Janis Ian

I grew up in a small, Midwestern town where nearly everyone was white. There are so many ways to stand outside of the mainstream as a white child in a white town. One significant way is being poor enough to live in a trailer park across from the high school, while going to that high school, in a surprisingly twisty turn of events in our country where my little town was not significantly poor. Another less visible way is being strange, not understanding social mores, and not being tolerant of the usual offenses, such as bullying hidden behind the more benign terms of “joking,” “kidding,” and “pranks.”

Parents who constantly fight are well known in such a small town, and a mother who is literally crazy is even more well known throughout the school system. I did not know that I was considered the class clown until people who never spoke to me in high school sent me friend requests on Facebook. Carol Burnett did say that tragedy plus time equals comedy.

Moving to a larger town, a small city, did not lessen the prickliness of social contact, but the much larger school did equalize the playing field a bit, allowing friendships with equally strange schoolmates. Today, working in schools myself, I tell children who are told they are strange to tell the other child, “Thank You!” and dance and sing. For your strangeness means you’re unique and generally denotes a creative nature. Of course, I didn’t now this in high school, and so when my stifled creativity transmogrified into depression, an avenue readily offered to me through genetics, I played “At Seventeen” repeatedly my 17th year after transferring to that enormous high school for my last year.

Then…

Someone told me that Janis Ian is a lesbian…

And I realized that her pain wasn’t mine, that she didn’t understand being different in ways people can’t pinpoint beyond “strange.” It broke my heart that I was still alone in my strangeness.

I don’t know what happened to that record.

Then…

I found Janis Ian on Facebook…

And she interacts with her fans in a huge way, sharing her life’s stories, her work, and her Big Opinions. I have fallen in love with her again, and I hope she knows that she means a lot to many people who will likely never meet her IRL.

Thank you, Janis Ian, for being you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *