Live Through This

Odd Girl In

My lifelong commitment to my own individuality rendered me incapable of being part of something bigger than myself.

I thought things would be better when I got to college, but I was dead wrong. The very first night, everyone in my dorm gathered around to introduce ourselves, and in the middle of it, the Stanford Band—an entity notorious for their GOOFY ANTICS—broke in and swept us all up for the band run, an annual tradition where the incoming freshmen are expected to run through the campus at night, led by the Stanford Band, and sing along to juiced-up Mighty Mighty Bosstones songs. It was supposed to be an exhilarating, community-building, school-spirit-enhancing exercise, a major AREN’T YOU PUMPED TO BE ATTENDING STANFORD, but at the end of it, I just felt drained and disappointed. I had been looking forward to no longer feeling like a misanthrope and a misfit, but I just couldn’t get it up for all this enforced silliness. I felt the same way I did in high school: humorless, uptight, joyless.

I started to question my whole personality. Why didn’t I like football games, anyway? Why didn’t I want to paint my face the school colors? Why didn’t I want to join the others and fountain-hop across campus in the spring or go mudsliding after the first fall storm? I had no problem with other people wanting to do those things, I just didn’t want to be pressured to do them too.

But there were plenty of things I did like. There were, in fact, things I loved—it was just that the things I loved seemed so hard to explain to other people. I loved going to see Le Tigre perform in San Francisco and hearing Kathleen Hanna tell all the men in the audience to move to the sides and the back so that the women could be up front and dance without worrying about being groped or hit. I loved the first time someone recited a poem into my ear, while I was holding my dining tray piled high with pepperoni pizza and French onion soup. I loved wearing a long skirt with no underwear when I took the train to San Francisco with a boy I was crushing on and having a picnic in Dolores Park and purposely propping my legs on his knee, exposing my bush, because what was funnier than flashing your pubes at a cute boy? But the fact that I loved so many things just made it that much more frustrating that the things I hated were getting so much more play.

In March of my sophomore year, George W. Bush was on every television, explaining to the American people that we were going to invade Iraq. I was part of several anti-war email groups, and my inbox was quickly flooded with planning and strategizing emails for an anti-war protest and teach-in. I was trying to read Absalom, Absolom! for my Faulkner class, but my brain kept saying, Who cares? We’re dropping bombs on civilians in the name of democracy and nothing makes sense. Meanwhile, every time I looked at my inbox, there were another 50 emails. With each one, the list of professors, student leaders, and community members volunteering to give speeches and lead workshops kept growing, and students from all the progressive organizations on campus were coming together, soliciting and offering help. I watched with equal parts awe and envy as this massive campus-wide protest was organized over the course of a single night.

This kind of cooperation represented everything I was not. My lifelong commitment to my own individuality had made me incapable of being part of something bigger than myself. I clearly saw what I had missed out on by being so focused on myself and my own significance—two things I was so sick of thinking about.

At the rally, I was moved to tears by the professors and students and activists who spoke with amazing clarity and urgency. I remember one professor pointing out that, almost without fail, every time oil was discovered in a Middle Eastern country, it led not to economic growth and prosperity, but to increased corruption, poverty, and inequality, and more conflict and war. I stood in the same spot for hours, sweaty and transfixed, and at that moment my own life seemed very small. Why had I spent so many years dwelling in fear and outrage, when it was now so obvious to me that the only life worth living was one in which I strove to follow the example of human compassion playing out before me? There was too much injustice in the world to waste time judging everyone else. I felt a real affinity and tenderness for everyone at the rally, which was the first time I’d ever felt anything other than horror and disgust while engulfed in an organized group of people. Every now and again I’d catch someone’s eye, and we’d nod at each other as if to say, “Thank you for being an ally.” I guess that is what activists mean when they talk about solidarity and why they refer to one another as sisters and brothers in the struggle.

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32 Comments

  • TessAnnesley May 27th, 2014 12:41 AM

    “A-women”

    GOLD

  • maddyr May 27th, 2014 12:48 AM

    This is AMAZING, oh my goodness. Jenny, I really like your writing.

  • red flowers May 27th, 2014 1:18 AM

    I really really like this! Thanks for bringing it into my day! :)

  • clocksheep May 27th, 2014 2:38 AM

    Jenny, I’ve missed your writing for Rookie so much! This is wonderful.

  • ashmado May 27th, 2014 3:02 AM

    This is really powerful and relatable, I almost cried. Thank you so much for sharing this, it’s beautiful!

  • shelley May 27th, 2014 6:05 AM

    Just wow! That was amazing.

  • kimchi May 27th, 2014 6:41 AM

    I always love reading pieces from you Jenny. Our lives have been very different, yet I feel that I can relate your experiences with groups to my own life. In school I liked doing sports because it was a way for me to clear my head, but I never felt like I really belonged with the athletes. I was never going to care about victory as much as them. To some extent I went along with the charade, but the glitz felt meaningless. The thought of groups of people collectively caring about something meaningful felt very foreign. Even though there were many clubs for charities at my school, I found it hard to take the people in them seriously. Everyone was so worried about college applications. Even when they put on the performance of caring, few seemed to genuinely care about anyone besides themselves.

    I remember in elementary school I coughed up a ball of phlegm during the pledge of allegiance. I kept it in my mouth because I knew I wasn’t supposed to move. It was disgusting.

