The Rage Club: Liberating Our Teenage Minds

At the Cafe

At the Cafe

The Rage Club

Liberating Our Teenage Minds

From the time I was a teenager, I knew I did not fit in.

Thankfully, I made it a part of my cause — to be a rebel. Being different BECAME my mode instead of trying to fit in. There was always a lingering question if it was better “over there” with the popular rich and ‘normal’ kids. I am just now finally recovering from thinking there is something better “over there.”

I befriended the friendless and the outcasts, I shared fashion magazines with the gay kids wearing Armani at 14, all in a redneck town named Boonville, I made friends with the group home kids, dated the Mexicans and encouraged the geeks to run for student office because they were the smartest.  I even tried to learn break dancing from the city kids. I listened to the Dead Kennedies and Sweet Home Alabama, I watched A Clockwork Orange, Honeysuckle Rose and Helen Caldicott.  I had posters of Willie Nelson and Prince and Jesus on my walls. And I admit,  Matt Dillon. I saw Mary Daly when I was a tiny child, read Rita May Brown and watched Dallas.  I loved Dolly Parton. I shopped at second hand stores and got vintage clothes when it was decidedly not cool. I rode a skateboard and carried my teddy bear that I have had from birth in my backpack with his head sticking out – he wore a white bone carved Buddha on a black leather string, his name was Girton.

I raided my Italian stepfather’s son’s high school storage of clothes and found 501’s that I cut and bleached and letterman’s jackets and wore cut off flannel shirts.  I read T.S. Eliot and memorized much of the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. I memorized the Highway Man by Tennison and The Road Less Traveled by Robert Frost.  I read Herman Hesse and the Bible and Quentin Crisp.  I made sketches and wrote in my journal all the time and looked at books of women artists like Mary Cassatt and Georgia O’Keefe.

I sought out the original thinkers – who were wild – searched for them in the halls. Let them know, “I see you and you are OKAY with me. I favored the dissidents and the fringe dwellers.  I wore an orange cowgirl hat, pink converse tennishoes, with a James Dean tee shirt and a homemade patchwork prairie skirt and rodeo belt buckle with a gold horse and rhinestones.  As if to say: Don’t think you have me figured out. And I took the bus to San Francisco regularly from the Redwood Drive Inn just to get what I called a “dose”. Once in San Francisco I would visit the Haight, and The Embarcadero and get a designer haircut and dye from my sister’s wealthy hairdresser boyfriend.

I also met Jesus there on Highway 128 at the Assembly of God and He has been with me ever since. To me, He is the ultimate rebel – talk about resisting the authority and establishment of the day, staying true to His mission and remaining in 100% love. If that isn’t rebellious I don’t know what is.  My Christian girlfriend who brought me there, was a really good girl but also, the most daring of our group. She brought in the hip hop music and would often blast it out her windows while cruising town, with lyrics like: ‘trapped in the body of a white girl’ and  ‘Salt-n-n-Pepper’s here, and we’re in effect. Want you to push it, babe, Coolin’ by day then at night working up a sweat. C’mon girls, let’s go show the guys that we know’. It was to voice of my friend, not in the car but in the chior, that I fell for Jesus. Even loving Him, I was still wild. I took down the posters of the hot boys/men, but I continued to develop my independent rebel self, only now I had His Love to share as I went along through life.

When I was a senior in Anderson Valley High School I made up a club called the Rage Club.  We wore tee-shirts with the word RAGE on it that we actually found at the Santa Rosa Mall. As the unofficial leader, I gathered the geeks and the punks and the hippy kids and the wild ones into my fold and informed them that things in the world, were indeed, not as they seemed at all. That it was best to think their own thoughts and to not fit in. That there was freedom there, outside of the glow of “normal”. That normal meant bondage. Got it? We are not keeping up with Joneses. We are making up a whole new tribe.  We had a manifesto and a few clandestine meetings and planned a few revolts.  But more than taking any action, it was sweet moments of belonging somewhere that made us feel at home in the world. I was so happy to find, that as different as each of us was, our differences are what brought us together. The members were from all different sides of the tracks, and were all ages too – which in high school, generally the Juniors have nothing to do with the Freshman.  We got to hear about and share our experiences, the feelings of being not okay and depressed beyond belief. Of being misunderstood by everyone. Our common denominator is that we did not fit in, and therefore had room for one another. This is a beautiful thing that continues to inform my work in the world to this very day.  I was the student body President, and it was often under that guise that I was able to explain the diversity of my activities.

The Rage Club members had already chosen not to fit in, but I wanted them to know, it was not just “what they were forced to do because they were odd or not pretty enough” but rather, because they CHOSE it. I wanted them to CLAIM their power as rebels, not at the cause of not being popular, but because it gave them room to move – to be unreasonable and unexpected. It encouraged them to live outside of the “norm” and therefore have thoughts outside of the standard. I read them poetry and shared art with them, and encourage them to draw and study Baudelaire.  My mother, a rebel herself, supported my activities and encouraged me to be as original as possible. That was her core teaching, originality, and so I had a giant permission slip to explore and liberate my mind and heart. And when that happens, one desires to share it with others – we hope.

