Back to Basic


You are more than your shoes. You must be more than your shoes. Photograph: ‘Ground Below’ by Frederick Lang Jr.

We all of us are concerned with the possibility of being basic. The word has taken new shape in this 21st century of ours, growing talons and fangs, snarling from the mirror we’ve learned to hate. Your shoes are basic. Your clothes are basic. The yoga classes you can’t live without are basic. Hipsters and flower children, the cute square glasses, contouring, Justin Bieber, pumpkin spice lattes: I can’t even.

I pretend I enjoy it, the classification. That I take pride in my basic-ness. I’m basic? Yeah, but so are you, right?

Then I meet people who eschew the basic-ness. They take all the precautions to avoid it, feigning adoration for chia seeds, white Chucks, ripped Urban Outfitter Levi shorts, Crossfit, ad nauseam. I am not basic: see here how I refuse to eat gluten. That proves I’m different, and special. What Instagram caption best defines me as a person?

Let me show you how different I am. Let me play my vintage records on my vintage record player, and let me tell you how the music transcends this mortal coil. Let me tell you about Sylvia Plath, and how The Bell Jar basically changed my life (see what I did there?). Let me pontificate on the evils of social media as we sit in a dumpy basement, sipping on craft beer that makes us cringe, talking about other people as anathema, talking about ourselves as improved, different, unique. Let me tell you why I am different.

We all do it. We all fight the urge to conform. Because conforming means being one of many. God forbid I resemble the person staring back at me from across the street. I refuse. I choose another path. And so do you, and so does your neighbor, and so does the person staring back at you from across the street. In those terrified flights of ours, we run away from that thing, only to loop around and arrive right back where we’ve started.

It’s very easy to understand the artifice behind terms like basic. The whole movement here denotes some affinity towards individualism, which is, ironically, in and of itself the most basic of trans-generational movements. Those great American harbingers of individuality, and the adoration of the individual as the true future vehicle, were in their own time lauded as the change-makers of the 2-D world. To be individual meant to be different, and then the whole thing devolved into this desperation to denote, demarcate, and delineate the differences between you and I.

We surmise from this forward inertia such social constructs as racism, sexism, homophobia, classicism, blah, blah, blah. Boring. The point is that when we kneel to worship differences, we forget we are, inarguably, all shaped from the same mold. I am he as you are she as you are me and we are all together.

The cult-movement that worships differences now finds respite in a common enemy; before, we would denounce someone else for their differences, in terms of race, gender, class or sexual tendency (move past the political correctness, get to your point). The inculcation of social rights into our educational and social dogma birthed a dissonance that eventually rendered the judgment void, null. As in, now, in the desperate attempt to categorize and differentiate, there are doubts and shadows cast upon the terrain. How to label when half the labels insult? How to forge past this palpable obstacle, and return to the natural order of things, where we ascribe language to empirical truth? How do we go about observing and cataloguing experience, when the world tells us it is wrong?

Simple: we shed light on the category everyone equally hates.

Now, we get to revel in the castigation of a quite different social phenomenon. Now, we get to poke fun at the very thing we wish we weren’t: similar.

Which is good, all things considered. Sure, there still exist tangential forms of division, where the one criticizes the other, formulating judgments and half-truths based on predetermined traits. I cartwheel around these words only to avoid my statements from deteriorating into a social manifesto. That is, I won’t point out the examples of police brutality in X or Y country, or the naked derision of B or C when faced with the less affluent D or E. I won’t delve into the historical nuances—of which there are plenty—that so characterize us as a race, because someone else has done that. I don’t want to be like someone else. I don’t want to be basic.

It’s good that we’ve strayed from castigation of difference. It’s good to embrace that little piece of yourself, who some call soul, divinity, personality, chemical hard wiring, whatever, and share it with the world. I do not discourage the celebration of differences.

What I discourage is difference for difference’s sake. If we become subsumed by this instinctual desire to be different, we focus our attentions on achieving the result, forgetting the process that is requisite. The ends do not justify the means.

Let me ground my abstractions in concrete example. I am a sentient being, stuck in a post-graduate slump, trying to carve a niche in this ever-changing globe I am undoubtedly a part of.

Less abstract: I graduated and have no clue what exactly I am doing with myself.

Less abstract: I don’t know what job I want.

Less abstract: I don’t know what makes me happy.

Less abstract: I don’t know what me is.

To know what makes me happy, and then to find the pastime which makes me happy—this applies not only to an actual office, but more generally to the way I spend my time and energies—and to find what exactly I will do with myself, I must understand the inner workings of this complex machinery I have been, for reasons unknown, given.

