What? Yes. I’m reading an autobiographical book by a pop culture star. The reason is, Anna is different. She’s not a Taylor Swift or Kim K. Dare I say, she’s quirky for lack of a better imagination. Every interview, she comes across as a free thinker, a witty, honest, hyper bundle of energy with odd perspectives and habits. I like that. But reading about her youth brings me back to my youth, and the most unfortunate thing of all is that we all waste so much of our youth worrying. And why? Although, adolescents are obsessed with fitting in and social groups, our schools put gas on the fire by creating this oppressive system of categorization, grading, judgment, and humiliation. I don’t think adolescents growing up in the wild, before civilization were so obsessed and worried about failure, fitting in, and their futures. I think this is all a modern invention used to control us. Looking back, I wasted much of my time worrying about being socially humiliated, and this fueled a lot of my social anxiety and panic attacks. I also believe my pint-a-day of milk adulterated with growth hormones and antibiotics also fueled a lot of my psychological and physiological imbalances. I was also obsessed with my future and becoming wealthy and successful which was the result of my parents and their culture. Unfortunately, I had few moments of just enjoying my youth, living in the moment, and being a kid. The most memorable times I had as a youth were hanging out with friends. Nothing else. As I get old, as my wounds heal slower, as it’s harder to immediately get out of bed in the morning, as I feel the clock ticking and old age approaching, I miss the feeling of being young, but I don’t miss the uncertainty, insecurity, obsessive worrying, and perpetual fear. They say people get happier as they age, and I’m sure most of it is the distance they put between themselves and their parents and schooling which are often the two most traumatic things in any kid’s life. I also think that as we get older and wiser, we realize that we were lied to. We realize that happiness is not wealth, glory, fame, recognition, awards, the idea of success, social status, or material possessions. In fact, our material possessions start to crowd our living spaces and start to suffocate us. We learn that happiness is mostly social, and I have learned that most of it is not in taking but rather giving. Why we were never taught this as kids is the true tragedy. We have to learn this for ourselves, and by the time we do, we’re no longer young.
Importantly, we learn that it’s okay to be different, and that if you really get to know anyone, they are really, really different. You learn that every individual in a group specializes, and this is across cultures and nationalities. While we tend to think of Swedes as more introverted than Italians, none-the-less, within Swedish and Italian society, there are the same ranges of diversity, the same proportion of outgoing and introverted people, funny and serious people, academic and athletic. What makes a group powerful is not everyone acting the same but rather, everyone acting different so as to cover all bases, to exploit a greater range of the environment and more efficiently distribute resources within the group. If you take down an animal, and everyone wants the liver, you’ll have a big fight. But some prefer the liver, some prefer white meat, some prefer black, some prefer fatty meat, some prefer lean meat, then the all parts of the animal are consumed and everyone is happy.
“Honesty makes me feel less alone,” is perhaps one of the most interesting quotes.
There are some rather interesting self-contradictions throughout the book. Early on, Anna portrays herself as a nice kid who hates mean people and bullying, yet in order to fit in, she tells a popular girl that a kid on the bus is weird. Later, she accuses a girl of being a bully, so she bullies her by trying to exclude her from her clique and spread rumors to everyone that this girl is such a mean person. Later on, she portrays herself as a rule-follower, how she hates chaos and feels comfortable with rules and structure, and yet she goes on about shoplifting, smoking pot, giving money to people to buy alcohol, drinking underage, and going to concerts and clubs underage. I could care less if she does all this (except the shoplifting which is an asshole thing to do). My problem is that she’s not self-aware enough to realize the contradictions and keeps portraying herself as a humble, innocent, square when she’s not. I find this a frequent habit of loners. They construct their self-image, but they have blind-spots all over the place. They lack the benefit of friends who are trusted enough to be honest with them and call them out on their contradictions or at least provide them with another interpretation of who they appear to be based on their actual behavior. I know this one person who is completely confounded as to why people hate him. He claims that he is just an innocent “goofball” but fails to realize that he often loses his temper and becomes a rage-filled, maniacal, petty asshole. This is why you need friends you can trust to be honest with you. If you have shallow friends, they’ll never feel comfortable calling you out on your behavior for fear of losing you. A trusted friend will know that their observations will be taken in the best possible way.
After a while, you get the idea that since Anna grew up being really short and always feeling left out, she has now become obsessed with fitting in. I understand this as a minority growing up in schools with 90% white people. But it creates this interesting hypocrisy or paradox. At the same time that you identify with those who are left out, outcasts, loners, etc., you also, deep down, aspire to be the most popular kid in school. There is no middle ground. But to be the most popular kid in school, you’ll do anything including selling your own people down the river. Anna probably has met countless nice guys, perhaps scrawny or short, but ultimately, she’s drawn to this total douchebag who isn’t even interested in her except for the free, frequent sex. She lives in both worlds, and it becomes increasingly apparent as the title suggests. Perhaps I shouldn’t call it hypocrisy, because her reality is actually bifurcated. There really is a part of her that is the scrappy, little nobody, and there is also just as valid and real part of her that is a prima donna, celebrity star who name drops other celebrities and revels in the limelight.
I would have liked the book to be more about her celebrity life, but you get the feeling that she’s making a statement by exposing more of her un-celebrity life and pretty much diminishing the weight of her celebrity moments. It’s almost like she wants to be famous but then she’s guilty about being famous and wanting to be famous so she keeps cracking jokes about it and undermining the weight of the fame. Ultimately, the message I get is that she’s a unique individual who just wants to be a cool kid and fit in, and on the side she’s this very famous celebrity. Of course her wit is a defense mechanism, but it makes for some good one-liners. The funny thing about acting is that if you’re not working, all you do is hang out with friends and enjoy life, albeit financially insecure and unhappy about not working. But when you’re working, you don’t have time to hang out with friends and just enjoy life, but you have all this money and fame. The sad or perhaps not-so-sad part of Hollywood is that 99.9% of actors never make it big enough to quit their night jobs. I hope they realize that it’s more about the journey than the end, that their dreams are just that, dreams, useful for escaping the moment and losing yourself in a fantasy. You can just as easily imagine Anna never landing a great agent and getting any work, and she winds up just getting old in LA. Getting a break and becoming famous, she jumps into a very, very exclusive club and this creates a freakish life, but it’s like a kid who gets beaten up so as an adult he gets into a lot of fights. Sometimes you’re just drawn to the life you had as a kid. As a kid, Anna never felt like she fit in, and now, as an adult, she can’t fit in, because she’s a celebrity. You can sense that she’s just as lonely as she was as a kid, and perhaps the only time she didn’t feel lonely was as a struggling, unemployed actor hanging out with friends and neighbors. In other words, the normal life she always wanted, she got as a struggling actor, but then she regressed to a life of not fitting in by becoming successful.