I am a very mainstream person. In whatever social group, I try my best to fit in. Whether it’s religiously watching high school romcoms at 3AM with a tub of ice cream scrunched under a blanket or getting ketchup on my RBG keyboard as I play league of legends with friends over Discord or listening to Daniel Caesar whenever I’m sad. It’s difficult to pick me out from a crowd since I look like every other average person.
Regardless, this has led me to take social standards as a normal thing to adhere to since a kid and never once questioning why. When I was seven, I sent indecent words on Facebook to a classmate I disliked. I licked the school floor that had vomit the previous day in virtue of winning the “competition” among my two friends. And even though I enjoyed wearing stacks full of elastic bracelets on whole arm, I pretended I didn’t. I hated the feeling of being alienated, of not belonging to my “people”, and of being unrecognisable.
As I grew older, I still maintained this attitude until I became best friends with T in high school. T was a kind of person who’d walk into a room with a bright orange sweater while everyone wore black. He’d listen to esoteric music like Sea Shanties while everyone listened to Kendrick Lamar. He’d fall in love with niche hobbies without a regard on how his friends would react or whether he’d still fit in. I remember being so incredibly envious of his ability to be shamelessly passionate about history, Hitler, comics and Lego.
After school, we headed to the bookstore and I asked him “What are you getting?” and he responded with “Mein Kampf”. I stared with eyes stunned but he shrugged while walking towards the aisle where all the rejected books go. I couldn’t fathom at all that it was conceivable of the mind to do something so different and uncompromising … openly. It was completely foreign. I was the kind of person that bought an item because it was on my Instagram feed with the assurance that all my friends agreed to the aesthetics before even putting a cent down. I needed constant validation and external endorsement that I’m competent enough to keep up with the times.
I’d watch in awe as T became so devoted to something in the most irreverent and original manner possible. He thrusted outside the usual calculus of social value and optimisation, and his love and conviction for what he does runs past the need for validity — past subjectivity and rationality —and into a room lit up purely by desire.
It wasn’t until much later that I’d realise that I was extremely envious of this ability. This … ability to love and do without care or worry. The freedom of wearing tacky neon and ugly elastic bracelets. The bravery of reading Mein Kampf on a public train without a second thought on whether it would be acceptable.
It was expression I wanted to yank into direction yet I remain at the crux of commonality.
A lot of my time at college is spent reflecting on the then and now, the person I was before college and the person after, and making sure those changes are always in a positive direction. Especially with recruitment season, I always found myself wondering: How do I make sure the people are impressed? Will I fit in? Am I doing the right thing? Could I use my time better elsewhere? Today, a manager of a firm sent me a message. I later realised it was their culture to text in lower caps. I thanked him for offering me the time and guidance. The conversation continued on Telegram and I pretended to be unvexed by the lack of proper capitalisation and lack of two second frustration on exclamation mark placements from their end (somehow the whole Business formality on Gmail was completely forgotten! which was unfamiliar to me). I stared very intensely at each sentence I wrote. Pausing whether to decide I should change the settings on my phone so that all of the letters will be uncapitalised. Resisting the temptation on removing the commas and full stops.
I had the urge to not follow with the times. Which I’ve never done before.
And in these seconds that I stared I thought about the versions of myself in the past. The seven year old me that cyber bullied a classmate. The fifteen year old me that stood in envy of her best friend, shamelessly pursuing his interests to the fullest. And the seventeen year old me now, faced with the decision to impress another group of people.
And I refused. I carried on with the standard corporate-esque jargon in the casual conversation. While I sat with frustration on figuring out the correct position of my exclamation mark, I was in awe. I am finally the person who refused validity, the kind who still used proper capitalisation. The kind who would say Hi to a stranger or ask them to dance in the rain in front of a crowd of people immodestly.
I think for a long, long time I’ve always wanted to be freed from this fear of the unknown, this fear of “What if they don’t like me?” And in a way, typing helped me get through this. I’m fine asking a question when I don’t understand anything in a room full of peers or being obnoxious and loud in the best ways possible in public. I’m fine flashing a smile towards a boy I think is cute.
College has, surprisingly, helped me grow into the kind of person I once was afraid of, the person I was once envious of. And I’m forever grateful for that. I’m happy that today I refused to type in lower caps.