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“What are you gonna do this weekend?”
“I don’t know, probably make a video.”
This was a frequent dialogue between my and my best friend, Sarah, in our tween years. In 6th grade, I had saved up to buy a Canon MiniDV camcorder that I was maxing out to its full potential, filling up as many 60-minute cassettes that I could with my own performances. Sometimes I invited friends into these performances, other times I went for the one-man show. While other 12-year-olds might’ve been exploring their creativity through theater, art, or music, this lens is where I felt at home.
I was clinging to my childhood as tightly as I could. Middle school mixers made me anxious, but in my bedroom I could be totally myself - singing along to everything from Jamiroquai (Napoleon Dynamite was popular at the time) to Beauty and the Beast (see below). There was hardly any preparation for these performances - most of the time I threw my hair into a low-ponytail, middle-part and all, and put on my favorite blonde curly-haired wig. Then I rummaged through my costume box to find whatever clothing transformed me into another character (or 2 or 3, as there were often costume changes mid-performance). If I messed up while recording, I simply stopped the camera, rewinded the tape, and started with a fresh take for that particular bit - in-camera editing was my kind of style.
Music videos weren’t the only format I enjoyed, but the rest of the videos my friends and I made are a little bit harder to categorize. The best way to describe them would probably be “attempted improv.” Sometimes Sarah and I would just dress up and go out on the street in character. I like to think we were the predecessors to Billy Eichner and Amy Poehler, except instead of running around Manhattan, we rampaged through the Park Cities - harming no one but confusing everyone.
At the time, I didn’t do anything with these videos. YouTube didn’t exist yet. We were still living in the era of eBaumsworld and Home Star Runner (and don’t forget about that weird “badger badger badger” video). But I wasn’t looking for an audience - just for a place where I could be me. I remember getting upset when my mom would knock on my bedroom door and ask what I was doing or tell me it was time for dinner. Part of it was because she "ruined the video” (don’t worry Mom, I’m not upset anymore), but part of it was also because I felt vulnerable and could feel myself being forced to grow-up when I didn’t want to.
Eventually, I grew up. Years later, I discovered a compilation of the videos I had put together when I was cleaning off an old hard-drive. I opened up the file and couldn’t believe my eyes. When people say “home videos”, I don’t usually think of the cute ones from Christmas when I was 4 or 5 years old, I think of these. I loaded the compilation onto my new laptop and took it back to college. When the time was right, I showed some of the highlights to my new-found friends. It was like giving a glimpse of my past to my new trusted comrades who didn’t know me as a 12-year-old.
I continued showing these videos to friends as I got close to them, mostly for the laugh. In the process, I became more comfortable with who I was and who I am today.
The more and more times I’ve shown these videos, the more I’ve realized how much that period of my life has shaped me today. I love and embrace the weird and also strongly believe that someone should be able to laugh at themselves. Now, I’m at the point where I don’t really care who sees these at all. I’m able to share these videos today because I am confident in the person I’ve become over the years and am not embarrassed about it. (And because I moved on from the middle-part low-ponytail look a long-time ago.)
So, friends, let your freak flag fly.
Last Saturday I convinced my roommate to join me for a drop-in “beginners" hip hop class. I put “beginners" in quotation marks because our definition of beginner looked very different from the rest of the participants in the class.
It became clear during the first 8-count that the road ahead was not going to be pretty - and I had a mirror staring back at me to remind me of that in real-time. But through the course of attempting moves that I can only hope to achieve by the end of my lifetime, I realized something: the perks of being an amateur.
It had been awhile since I had put myself in an environment where I had to let go of all reservations and just go for it - where I had set my ego on the shelf because there was NO way I was going to fake my way through the class. I’ve faked my way through a lot of things, but hip hop is not one of them. Putting my ego in its rightful place was one of the most liberating feelings I’ve experienced. This is perk #1 of being an amateur.
I laughed at myself as I continued to attempt each move and began to marvel not only at the expertise of the teacher but at the students around me. Every time I've tried something new, transitioning from a passive audience member to a participant, my admiration for those with expertise skyrockets: from listening to my German tutor speak fluently and fluidly, to watching my friend Jared DJ, to engaging in a sweaty afternoon at a dance studio while the teacher shows us how it’s done. This is perk #2 of being an amateur.
Last, but not least, perk #3 of being an amateur (the selfish perk): you just might be good at it. Everyone starts off as an amateur - even Olympians. I’m not saying I’m going to be a hip hop dancer (although in another life with a different body I would be). I’m also not saying you have to be good at something to enjoy it. But it is pretty awesome to enjoy something that you are good at - and you’ll never find those things if you don’t give them a go.
So, next time you find yourself starting from square one - whether in a classroom, on a stage, in a studio, on a court, or in the woods - just remember the perks of being an amateur. (It’s much less depressing than the perks of being a wallflower, anyway).