The Art of Non-Conformity

May.5. 2012

When I was growing up in Sibu, I was fascinated by America and all it represents.

I remember going to the US embassy once to listen to author Maxine Hong Kingston and just the sight of the stars and stripes fluttering in the wind was enough to make my pulse quicken just a little bit.

Why was I so fascinated with America?

Freedom and the seemingly unlimited potential for growth it represents.

And individualism.

While in high school, I listened to Bob Dylan, I read Henry Thoreau and Walt Whitman and Thomas Paine and I was inspired by the promise of freedom and individualism in their accounts of America.

But now having lived here for over twenty years, I have seen another America, the one where everyone is imitating everyone else.

It seems that contrary to popular belief, conformity is the rule in America.

From pop culture to pop psychology, to how cities are designed, to how movies are made, to how books are written, and yes to classical guitar playing too.

It seems that everyone is following everyone else, and everyone else is following the latest trends and rules and formulas.

For example, I gave up on Hollywood years ago – the same formulaic endings, the same plots and the same syrupy music.

Pop music? Why do you think the best rock and pop music always seem to come from outside America? If you recall the British invasion, well, America had its answer with the Monkees, four Beatles look-alikes, picked through auditions and packaged to sell.

(Okay, I know I’m oversimplifying here. We mustn’t forget CCR, Bruce Springsteen, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, true American originals.)

When I first started to write my AOV, I was told that I had to follow the standard formula, which is to load it up with many ‘inspiring’ ‘heart-wrenching’ stories and make sure it’s at least 200 pages or a legit publisher will never pick it up. (As it turned out, the AOV is 35 pages long and has no anecdotes and yes, I’m perfectly fine with selling it on my website.)

Which brings me to the Art of Non-Conformity.

I saw the book recently in a bookstore and was immediately drawn to it, for obvious reasons.

But the book turned out to be a dud. First – 244 pages. That says it all – the author followed the over-200-page formula perfectly.

Then you turn the pages and it’s filled with the usual requisite anecdotes. If there’s one thing that turns me off these days, it’s anecdotal stories – true or made up, they only get in the way of the ideas. These days, I refuse to waste my time wading through all that junk just to uncover one gem of wisdom, if there’s one there.

And the ideas in the book don’t sound all that non-conformistic to me.

‘Convergence,’ ‘abundance,’ ‘legacy’ – these are all standard code words that apparently you have to use if you want to be accepted as a legit author . It’s obvious the author has done his homework well.

The book reminds me of another book that, also on the strength of the title alone, seemed to portend great stuff .

The Art of Effortless Living’ — what a title!

But its length, 256 pages long, is a dead giveaway. (Have I mentioned the over 200-page formula?)

And far from being effortless, the book was not easy to read, 256 pages of tortuous self examination and recriminations. It’s mostly about the author’s personal struggles and her personal demons and how she eventually overcame them.

You see, I have this crazy idea, that books should reflect what they’re trying to say.

For example, a book about how to be beautiful should not have an ugly cover.

A book about effortless living should be effortless to read as well.

A book about non-conformity should strike a non-conformistic tone. (Now, here’s an example of what a true non-conformistic book should be.)

I’ve gone a little off topic here. Back to conformity.

I realize I have been a little harsh here. In fact, what I have described is really middle America, the America where mediocrity and the money men rule.

Because behind this sea of conformity, there is another America.

It’s an America where innovation and imagination thrive.

An America where people invent computers and juice up their own cars in their garages, an America where people build rockets in their backyards just for the heck of it. An America where kids make up their own dance moves in the streets, and in clubs, where they evolve their own brand of music and called it jazz. I can go on but you get my point.

This is the America I fell in love with years ago, and this is why I still think this is the greatest country in the history of the planet.

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2 Responses to “The Art of Non-Conformity”

  1. William Says:

    I read “The Art of Non-Conformity” a few years ago. I thought it was great because the author was basically telling me what I wanted to hear at the time, but none of it has stayed with me. Around the same time, I found a blog post by a “minimalist” in which the author wrote about 2500 words on minimalism. I never bothered to read another post from that blog.

    I think the “pro-blogger” ideal is to convince people to give you money because they want to be like you. It’s led to a strange culture of identical “nonconformists” and “entrepreneurs” who have never actually started a business.

    Sometimes I think the only measure of success should be how true you stayed to yourself.

    • philhii Says:

      That’s the true measure of non-conformity too. I believe non-conformity of course, should not be pursued merely for its own sake, but it’s amazing how strong the herd mentality is in all of us, and it’s only by following our own paths that we can resist the pull of the crowd and be true to ourselves. You probably realize there;s a hidden commentary in there about the state of the classical guitar too.


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