- Seymour (Steve Buscemi) in Ghost World
When I was growing up, like most precocious, moody tweens, I was insufferably adamant that I was not at all like anyone else. As I grew up and gained some perspective I realised that it wasn’t true, but there was an element of truth to it: I mightn’t have been special, but I did struggle to fit in with other people.
After spending the first few years of my life as an only child, I got used to entertaining myself. I spent my time alone reading and playing games, and when I got to school, I felt no need to speak to anybody. I struggled to get on with other kids; when my classmates played easily with one another, I sat in a corner reading, entirely ignorant to the fact that it was rude not to speak to other people. I had to be told to interact with others; told to be polite; told to just put the fucking book/Gameboy/diary down and play with others, christ. So I tried. I struggled to communicate with kids and I preferred being alone, but I tried. I enjoyed writing and reading and imagination games and all sorts of things that didn’t ever have to involve other people, and I got frustrated with how difficult I found relating to others. When I saw other kids playing together, I thought there was something wrong with me, and I acted out, struggling to fit into a school system that punished me for wanting to be alone.
I have had doctors and teachers and colleagues who have variously thought that there was something wrong with me and that there was a reason for my inability to connect with others, but not a great deal has ever come of it. And while I’ve struggled with many aspects of it, when I got a little older, I started to make friends - real friends, who wouldn’t leave me out or laugh at my for my interests. I still struggled to connect with a lot of people, but I had friends who loved me for me: the books I read, the dumb jokes I made, the music I talked about endlessly. My inability to speak to strangers comes with a flipside; the inability to shut up once I find a subject I care about. That’s grating to a lot of people: not to the friends I was lucky enough to make as a young teenager and that I still have now.
Moving through life, navigating professional situations as an adult and trying to make new friends, I am still that same indoor child who struggled to understand how to properly communicate with all of her classmates. I often say things that to me aren’t rude or insidious, but that others take in a way I couldn’t have predicted. That can be hard when you’re a teenager; the inability to communicate freely and easily can hold you back from being likeable or popular. I resent that, still, I do.
But what I don’t resent is all of the things that that difficulty to connect and relate has given me: invaluable years spent alone buried in books and films and ideas that have made me who I am, brought me to the place i’m at professionally, and made me friends who understand me and love me completely.
Of course, when you’re a teenager, you’re going to feel like you can’t relate to people. You’re going to act sullen and lash out and be melodramatic because nobody understands you! And for a lot of teenagers, that’ll be a phase. For others, it’s something you’ll have to work around: not everyone gets along with everyone easily. I never have, since childhood and for my entire 25 years. But those I can connect with, who don’t take my ignorance or straightforward nature for rudeness or lack of interest, who have patience and understand when I am different to them or become withdrawn: they are priceless.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten better at coming out of my shell. Where I still struggle to communicate, I make up for it in copying what I’ve learned. Growing up is hard - it’s harder when you find it hard to relate to others. But the things that make life more difficult for you do make you special in other ways. And plus, if you’re going to relate to any character in Ghost World, wouldn’t you want it to be Steve Buscemi?