Sharing our originality and individuality with others is what turns the rebel, into the revolutionary — the desire to bring freedom to more people than just you.

My mom had married into a local logging family, and it was clear from the start, that this mother and daughter would not shape up to be the Boonville version of the Cleavers.  But I loved my Italian Papa and he loved me, and accepted me in my wildness and often took me to breakfast at the Horn of Zeese where the locals hung out. I used to draw in my journal while he was harpin’ tidrick to the old timers. We were his own version of doing something different, and I adored him. His acceptance of me, I only understood later, was a healthy part of my blooming. For one thing, I was never the “skinny” girl, and he told me that in Italy, if you are skinny it means you don’t have enough to eat – or are sick. He said that when women and girls are robust (imagine Italian hand gestures) that it means they are loved and have food on the table. Besides, it looks better. He always told me I was pretty. So while my other friends were dieting and throwing up, I was eating homemade spaghetti. He is the best of the rednecks – and the salt of the earth, as they say.  My mother, a poet appeared on Women’s Voices on KZYX, and somehow found her way to live in both circles, and showed me how to do that, with the grace and beauty she held.

Midnight Cowgirl

Midnight Cowgirl

My education from the people in my life is what got me started in thinking for myself from early on. Although my mother says I was born that way, at a young age telling her, “mom, we do not always have to agree”. My mother’s encouragement, her own creativity, and her decision to raise me in a “criticism free” environment is the reason I am who I am – because I was given permission to be myself. Thank you mama.

Another significant contribution came from the lesbian influence on my life from the very beginning. The women my mother would later affectionately term: The Holmes Ranch Hags. They taught me that girl’s contributions were equal, and needed to be“stood” for as it would not just happen naturally. So though The Rage Club was girls and boys, I took special care to speak to the girls about their rights.  And, about not having sex too soon, giving away power to boys, and how to be self confident. We even had some mini-workshops on how to “walk with power without self consciousness.”  It was in this group that I first saw girls not trying to be “pretty” or noticed by the boys – and the boys, even the toughies, allowed some of their feminine side to be present.  I am still working with those Holmes Ranch Hags now, and credit much of my creative development as an artist, to one such woman who at the age of 73, is still the person to call if a tree has fallen across your road. With chainsaw in hand, she comes to save the day.  She is currently painting thirty-six thousand dollar paintings and tending herd of deer, three generations, on her property in Philo. I had tons of “gay” women in my life to open my mind to the plight of the opressed, but not many gay men, but there was one boy…

I am sure Boonville had seen “gay” boy in High School before, but perhaps no one wanted to admit it. I can think of a few who still looked pretty cute in their Wranglers but did not ride in the Rodeo at the Fairgrounds.  There was one such boy in my life, who decidedly did not wear wranglers, had chosen not to “pass” for normal and was to be my little friend for my senior years. He was not “out” in terms of his identity, I am not even sure if he knew. He was one of my favorite parts of my senior year, as I was determined that he would not be beaten down, or beaten up if I could help it. I was determined that I would support him to be himself and be proud no matter what. I encouraged and trained him to have a self contained arrogance to shield his soul, while not provoking the anger of the goat ropers. (Goat ropers is the name of the children of rednecks before they grow up.) We wrote letters weekly, handwritten on floral paper folded inside of meticulously created magazine envelopes made from Vogue and W, that both of us made as offerings to one another. He saw me – and something in me – that no one else in High School saw – a leader, a defender, a person with profound personal style and opinion, someone to look up to. And I saw in him, a freshman at the time, a young man with profound sensibility, style, gentleness and promise. And so I wrote to him about courage, and being different, about how to not be in hiding, about how to take the blows when they came – with dignity – it was Shiloh’s boot camp for the young gay male but could have applied to anyone who was struggling with personal identity in a time where that was not encouraged. Now adays, that is what is in, but back then, over 20 years ago, struggling with identity was not an article that made it into the school paper.  At the time, I don’t know if he knew he was gay or not, he had never even been exposed to that culture – and our conversations were not about that – but about style – about originality. His father was very prominent in the community, and in truth, I feared for his young life.  I told him about how to be himself, but without being an exhibitionist. What it taught me, this year long affair of words and images, was how to be a teacher, and how to care for someone else who is in need. We barely ever met in public, only in The Rage Club. Years and years later, we would lunch at Café Claude in San Francisco and have the conversations we didn’t have before.

