I have just once again finished reading one of my absolute favorite novels, Paper Towns. (So technically I listened to the audio book on YouTube and didn’t read a single word but, that’s beside the point.) The last time I read the novel, I was a whopping fifteen years old and the main thing I took away from the story was that the crazier, more mysterious kind of girl you are, the more people will like you. Now of course, I’m sure this wasn’t the theme that John Green had in mind when he set out to write the novel in the first place but alas, I was fifteen and in high school and drowning in people who despite my spot on the varsity cheer squad, were still in my eyes far cooler than I.
So, I suppose for a while, that’s what I did. I became Margo Roth Spiegelman. I sought out every wild and crazy adventure that I could in my small town and desperately attempted to meet people who were willing to accompany me. It was a roller coaster, for lack of a more cliche metaphor. Over the course of those two-ish years, I became so many things to so many people. (Of course, not all of these things were positive.) For some, I was the girl who was obnoxiously obsessed with cheerleading, even though I was never really a standout athlete. For others, I was the one who never had finished her Algebra homework when first period rolled around. I was the girl that brought everyone else to the dance floor at parties and dances, and actively spoke of my dreams to travel the world. I was the girl whose two best friends had died, and was SO strong to have made it through! I was the heroic founder of Hawk Compliments. I was so many to things, to so many people. And I’m not sure what I’m remembered for most, if I am remembered at all.
Because frankly, it doesn’t matter. Upon finishing Paper Towns, I realized that the true theme of the novel is not that one must be crazy to be loved, but rather, the true craziness lies in the way we humans idealize others humans. We consistently treat the people we’re infatuated with as if they aren’t regular people but instead as something more and better. Take for example, the obvious. The majority of the women that I know worship the ground that Beyonce walks on, (rightfully so.) But then forget that she is a person with struggles, with insecurities, and shortcomings.
Last year I was projected as the perfect exchange student. I fundraised to build schools. I hung out with famous Indonesians. I made wannabe vlogs that were eventually showed at the State Department. People told me things like, “You’re my inspiration. How do I live your life? You make it look so easy.” I was the Mallory they chose to see.
But boy did they choose wrong. I don’t deserve a pedestal. I don’t warrant heaps of praise. I’m to this day insecure about my Bahasa Indonesia abilities. I struggle keeping up with my online courses. I fight with my boyfriend every other week. I get anxious whenever anyone asks about my future plans. And I have a PhD in pushing people away.
I have become so keenly aware of the way that this romanticization of fellow humans has harmed people in my own life, and all the ways that I have failed to unmoor myself from my particular point of view. Australia was my escape from this phenomenon, as is this new chapter I've begun writing here at home - My flight from the ideas of who I am that others have faithfully built for me.
And let me tell ya, I’m pretty stoked about who I found waiting for me on the other side.
“What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.”