The Art of…Rebellion or My First Middle Finger

March 17, 2015

 

I'm currently involved in creating a devised theatre piece about the life of famous Anarchist, Emma Goldman, called "Emma When You Need Her".  When I told Bustle's lawyer-y husband "haha…you'll never guess what I'm working on" and explained the project, he replied, "actually, that's exactly the kind of thing I expect my weirdo, artsy friend who lives in Austin to be engaged in".  Okay - that's not a verbatim quote, but it's definitely close, and most assuredly what he meant.

 

Anyway, as an exercise in rehearsal we were asked to write about the first time we ever rebelled against authority.  So for your (hopeful) amusement, here is mine:

 

I remember the first time I rebelled against authority, but I'm sure I must have rebelled in some way before this memory.  I'm told I insisted on walking by myself down the street in search of neighbor children to play with when I was about 3, and that my parents humored me and let me go my own way - walking bravely down the sidewalk all by myself, unaware that every house on the way was on the lookout for me.  But I don't remember that.  Also, I guess it's lucky no one reported my parents to Child Protective Services.  It was a different time.

 

But mostly I was a very quiet, good little child who did what I was told.  I covered my eyes when my parents would tell me to, when something sexy or scary came on the tv.  Unlike my sister who would always peek between her moving fingers, asking "why, why?".  (For some reason it never occurred to me to ask "why" before she did).

 

But then one day I was chosen, along with another girl, to do the pledge of allegiance on the intercom at school.  Big stuff.  I think I was in the first or second grade.  Everyone eventually did it but it was treated like a great honor, some special treat and I was excited.  So we did our bit, and as instructed, handed over the intercom to the principal so she could make the rest of the announcements, which I'm fairly sure involved fish sticks in some way.  We were giggling in nervous relief and talking to each other while she did this, unaware of the towering rage building in the be-pantsuited woman next to us.  As soon as the announcements were over she laid into us. Oh, we were in serious trouble! So disrespectful! She was really mad.  And at the end of her tirade she asked us if we understood.  Terrified, we replied, "yes".  "Yes, WHAT?", she asked (screamed at) us.  

 

We had no idea what she was talking about.  We were stricken dumb with the sudden fear you might feel when encountering a wild, irrational animal.  She finally elaborated, "When I ask you a question, you answer me, Yes, Ma'am!"  

 

Look, I don't even know it was intentional.  I didn't really have time to think about it.  She just seemed so absurd to me.  What situation, what context did she think we were in?  What were her expectations, exactly?  What did she think was going to happen when she put 2 six year olds on the spot?  My comrade was still scared speechless.  But out of my mouth came a resounding "Yes, Ma'am", with all the respect and grace you might expect from a Bill Murray character.  Part bewilderment and part natural sarcasm, it somehow came across more withering than I could ever have devised if I rehearsed it.  I can't imagine how she must have felt, an adult, receiving the incredulous derision of a 6 year old.  

 

Well, I was in it deep, then.  She called my mother and I had to sit in her office and wait for her to arrive, and then listen to the pricipal's tale of what a rude, obnoxious, disrespectful little girl I was, all regaled in front of me, I'm sure for my maximum humiliation.  It was a shock to me, I, who had always been the good girl.  Was I bad? Had I been wrong?  My mother kept a straight face but when we left, she asked me what happened.  As I made my account I watched her try to hold in her laughter and maintain her serious-parenting face.  Then she told me the principal was a silly woman...and that she was afraid of me.  Miraculously, I didn't seem to be in any trouble at all.  Me?, I thought  - how could the principal of the entire school be afraid of me?  But I know now that somehow, Mom was right.  

 

My mom gave me a gift that day.  That what I thought, that my perceptions of the world were valid.  That I wasn't expected to  just blindly respect or obey authority, not when that authority was, well... ridiculous.  

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