    I like to wear long skirts without underwear too. It is way more comfortable, and it can be very fun for the reasons you mentioned.

    http://glitterous-clitoris.blogspot.com.au/

    • Jenny May 27th, 2014 4:06 PM

      You sound like the raddest person & yr blog is out of this world ♡

  • AnarchyAndrea May 27th, 2014 7:24 AM

    This. I’m supposed to be writing an analysis on Lord of the Flies right now but this. I have tears on my face as i write this because I understand this so well. Growing up mexican-american in a predominantly white small town which I NEVER felt a part of, I completely understand this mindset. Now that I’m going off to college in the fall I can’t begin to describe my frustration on just how to go about translating my passion for social movements, my blind desire to be an activist into a sustainable career. The end of this piece is what got me. Because as soon as I read it, all I could think of was being 9 years old, at a marching rally for immigration reform with my parents and hearing all around me, the ringing of voices resounding, “LA GENTE UNIDA JAMAS SERA VENCIDA! LA GENTE UNIDA JAMAS SERA VENCIDA!!”

    • Jenny May 27th, 2014 4:06 PM

      I have tears in my eyes… the thought of you as a kid shouting with the adults at an immigration reform rally. That’s beautiful ♡

  • fluorescentyesterday May 27th, 2014 7:30 AM

    This was amazing to read. Thank you Jenny, your writings are always my favorites, partially because I’m half Chinese and I feel like I can identify with you in many ways (even though I’m only a high schooler).

  • i-skreeeeam May 27th, 2014 7:30 AM

    Wow jenny ive always been to shy to comment but this has really moved me .. this blew me away. IM so incredibly humbled by your honesty and rawness and talent in everything you write. I can relate to this so so much and it has inspired me in a very big way to get involved in activism. Thankyou thankyou thankyou xo

  • flocha May 27th, 2014 8:20 AM

    my god this is so beautiful. I have trouble relating to stuff and everything you wrote here perfectly describes everything I feel x

  • elliecp May 27th, 2014 8:45 AM

    this is so amazing. It just goes to show that we as individuals can change things if we put our minds to it. so inspirational to read!

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

  • soviet_kitsch May 27th, 2014 9:35 AM

    “You’re not touching any of my members. I’m going to get you fired for threatening a peaceful picketer. You’re a thug and a coward for intimidating someone half your size, and now you’re trying to threaten a 21-year-old woman?”

    “I was so quick to equate solidarity with intolerant jingoism, I assumed all loyalty was blind. I didn’t see, until those people were kind enough to take me in, that being part of a group could be enlightening or beautiful or good.”

    jenny, you continue to be one of my all-time favourite writers anywhere.

  • callie May 27th, 2014 10:17 AM

    THIS IS COOL
    just asking, how did you get that job? i mean im from the uk so its different but id still like to know. thanks!
    callie xoxox

    • Jenny May 27th, 2014 4:07 PM

      I think I actually find it out on idealist.org But at least here in the US, you can just go to any union’s website and look to see if they are hiring under “Employment” or “Job Opportunities.” Labor is always hiring… so it seems.

  • Eileen May 27th, 2014 11:14 AM

    I always love what Jenny has to say. I literally wait around for a Jenny article to pop up. This was really, really cool.

  • obeykid May 27th, 2014 1:01 PM

    This is a really nice depiction of what growing up in the USA is like when you’re immigrant and kinda broke.

    I relate to this a lot. Thank you for this.

    This is great. I can’t even express very well how I feel about this except that it’s great.

    https://www.etsy.com/shop/obeykid

  • Vlada May 27th, 2014 1:24 PM

    Jenny your writing is out of this world as always.
    OMG I really enjoyed today’s articles, I feel like it was one of the best days

  • Maria Clara Santarosa May 27th, 2014 2:39 PM

    This is so good and accurate and meaningful and beautiful. Well done, Jenny. Well done.

  • doikoon May 27th, 2014 2:55 PM

    Jenny, I’m going to tell you something. One time you said something in an interview… you said, and I’m paraphrasing, “I think deep down everyone likes themselves, or else why would we keep doing it”. I Identify that and discovering rookie in general (via Rosianna on youtube) to be imperative to of getting me out of depression. Thank you :)

    • Jenny May 27th, 2014 4:08 PM

      Wow, I kinda remember saying that, but I’m so happy you found Rookie and we found each other ♡♡♡

  • Jenny May 27th, 2014 4:09 PM

    Thank you so much for your ^^ comments, it honestly makes me so happy to read em that I feel embarrassed I can’t say more!

  • blueolivia May 27th, 2014 6:25 PM

    jenny, you’re such an excellent writer. this had me breaking down with inexplicable tears at four in the afternoon.

  • spudzine May 27th, 2014 7:53 PM

    Hello! I REALLY loved this piece, because some of it mirrors how I feel about life now. I sincerely hope things get better after high school, because my peers are kind of similar to the peers described above. They don’t care about being racist and misogynistic and bullies, the people in charge of them don’t care, and I do, which makes me feel like a miser. My hope isn’t lost, though! Also, not to be disrespectful, but on the second page there seems to be an error in ‘two things I so sick of thinking about’ on the second page.

    http://spudzine.tumblr.com/
    http://emotwins.tumblr.com/
    http://rockogirl.tumblr.com/

  • Amy Rose May 28th, 2014 1:45 AM

    i mean, holy shit

  • rahima May 28th, 2014 4:05 AM

    I love this story. It was kinda quirky and at the same time, inspiring. Sending my support from half way around the earth. Thanks for thisss <3 :)

  • avisanti May 28th, 2014 9:24 AM

    This is a great piece. I love your work, Jenny! And I’m glad you enjoyed your Pinoy breakfast. :) sending my love and support all the way from the Philippines. <3

  • gentleman honey farmer May 28th, 2014 12:16 PM

    Jenny knocks it out of the park, as always. What a remarkable human being.

  • Jes May 28th, 2014 5:59 PM

    tears

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