Monday, November 21, 2011

Outside Looking Out

When I was a boy, I was scrawny and nerdy. There were only two reasons to be singled out and taken out of class, Special Ed and Gifted & Talented. I was put in the latter. But my parents are from Brooklyn, so unlike the other kids who got picked on, I was not taught to turn the other cheek. I got into fights. And with the case of one particular bully, after typical spineless solutions like "Tell the teacher when you have to go to the bathroom so she can secretly push the PA button, alerting the office so the Principal can walk down and watch the bathroom door", my parents did involve the police. At the time, there was ONE cop who handled youth matters. But rest assured, that cop AND that principal grew to fear my parents. Even after the bully's father threatened to show up at school with a shotgun, my parents still didn't back down and the bully was kicked out of school. Of course, the true difficulty was just the whole legal/political matter of the money involved in putting the kid in an alternative school.

Anyway, neither the fights nor the bullying stopped. When I was 10, my parents finally enrolled me in a karate school. Now, bullying is arguably the most common cause for parents enrolling their kids in karate school. I take that back. At the time, it was pretty much the only reason. Today, parents are more familiar with the true benefits. And yes, around sixth grade, just before my parents took ME out of public school, I did have a cinematic moment where I beat the shit out of one of the bullies in front of the whole school. But wouldn't you know it, a year later, AFTER Id been put in Catholic school, I was hanging out outside a friend's house, a fellow karate student nonetheless, when that bully turns out to live across the street. One day he shows up to start trouble, this time with a friend. I may have been taking karate but Id never faced multiple opponents before so I grabbed a stick. Wouldn't you know it, the "friend" was a fellow nerd and Gifted & Talented student. He'd taken the sidekick route I guess. Things escalated and here's what happened. I ended up fighting the sidekick because he jumped to the bully's defense. I gave the bully one swat in the arm. But he mainly let the other kid fight while he just insulted my mother. And the WHOLE time, the fellow karate student stood by and watched. The lesson? Not only does violence keep coming around but learning karate doesn't have anything to do with violence or even the courage to use it in the right circumstances, like defending a friend. It was only as I entered adolescence as one of only thirteen students at Our Lady of Lourdes that the true lesson of martial arts sunk in. Only then did I learn that by believing the bullies, my thinking had allowed them power over me. By mastering this art, I mastered myself. I no longer saw myself even in the same context as bullying or violence.

NOW, that's MY story. At the age of 32, and in light of the recent suicides, the subject of bullying has hit home. First and foremost, I feel that the use of the term 'bullying' has proven to be a PR gaffe. No one is associating the term with the dire consequences we are seeing today. 'Harassment' would be a better place to start and even that might fall short of what is being done to kids today. And I know that while I may have survived or come around, that certainly doesn't mean I can remain indifferent. In fact, I feel quite the opposite.

I have developed a concept called Outside Looking Out. Over a decade ago, this was the title of a song my band at the time had never finished. Over time, the title has stuck with me because of its defiant tone. When you consider the term it is derived from, "outside looking in", the message is presumptuous. As always, status must be defined by its relationship to the "inside", to the "accepted". Where is the phrase that speaks for those who are outside and happy to be there, contentedly looking outward and beyond? Most importantly, where is the space for those young people who feel this way?

The nation's schools have been making considerable effort to 'police' their own, re-educating and regulating the space of the general population of students. However, the outsiders remain outside. While they might appreciate what's being done with the other students, this does not mean any steps have been taken to give them their own comfort zone, for lack of a better term.

Outside Looking Out will start as a publication. Originally conceived as a comic book anthology, it has since been reconceived as a literary forum for those who feel different or separate from the norm. It is my hope that submissions will cover the spectrum of emotions these students feel as the piece's themes. In the future, it is my dream to extend this concept to other displays of creativity and art from band nights to exhibits. Currently, I am seeking a home for this concept but I am always available to lend my support in any way possible to the larger cause.