Deep feelings that there must be a better way of bringing offenders back into community when they commit a violent act rather than the prison industrial complex. A deep understanding that there must be more just ways of distributing goods and services than our current capitalist economy. Knowing that there must be ways of sharing the Earth with other countries without bombing them. And many others. I didn’t know at the time that other people were already thinking of these things and even had names for them! Things like Restorative Justice. Gift Economy. Feminism. Permaculture. Basic Income Grant.
When these ideas came to me, they all felt so right. So obvious. So, I told other people, “Hey! What if we did things differently?” I strongly received the message that my ideas were cute, sweet and adorable, but clearly the idealistic dreamings of an innocent naive 13 year old girl. There were smart adult white men in institutions of higher learning who studied these things and knew best how to distribute goods and services, how best to deal with criminals, etc. I didn’t have access to the secret manual, these issues were much more complicated than a naive young girl could ever comprehend, so its best that these things be left to the experts. My ideas were cute, but not at all practical for the way the world really works.
And I believed them. I quickly buried these ideas and returned to following the manual. The manual clearly indicated that I should study something in college which would ensure me a stable salary after graduation. So I did. After college, I should work at a job providing a stable salary, while identifying a mate, preparing to reproduce and purchase a home. So, I got the job that provided a stable salary. But I could not bring myself to commit to the mortgage or the mate. Especially a mate who wanted to follow the rules of the manual. My heart started screaming. The buried dreams of the innocent naive girl started climbing up to the surface and demanding to be heard. So I ran away from the secret manual and tried to reconnect with those dreams and figure out what they meant to the adult woman version of me. It was exciting and new, but scary and very unknown at the same time. I longed to feel whole.
I came back and tried to follow the manual one last time. But by this time, I knew I was not alone in disobeying the manual. The most liberating encounter for me was realizing that there are many of us idealists with dreams which refuse to remain buried. Immensely liberating to realize that those philosophies that I thought of as a young girl actually have names (restorative justice, gift economics, etc), and the support of communities of people who are articulating them more clearly than I could! Its so incredibly affirming to realize that I’m not alone in thinking differently. That there are even white males in institutions of higher learning who are discussing these ideas! As well as people from all genders, races, economic classes and education levels who are exploring these concepts!
So, I gave up on following the manual. Its clear I was never going to fit in anyway, so I gave up, and turned to my heart. Trusting my inner guidance. While baggage from the manual comes up regularly, at least I’m now more aware of it. I can choose what works for me and leave what does not. Embrace how ingrained those rules are, but practice finding out who I am when I let go of those rules. Now I can focus on trying to live my life in such a way that if anyone ever looked at my life for clues as to what may be written in the secret manual, they will believe that the manual says, “Listen to your heart. Trust it. Live your life as your heart wants it to be lived!”
(And regarding the male approval I was seeking… Definitely growing up and getting more self confidence has helped a lot in not seeking male approval for my appearance. But I must confess, when Facebook first came out and I reconnected with many people from high school that I had not spoken to in years, more than 1 male classmate confessed to me that they had a crush on me in high school, but were too intimidated to act on it! The 16 year old me felt happy and vindicated in some sad way. At the same time, it was gratifying and sad to know that I wasn’t the only one who was desperately trying to follow the rules of the manual, and one reason I wasn’t getting male approval was because the males saw that I didn’t fit the manual and they were equally scared to step away from it. Part of me wishes this didn’t make a difference, but the 16 year old in me who got her heart broken, definitely feels slightly better knowing this.)