I must understand how and why I think the way I do. I must understand how and why I get up every morning, and what I hope to achieve at day’s close. This is not an option: living means choosing. It means choosing yes over no, every day, in and out, choosing yes to the possibility of more. The former assumes you are willing to get up; the latter assumes you want to stay down. I’m dodging the harsh, ugly, cold truth here: yes means life and no means death.

But let’s stray away from the gloom, and focus on living. Once the choice is clear, you are faced with a myriad tiny other choices, which, in summation, describe a pattern, which, in summation, describe a person. You.

Thus, the way you make choices—this is all very vague and wordy, but stick with me—to some extent, defines you as a person. Of course, life doesn’t hand us a rulebook, only foreshadows faint guidelines and examples from which to learn from. You’ve heard all this, in clichés and redundancies you’ve been conditioned to hate. But the only reason something is a cliché, the only reason a thought or idea crosses the threshold from innovative to banal, is because it is seized by a multitude.

Yet still. God forbid your choices and actions even slightly mirror the clichéd. The overdone. You are not a mindless sheep in an endless flock, they tell you.

So it’s quite simple, really. Choose to live. Choose between two options: to do as Sally does, or to do something else. And because Sally is that obnoxious, unoriginal, sorta-dumb, basic girl down the street, any rational and somewhat sophisticated woman is now reduced to one option: something else.

And therein lies the problem. We are so reluctant to conform that we grasp at any opportunity to not. To not conform. The anxiety of self-definition, of understanding who you are, and understanding what makes you special, this manifests in the daily struggle to create an image of your liking, one that strays from the societal norm and only conforms to your own parameters. We’re constantly torn between being our true selves and seeing our true selves. It’s hard. It’s hard to see and not categorize. Especially when you can’t actually see it. Especially when you can’t see those parameters you’ve fought so hard to create.

Which are, exactly, what? How have you determined it is better to live, if not the way Sally does? Have you thought this through? Sally has been properly ridiculed, because of her trite ways, and here you are, throwing stones from where your glass house once stood. Now, it’s bare, and empty. You’ve foregone the glass house, armed yourself with rocks, and locked in on a target.

It’s always easier to throw rocks. It’s always easier to judge, and to point the finger at someone else. This is an unfortunate scientific reality. You can’t judge yourself, not in any way that counts. At least, you can’t do it with the ease and delight most mockery entails. It has nothing to do with intelligence, or maturity (maybe a bit with that); just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you won’t do it. In fact, you’ll spend the rest of your life brainstorming judgments, on situations and people you don’t exactly comprehend. You will devote your strengths to the outside world, forgetting that there is an inside world aching to be judged, and comprehended.

Because, in the end, the unease of basic-ness does not stem from anyone else. The unease is internal, blooming inside your organism, begging to be reckoned with. Learn to understand what it is inside of you that is basic, and good, and you will understand what is basic and good in others. Learn why you are different; do not subscribe to the belief that you are not. If you ignore the virtues within, you will find yourself ignoring the virtues in others. Refuse the system of categorization when it comes to your own self, and the laziness will manifest elsewhere. The qualities you see in others are the blaring inadequacies in yourself. You hate basic because you understand yourself as basic.

You aren’t, though. Basic, I mean. You are similar to others, and that is OK. But the more you understand about yourself, the more you will appreciate about yourself. Love your curves and all your edges. Then, and only then, will you be able to discern them in others. The minute you take a minute to figure it out is the minute you cease to concern yourself with figuring it out. There is nothing unique in being different than the norm. Get in line, sister-friend.

Here is what’s truly unique: the ability to disregard judgment unto others. The ability to perceive the possibility of more-than. To look upon the “basic” with fresh eyes, all the while educing judgments, yet straying away from the negativity these judgments tend to incur. The true horror behind the mask of uniformity is the lazy thought patterns we all fall victim to. Disliking something on principle does not make you different. Changing in response to an established paradigm does not make you different. Next time you hasten to judge her UGG boots, look beyond her feet. I don’t mean to get cheesy, but do her feet represent her heart? Her mind? Her innermost thoughts and desires? What can you conclude, based on footwear? What should you conclude based on footwear? What about your footwear? Would you like to be judged in similar currency?

You are more than your shoes. You must be more than your shoes. You must be more, always more. Choose to be more. Choose to ignore the automatic setting we’re unfortunately humming on. Choose to understand what lies within, so that the outer sheath loses its significance. Choose to accept and love what makes you special, so that you can accept and love what makes someone else special.

You are more than your shoes. So is she. Which means you’re similar, which means you’re basic.

And I don’t think that should be a concern.



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