I remember the year in high school when the affectedly disaffected discovered the term "non-conformist." It was like finding a potion in the woods, booze under the bridge. Within weeks, we were all non-conformists. All those others, all the ones who seemed to have it so easy, who slipped through life as if sliding down a greased pipe, the happy ones, the popular ones – suddenly, we had a name for them all: they were the conformists.
Non-conformist was a brilliant spell we could cast on ourselves whenever we wanted. Whenever we felt stupid or poor or awkward or out of touch or naïve. Get jostled or mocked by a few thick-necked jocks or preps or stuck-up girls with cars, and – Shazzam! – we were non-conformists.
A year or two before that it was mind games – everyone was playing mind games on everyone else. It was like an army of Mandrakes versus an army of Reveens. A year or two after that it was existentialism – another brilliant spell to be self-cast. Somewhere in there was the time everyone suddenly went gay – Lou Reed gay; Morrissey gay; heroin gay – then everyone became a born-again Christian. Then mostly everyone smoked too much pot, or burned through their student loans too fast, or never bothered with college or university in the first place (non-conformist) and ended up back in town, trying to avoid the one girlfriend they couldn't convince to have an abortion.
Many decades before that, it was called being an outsider, and it sounds just as lame and falsely courageous being celebrated by a middle-aged novelist as when earnestly declaimed by a drunk and high eleventh-grader in an army jacket in the back of a car.