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This is my place to figure things out. It's that simple.

Location: United States

I'm 25 year old Wisconsin girl living in the city of neon and chrome who's slowly gaining her identity while losing all sense of reality.

20 March 2010

Nature, Nurture, and the Land of Confusion

There's a certain amount of questioning about nature vs. nurture when you're trying to discover what makes you who you are. When I was younger I used to think it was almost all nurture and that we were born as blank slates. Then my mother told me a story about how she had been shocked that as a baby I was so much different than my older sister had been. I've been thinking about this question of what shapes us in part because recently a friend of mine re-introduced me to the music video for Genesis' "Land of Confusion". Let me explain.

Growing up, my family pretty much didn't have TV after I was six. We had moved three miles outside of town to a house on the side of a bluff and were pretty much surrounded by nature. This resulted in an almost complete loss of television reception. I vaguely remember trying to watch Lois and Clark on a grainy, barely visible screen on the basement set with bunny ears, and at one point my sister and I figured out we could sort of watch X-Files on the portable 5 inch black and white TV set our grandfather gave us to play with, but for the most part, when we were home we could only watch movies. You're probably still wondering what this has to do with Genesis. At one point I discovered a VHS in the movie closet that had an MTV countdown of music videos. I imagine I must have been around eight or nine at the time, and I remember being fascinated by the videos on the countdown and watching them over and over again. The two in particular that stick out in my mind were "Land of Confusion" by Genesis (you guessed it) and "Big Time" by Peter Gabriel. There was also another music video at the end that got cut off and it would frustrate me to no end that I never got to see the whole thing. I recently figured out it was "Digging in the Dirt" by Peter Gabriel.

Now, over a decade later, upon re-watching these videos I can't help but realize how each has a mildly creepy feel to them. Just a slight hint of morbidity. Now, personally, I am very aware that I was a quite morbid child. Yet I wonder, why was I drawn to these videos? I didn't recognize them as morbid or 'creepy'. I thought they were interesting, creative, beautiful even. Did these videos contribute to my morbidity or was I drawn to them because I was slightly morbid to begin with? Let me be clear, when I say morbid, I don't mean to the extent of needing therapy (though I'm sure some people might disagree). To give an example, 'The Little Mermaid' was one of my favorite movies... but I preferred the Hans Christian Anderson version my grandparents had found. If you're unaware of the difference, in the Hans Christian Anderson version (the original story) there is no 3 day time limit, but if the prince ever marries another the little mermaid will die (a big deal for mermaids since they are immortal and have no soul). On the prince's wedding night the little mermaid's sisters come to her with a magic dagger they've gotten from the sea witch in exchange for their hair. If the little mermaid kills the prince she will turn back into a mermaid and be free. She ends up refusing because the prince looks so happy lying asleep with his bride and she says if he is happy then so is she. She then dies and becomes sea foam. The original story is a little more complicated (she basically becomes an angel and eventually gets a soul so she can go to heaven) but still, kind of depressing. Another example: My family is sometimes involved in historical re-enactments where there are usually fur traders of some kind. I used to buy the fur scraps of animal faces because I wanted to make purses with them. My mother, who is notorious for her preference for all things happy and shiny, always tried to get rid of these morbid things. I remember hiding both the Little Mermaid tape and the fur faces, but eventually she found them and got rid of them. When I was in third grade she thought I was being too negative, so she bought me a journal and told me to write about the positive things in my life. Looking back, it is clear now that I was clinically depressed on and off from about third grade until the end of college, when I got some help (turns out a large part of my depression was because I have severe ADHD, but that is a tale for another time.)

Regardless of my depression though, there's always been something amazing to me about decay and to some extent the concept of death. In a college English class we once discussed how if you look at most truly breathtaking still-life paintings the flowers or fruit are always just barely past their peak. They have just a subtle touch of the beginnings of decay, which for some reason makes them more beautiful. I'm not sure why that is. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't say that I'm a depressing person, in fact, I would probably describe myself as the opposite. Like anyone, I have bouts of pessimism but that's usually brought on by my idealistic nature. I always assume things will work out, that people are mostly good, and if you don't like someone it's only because you don't know them well enough and don't understand why they are the way they are. I enjoy finding beauty in just about everything, and perhaps that's where my morbid streak stems from. I am sometimes drawn to what society deems 'grotesque' and 'ugly' because I refuse to believe that society sees things for what they truly are. In my opinion, everything in life is inherently beautiful. In high school I went through a faze where my drawings almost all incorporated something beautiful just about to be destroyed, usually involving maggots or something about to be bitten. I know, weird. At the time it was mostly centered on the fact that that was how I felt emotionally; that something was dying within me, that at any moment I would self destruct. Usually brought on by a boy of course. At the same time, I just loved the imagery of it.

These days my morbidity tends to show up in the type of movies or television I watch. Things like Fight Club or 300. Shows like Bones, Dead Like Me or Pushing Daisies. Now that I think about it, my mother does have a bit of morbidity in her as well... she's always reading murder mysteries or watching shows like CSI. Perhaps in the end I will turn out more like my mother. The way she looks at it, life can be depressing all by itself so she'd rather entertain herself with stories that have happy endings. Then again, when you decide to see the beauty within stories of sadness, don't you tend to feel more of a sense of being alive? Curious. Sometimes I theorize that I am the way I am in order to be the antithesis of my mother in certain ways while being similar enough in others to still be close. Who knows why we are the way we are. I like to think there's some plan, that we are born with certain proclivities that shape how we react and everything we encounter builds on the sculpture of who we are. We simply have a responsibility to ourselves to morph the negative into something positive, something we can learn from. Easier said than done, I know, but no matter what, I will continue to be amazed by piecing together ideas about why we are and why we do the things we do.


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