When college time came around, I got out of the state casually nicknamed “God’s Waiting Room” so fast I left a puff of cartoon smoke behind me. I took I-75 straight up, careful to lock my doors and roll up my windows when going through the Redneck Riviera, and never looked back.
There weren’t many things I missed about Florida. Until now.
Florida is like a really bad country song. It’s a disjointed state in the middle of an identity crisis. Yeah, there’s Disney, there’s Miami, and wherever your grandparents retired. But mostly there’s farmland and beach towns and the Panhandle, which is practically the deep South. It’s backward and strange and entertainment takes the form of driving around aimlessly for hours or trips to Publix to buy cookie dough that you eat sitting on the sizzling hood of your car. Florida has “take your gun to work” and “stand your ground” laws. See why I got out?
But recently I’ve been thinking about home strange home in a different light. It started when I realized how put together everyone in the New England seems, particularly at Boston College. Their shirts are tucked in. Their smiles are plastered on. They speed walk to class with unbounding determination. They dress expensively, but not so lavishly that it’s obvious how hard they’re trying. They get sloppy on weekends, but always make it to the library the next morning. They go to the gym. Hungover.
There’s nothing wrong with any of this. Except, you know, that it’s not real.
I don’t mean I’m hallucinating, or the Florida heat has finally made me snap. Everyone here lives by a carefully constructed set of rules based around a total facade. It’s a weird sort of social deal we make: you pretend to be perfect and I’ll pretend to be perfect, and we never have to confront what’s wrong. What’s wrong with our little micro-society, what’s wrong with ourselves. We can have bad days, but only if we pick ourselves back up. If we spend days wallowing and start ruining the facade, people grow uncomfortable. We’re breaking the rules. That’s what I’ve grown nostalgic about Florida.
Yes, people in Florida are ass-over-elbows crazy. I chalk it up to the mix of sweltering humidity, swampland, and loose gun laws. But Floridians are unabashed about their insanity. If they drive around intoxicated with an endangered state bird, they film it for bragging rights. If they get naked and jump on a police car, they revel in the fact that they’re famous now. Florida is completely okay with itself. There’s no facade there. When people are sloppy, they’re just plain sloppy. No one tries to cover it up with 30 extra minutes at the gym, updating their resume, or joining another extra curricular for the “connections.” There’s something extremely liberating about that. They’re alright with their imperfections.
I wish I could do as Florida does. I wish I could accept what my Kindergarten teachers told me: that yes, I am a special snowflake and I’m perfect just the way I am. But I can’t. At BC, I’m self conscious of my flaws. Showing others that I’m imperfect gives me the same sort of social anxiety as a fourth grader with toilet paper stuck to their shoe and a “kick me” sign on their back. I’m not okay with my imperfections—and neither are my peers. When I show worry or despair, it makes them uncomfortable. Crying in public is unacceptable. Vulnerability is akin to weakness.
Her Campus wrote an article about Perfectionist Culture at BC and I think it was a spot on assessment of our surroundings. But reading it left me with the question: Why is our culture like this? Why can’t we be more like Florida? Why are we so uncomfortable with our flaws? Is it because we’ve been hammered and shaped into becoming vehicles for success and feel the pressure to portray ourselves as such? Is it because we see the Crest strip smiles and color coded planners of our peers and feel so woefully inadequate that we determine to put up the same front?
Veiled by the illusion of perfection, we don’t see that we are all lost, and sad, and failing. We forget that we make mistakes, that we are clumsy large children trampling a world of glass.
I’m a shit show, and not in a cutesy sugar coated “Oh, no! I missed my UGBC meeting and have only done half my assigned reading!” type of cliche. I am a category five mess: I haven’t done any assigned reading in about two months, I sleep through my morning classes constantly, and I hate all forms of exercise and bodily movement all together. When I do attend, I swear in class and snore audibly during lectures. The last time I used a planner, it was to prop up the bum leg of my desk chair. I’m insecure about my appearance. I’m terrified of the future.
I’m confessing to my general messiness, to the flaws and mistakes that BC keeps trying to smooth out and tuck away, because I’m going to try to be a goddamn authentic eagle and be realistic about my flaws. Because covering them up with a dab of concealer and an enthusiastic, “I’m doing great!” just isn’t cutting it for me anymore.
I’m not saying everyone is perfect just the way they are, because honestly, they’re not. I should try and fix a lot of those flaws I just mentioned in the same way Floridians should stop streaking in public places. This isn’t about making yourself feel better about your flaws. It’s about being honest with yourself that you have them.
So, next time someone asks, “How are you?” expecting a cookie cutter response in return, look them dead in the eye and say, “I’m horrible. I have a caffeine headache. I’m failing my English class.” They’re going to feel really uncomfortable, but you’re going to feel really f—king relieved.
As they say down yonder: you can take the girl out of Florida, but you can’t take the Florida out of the girl.
Featured Image Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphic