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
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.