Faded into the inevitable darkness of cultural compromise.
Finn kicked off last Wednesday morning with a little Bruno Mars for drum practice. We were all shaking our groove thing till I noticed he had three minutes to ZOOM. He dashed off so as not to be late for at-home school. Later that day, we got an email from his first period teacher requesting that he please refrain from dancing on Zoom calls as it is distracting, disruptive and disrespectful.
A traffic jam of warring emotions caught in my throat. A lifetime of silenced creativity condensed into thirty seconds. Hilarity, sadness and outrage collided. YES and NO and OH.
The situation was completely understandable. Impossible teaching circumstances, rampant cabin fever and chronic ZOOM fatigue. The reply email wrote itself. We apologize for the disruption. We are incredibly grateful for your efforts during this super challenging time. We have let Finn know that his desire to dance is wonderful and beautifully expressive and we will find a time and place for it when it won’t be distracting to others.
Here’s the problem. Slowly, in small insidiously innocuous ways, we blanch out the different. We streamline and standardize. Offer up culturally compliant options in a relentlessly helpful repetition of self-quieting strategies. We do this, teachers and parents and peers because it is easier.
We do this until eventually the different kids learn to begin silencing themselves.
And the ultimate of all betrayals begin.
The foundation of shouldn’t and can’t is poured. Supportive scaffolding of creative self-sacrifice is erected to insure the messy but entirely necessary framework for societal grooming and self-abandonment can begin. The inevitable fall-out is easily hidden behind a show-stopping façade of colorful walls and ornate moldings.
Beneath a gregarious, charming exterior we carry on. For some, it requires the the help of an eating disorder or bottomless bottle of vodka. Others can can fake their own spiritual disappearance through Oscar-worthy robotic role playing. What starts off as a cultural DISmissal mutates into a psychological DISorder. We internalize the rejection of our soul and then believe there’s something inherently wrong with us. Something missing.
The world judges it as willful, lazy or self-indulgent. Or celebrates it as beautifully thin or high achieving. Both, equally destructive.
This isn’t how it is for everyone.
Some people, like my older son Leo, would rather be caught dead than dancing. It simply isn’t his ‘jam’. He expresses himself through sport and humor and metaphor. This is acceptable, applaudable. He understands how to navigate rules without forfeiting his personal identity. He is complex and beautifully un-label-able.
BUT, his identity is not at odds with his ability to belong.
I have been thinking A LOT about this notion of identity– how we box it up and attach demographically distinguishable labels so we can contain the chaos. Poet Walt Whitman declared that, We contain multitudes. But you can’t forecast FB ad sales with an uber-wealthy, middle-class red-headed blond working on a metropolitan farm as a multi-gender superhero.
I remember the last time Leo filled out a form for school. He joked that the drop-down menu for gender identity went deeper than the screen itself. Is it great that there’s finally recognition that not everyone sees themselves in one of two ways? Yes. Does it feel like a token nod from within the same broken system of institutionalizing individuality? Yes.
What about all the other aspects of identity? Why would we ever limit ourselves! When do WE get to decide?
I believe in AND ALSO…
When I was little, I told anyone who’d listen that I was half-French and half-Italian.
In actuality, I am a blue-eyed, pale-skinned freckled blond of Irish, Swedish German and Polish descent. But NOT inside. Inside I identified with glamorously tall, olive-skinned divas ethnically pre-disposed to high heels, long scarves and big gestures. Over the years I have added a few dashes of sassy Brazilian, a solid dose of sea-swept pirate, a lost refugee, crazy mutt and finally, I have welcomed back my genetic Irish lyricism and German bossiness.
I check the Caucasian box.
I am not a feminist. I am not black. I am not LGBT or Q but I am in full-fledge protest-mode. Smashing ceilings. Breaking boxes. Attempting to destroy the oppressive limitations of our pre-packaged, emotionally-reductive, spiritually-slotted, wonder-starved reality.
I don’t want to burn my bras and marches make me nervous.
But I have been storming around my house like a freedom-fighting, baton-wielding warrior. I have devised all kinds outlets for Finn, but I keep hearing Swiss psychologist Carl Jung’s– The greatest burden for a child is the unlived life of the parent.
I like to think I am a wild and free woman. And I am, inside. But publicly, professionally, socially I am afraid that if stand out too much, I will stand alone. And I have spent literally my lifetime trying to figure out how to belong. So, this is a psychically dangerous decision. But it is also who I am and who I want be. Not to mention, when it comes to parenting, I do believe that our actions speak louder than words.
So, as a first step, I have broken my professional bio out of its box.
I spent my career trying to impress the ‘in’ producers, the ‘it’ publishers, the ‘illustrious and influential’ somebodies. Tried to give them WHAT I thought they’d want to see. WHO I thought they’d need me to be. I never thought that might actually be ME.
As I was recently redoing my website, reading my ABOUT section, I thought, Who cares? I wouldn’t even want to have coffee with this woman. I have been reading Brene Brown and Glennon Doyle and Elizabeth Gilbert– all of whom I’d love to have coffee with and the common denominator?
They aren’t trying to please the podcasting paparazzi.
They don’t care about THE One or EVERY One or even ANY One.
They didn’t leave the reservation. They simply made it their own.
They had the courage to TRUST that who THEY are was ENOUGH. And it turns out, given their book sales, they were right. They have succeeded on their terms; reinvented the playing field according to their rules. What if we all did? What if we all started introducing ourselves professionally by who we actually are rather than who we think we are supposed to be…
Hello. My name is Kelly Coveny.
I have roasted marshmallows on a live volcano in Nicaragua with my family, floated Indian style on the Dead Sea with strangers, eaten termites with my sons in Costa Rica, been blackballed by the middle school sports mafia and built multi-billion-dollar brands with the best minds in advertising.
I have filmed Venetian-masked models at midnight in Rome, performed my songs at The Bitter End in NYC and battled ADHD, PTSD and bulimia. I have photographed black rhinos in South Africa, hunted acorn-hats in our backyard and spread the ashes of both my parents across the Atlantic.
I have tele-marketed truck parts, created international ad campaigns for A-list agencies, navigated country-western line-dancing as a cocktail-waitress, earned an MFA while unsuccessfully potty-training and produced two albums during lunch breaks and Metro-north commutes.
I have won Clio’s, Cannes Lions, Communication Art and New York Songwriters Circle Awards. I have fought off wild charging turkeys with a rented bicycle to protect my son Leo and watched helplessly as a crazed dog attacked my son Finn in the face. I have learned about courage. About mojo, moxie and navigating mayhem.
I am a cross-pollinating content creator, intuitive path finder, innovative architect of options, excavator of insight, translator of paradox and adventurous visionary. I am an extroverted introvert, imagination zealot and radical, if not sometimes reluctant, optimist. I am a passionate collaborator, obsessive epiphany seeker and experiential alchemist. I am, at my core, a curious pilgrim.