Looking back at being different

Growing up, I knew my parents were different to other kids’ parents. They did their own thing. They listened to Black Sabbath and had a collection of vinyl records from the seventies. I used to watch The Muppet Show with my mom. We’d picnic in the park and eat junk food. The garden was my wonderland where I could literally do anything I wanted – dig holes, climb trees, stay out all day. I was so wild sometimes I’d sleep on the ground using the dog’s furry belly as a pillow.

But in some ways, they were exactly like other parents. There were rules. I remember there was a show that came on late at night that I was absolutely forbidden from watching – Monty Python’s Flying Circus. No acceptable reason was given. So naturally, sometimes I would stay up and sneak into the lounge to watch it.

Being so young I didn’t quite understand what I was seeing. It didn’t seem so bad to me. A little weird maybe. But I was mesmerised by the subversiveness and the expectation that any minute I was going to see something scandalous.

Now that we’ve entered a new year, I’ve been thinking about the past and this memory in particular. I still love Monty Python and have an almost obsessive devotion to the series. There is nothing overly scandalous or subversive about the show – it’s just clever and silly – but it was that initial promise of something darker that stuck with me.

It’s a theme that dominated my youth. My interests leaned toward the offbeat and taboo – not because, unbeknownst to me, I was being brought up to be non-conformist, but because there seemed to be a secret world parallel to mine where people did what they wanted, lived wildly and didn’t give a damn about what other people thought. It was a world characterised by Monty Python’s dark comedy, Jim Morrison’s trippy poetry and people like Ozzy Osbourne who bit the heads off bats.

I wanted in.

My plan was to immerse myself in everything I could find that was even the slightest bit alternative, as if somehow, the secret to entering this strange other world would be revealed. My room bloomed out of this obsessive need to be different. Band posters, Mad Magazines, Kerrang! I painted my cupboard doors black.

Every new discovery was like a map piece. I listened to Blondie, The Doors, Guns n Roses, and even (once I realised the devil wasn’t going to come knocking on my door the second I did) Black Sabbath. I started stomping around in my dad’s old army boots. My reading tastes became darker as I devoured books by horror writers like Stephen King and Dean Koontz.

It wasn’t always an easy journey.

School was hell. No one likes an outsider, especially when it’s a self-imposed exile. I wore my otherness proudly and refused to take an interest in what kids my age liked. I had to change schools once because the bullying became unbearable. And really, there could have been no better lesson to prove I was on the right path. When it comes down to it, no one is as cruel as a teenager trying to be just like everyone else.

But that wasn’t the defining moment. For me, it was seeing a televised live duet of Nick Cave and PJ Harvey. That moment represented everything that appealed to me – darkness, romance, otherness. It’s unsurprising that as a young woman I fell headfirst into the goth subculture. I loved it at first, the clothing, the music, the boys. But after a few years I realised I didn’t quite fit in there either. I wasn’t part of the tight circles that hung out away from the clubs.

What I didn’t realise at the time was that I was already living in the parallel world I had glimpsed as a child. My mistake was thinking being different was tied to other people’s acceptance.

It’s not.

It took me thirty-five years to realise the secret is to just stop caring what other people think and just accept myself.

Life is hard. And short. I’ve found love, lost it, found it again. I’ve been broke, lost, hated my job, been disappointed more times than I can count (and will be again no doubt). The only constant on this rollercoaster has been me.

And only once I stopped caring, was I truly able to enjoy myself.

That’s the secret.

I read what I like. I go where I like. I listen to Led Zeppelin in the car. I wear black, always. I travel. I take myself for expensive dinners. I believe in magic. I laugh loudly. I love deeply. I write.

Today, when I watch Monty Python, I see a group of creative, imaginative people doing what makes them happy, regardless of how their art is perceived. And that is what made it so subversive.

It’s incredibly liberating to finally know.

Sally

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