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  • Rebekah Mallory

HOW TO BUCK THE SYSTEM ARTISTICALLY


History is chock-full of people who in some way have bucked the system. I always felt akin to these brave souls. Then again, “bucking the system” can mean different things to different people. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines bucking the system in this way: “to oppose the rules of the system; to do things that are not allowed.” Urban dictionary defines it with a more colorful tone: “basically, illegal shit.” For the purposes of this piece, I’ll go with Merriam’s definition.

If you search “historical women who have bucked the system” a slew of names come up and I’d say, yes, they definitely rattled a few cages. Women like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Malala Yousafzai, Anne Frank, Marie Curie, Maya Angelou…the list goes on.

One of my favorite convention buckers has always been Lucille Ball. She flipped the friggin’ script. She starred in her own show as the female pioneer of comedy, she was a successful business woman, the first to own her own production studio, and she was married to a Cuban man in the '50s, which was not the norm then. I Love Lucy was the first show to write in a pregnant woman who “gave birth” on the show. Little Ricky’s debut rated higher than Eisenhower’s inauguration. Go, Lucy! I could talk about my admiration for that woman all day. She couldn’t carry a tune to save her life and seduction was not one of her strong suits, but she pulled off just about everything else she set out to do and she did it with such glamour and style, remaining true to who she was.

Another woman I admire is Frida Kahlo. When this woman walked into a room, she exuded power. She openly defied gender stereotypes–chopping off her hair and wearing men’s suits. She was unashamed of her own sexuality and did not shy away from her unfortunate experiences with miscarriage and other taboo topics but instead painted them. Perhaps my favorite thing about her was that she did not see herself as a victim. Even after her bout with polio as a child, the bus accident that rendered her permanently injured, and her wreck-of-a-marriage to Diego Rivera she was a woman who unabashedly stood tall as the world around her adjusted.

There are several men busting conventional rules wide open that I also admire. If you search for “historical men breaking rules” you’ll see Nelson Mandela, Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., um…Jesus, Moses, and one of my personal favorites–Ray Franz. Look him up, he’s amazing.

One guy I adore, who went against the grain, would be Oscar Wilde. Mr. Wilde’s social and political critique, charm, and quick wit is written in such a way that is impossible to replicate. He took the fabric of European society and unraveled it so eloquently that it makes me want to cry. He was imprisoned in 1895 for his sexuality and lifestyle, yet did not waiver from who he was and kept on writing about personal prisons, poverty, and oppression. One of my favorite books ever is The Picture of Dorian Gray. I could read it over and over and over, and I have.

A modern hero of mine, breaking rules of a commonplace society, is Augusten Burroughs. I adore his writing. After finding Running with Scissors (just last year, where have I been?), I devoured more of his books; I’m making my way through the rest of them. I relate to how open he is about things that happened in his life. Reading on, I learned some of our experiences were eerily similar, and he wasn’t ashamed to talk about them. I was nervous to publish my memoir until I found Augusten and read on as he bared his soul via the written word. Emboldened, I published. Aside from his writing, what I love about him is that he recreated himself and changed his name to suit his new identity (why not?). And seeing his transformation as I read his work is utterly beautiful.

I’m not saying you have to go out and wreak havoc. I’m saying it takes you being who you are at your core, seeing a need somewhere in this world that’s grossly overlooked and filling it to the brim. Find some way, using your talent for being the best you that you can be, to fill the world with what you have to offer.

Gift the world with your unabashed realness, your experiences, your heart. Writing and publishing a book is like lighting a word-candle that shines to light the way for others. Painting and sculpting what’s in your heart magnetizes people, inspiring them to see things in a different way. Music and song make traveling without leaving your chair possible. There are all kinds of ways to shake things up.

Every time I write, I feel the click of a dial inside me, adjusting itself and nudging me toward a sign that says “Yes, This Way —>” I didn’t plan to buck anything when I published Train Gone, but I think I may have touched on something deep inside. Words keep forming into sentences and paragraphs, creating more books that are currently underway. The signs ahead say “Keep Coming This Way —>”

Come along if you like. And if we rattle a few cages along the way, cool.

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