You will probably never find me without my iPod and oversized orange headphones, but my record player is my preferred method of listening to music. (The sound quality is much better, and there are few things that bring me as much comfort as removing a record from the paper casing and holding the thin vinyl in my fingertips.) My ideal Saturday would include an afternoon at a contemporary art exhibit, an evening spent watching an indie band’s concert at the House of Blues, and then, finally, a night in bed with a cup of tea and a book. I pride myself on being an Atypical Boston Area Private School Student—I would rather shave my head than attend a country music festival, buy a Longchamp bag, or play lacrosse.
If you’re still reading at this point, I’m impressed. Just writing this down is making me cringe. At least I didn’t include some kind of ambiguous sentence like “However, I am not a hipster” or a snobby indictment such as “If you don’t like Morrissey, we can’t be friends.” Some teenagers try to fit in, or try to be cool; I try to be distinctive.
This past summer, I attended a creative writing workshop in the Berkshires for three weeks. I knew that I loved my roommate within ten minutes of meeting her; she’d brought three pairs of Converse, vintage Doc Martens, and a stack of colorful Moleskine sketchbooks. She told me proudly that she was from a stuck-up suburb in New Jersey, she was the editor of her school’s literary magazine, and she couldn’t wait to move to California and meet people who “understood” her. We talked as we unpacked, marveling at our matching Vampire Weekend t-shirts and commenting on each other’s books. We were getting along really well until I mentioned one of my favorite bands: Coldplay.
My roommate stopped organizing her extensive collection of poetry anthologies and turned to stare at me. “You like Coldplay?” she asked, disappointment and judgment dancing in her voice.
I folded my arms tightly across my chest, ready to fight this girl. “Yeah. Why?”
She shrugged, and went back to unloading her belongings. “I just wasn’t expecting that. But anyway, what are your thoughts on Pink Floyd?”
I was not ready to switch the topic. It’s weird; I should have been excited that I’d surprised her, that we were different, because that’s what I’d wanted: to be unique. However, it was my first day at what I would later affectionately dub “writing camp,” and I didn’t want to cement my reputation as the most mainstream girl in our dorm.
“So do you, like, hate Coldplay or something?” I asked, hoping my voice sounded nonchalant instead of angry.
“I guess they’re okay. Their first album was good. They just totally sold out, you know?”
She looked at me smugly. Fifteen minutes ago, this girl had been one of the coolest people I’d ever met. Now, she just seemed like a pretentious snob.
“Do you know the song ‘Swallowed in the Sea’?” I challenged. “‘Warning Sign’? ‘Don’t Let It Break Your Heart’? I can understand your dislike for them if you only listen to the songs that play on the radio.” I knew that I now sounded like a pretentious bitch, but I couldn’t stop. I get very defensive over my favorite bands.
“Uh, no,” she responded, uneasy. “I guess…” She hesitated. “I mean, you have a point.”
We stopped talking and organized our clothes in silence.
The following three weeks were incredible: I learned the importance of proper line breaks in poetry, and I read a short fiction piece aloud at an Open Mic night. I spent a night outside with a group of friends, watching shooting stars and sharing secrets and stories. I even exchanged music recommendations with my roommate. The strange part, though, was that I had been so excited to meet people who were similar to me, but as the days passed, everybody—including myself—felt like a manufactured Zooey Deschanel clone. Our stories started to blend together: Catherine went to a strict Catholic school, and everyone there hated her. Katelyn only got along with theater kids. Everyone at Amanda’s school was intimidated by her collection of thrift store flannels and number of followers on Instagram.
The boys were no better. They were strongly outnumbered, and because of this, the girls followed them like hungry dogs. It was pretty much impossible to have a conversation with one of them without another girl chiming in that he was so different from all the guys in her town, or that his Bukowski emulation was so inspirational, or—my favorite—that he was such an outstanding person because he was a feminist. Wow, congratulations! I wanted to scream. You believe in gender equality! You have truly gone above and beyond what is expected of you as a human being! Here’s your Nobel Peace Prize!
Instead, however, I remained silent and watched the boys lap up the praise, their egos growing exponentially. “Well, women are important,” the Token Male would respond. “I mean, look at Lana Del Rey. She’s so cool.”
My time at writing camp was exciting and wonderful and unique, and when my mother picked me up at the end of the third week, that was what I told her. “Everyone was so quirky and weird,” I added, “just like me.” I wasn’t oblivious to the irony—in all of our quests to be different, we were exactly the same. I leaned back against the sticky leather carseat, and as we drove away, I put in my headphones, letting the sweet sound of Coldplay lull me to sleep.