Don’t get me wrong about the rednecks and the logger’s kids, the goat ropers – cruel as they could be at times to my little protégé; or to the other Rage Kids.  I liked them to be who they were – liked their spinning wheelies and coming to school with their trucks covered in mud. Liked the parties at the creek listening to country music, kicking tires around the fire and talking Rodeo and Agriculture.  Liked them working on Ag and 4H and on their trucks and riding in the rodeo. Liked the sweetness and boldness held in that all American conversation. Didn’t like the ignorance however – or the racism.  But that is not the point of this conversation because you cannot stereotype the rednecks anymore than you can the other groups – they are as different as every other group – with similar fashion choices which has them look like the club they are in is called: Wrangler. My mother is fond of the bumper sticker: Hug a Logger, You’ll Never Go Back to Trees.”

My mother and I, along with many other Boonvillians, those who are imported there from elsewehre, embodied the paradox which today, continues to be a leading “brand” in  the Anderson Valley. Respect for tradition, and America and shit-kicking values, right along side of caring for the earth, women’s rights and organic food. The list goes on but this journal entry is already tool long. First and foremost, in the Valley, what you see is not what you get. And last but not least, there is a sense being there, that some kind of utopia has been reached, that the proximity of soul groups gathered in that green valley is working something out for the rest of the world. I guess it depends on which day you drive through…

My time in the Anderson Valley was just the beginning of my leadership journey – my desire to gather the lost and let them know that they were not lost after all, but to KNOW that the difference between being lost and being cool, was that YOU CHOSE to be lost from the standards that were set for you. Most of these fringe dwellers, like myself, excelled in academics and arts. I was interested in world affairs, and did things like got passes out of school to go with Bruce Anderson, the Editor for the Anderson Valley Advertiser, to political conversations in Mendocino.

Being a Gemini, I also dwelt in the realm of the popular – but only in Anderson Valley, graduating class of 18 in 1988.  And in fact my closest girlfriends were there in that group – and we are still friends today. They knew me since I was 8 years old, so as I began to morph and change into this punker girl, they just asked me questions at first, but then just accepted me as I was. As if there was nothing at all unusual going on. There I was with my bleached white flat top and chains and a rag tag bunch of fringe dwellers in cut off trench coats and anarchist tee-shirts drawn with Sharpie, and they just took me as I was.  But I am sure spoke amongst themselves how they wished I would “snap out  of it”. (Note: I will have to ask them at our next girlfriend gathering). In elementary school we were called the Hot Hearts, in High School, the Barbies: Limited Edition. We were called that as an insult by both the rednecks and the rebels – but we claimed it, and it stuck. We were not however, shallow, each of us, was original and unique and decidedly non-conformist in the privacy of our own friendship. But being popular, causes one to put that away when standing in the lunch line or doing the moon walk at the school dance.

I did bring to the attention of the Barbies, things they were not noticing, and encourage them to think differently, while still remaining at the height of cool.
I was a quiet but consistent force of encouragement, to think “outside the box” and represented that with my own thinking, and, of course, my clothing choices. The really radical thing was though, that they continued to accept me as I was through all the changes I went through.

I went to other schools off an on throughout the years but always returned to Anderson Valley, and never was able to mingle in the popular group for long at other schools – I was just too weird to last for long and I didn’t have enough outfits to pass. But I strolled popular street to gather information and bring it back to the tribe of “those who would not conform”.  Most of them were respectful but disdainful of their parents, and definitely defied “authority” and claimed themselves anarchists, yet were kind to every bug and dog, took care of their school work, had jobs and were advocates for the marginalized of the world, and the oppressed in our own valley.  We just didn’t want to “play” – and we were forced to play something else –  and I am so glad we did!

I played all the sports, but instead of wearing a cheerleading costume, I was the mascot, a panther, and my grandmother made the faux fur golden gold and brown suit.  I wrote revolutionary poetry and sent it off to contests to be published. Once I turned in a collage, with Da Vinvi’s man in the middle and all this machinery and mechanism around him, in liu of a history essay – my teacher loved it so much, I got an A.  And he passed it out on the final test at the quarter’s end with the instruction for the students to interpret the image. The image was showing my belief that “man” had become a part of the “machine.”
This man, my history teacher, saw potential in me, and along with another woman at school, helped me to get to college.

I was determined to not just make up my own rules, or break the existing ones, but actually to define a new context all together. I think I had just read 1984 and was beginning to understand a little bit more of how the world worked and how our place in the machine had been pre-arranged somehow. I would not be one of the ones in the machine, running the machine, or even responding to the machine, like my political friends who were so mad. I did not want to be mad – I would do something else entirely.

I would be a poet. An artist. An entrepreneur.

That was the decision I made at the tender age of teenagehood,  and my life reflects that decision. I am the Co-Ownder of two galleries, one in Mendocino and one in Healdsburg, as well as the founder of a woman and girl owned publishing house called Cosmic Cowgirls. I am still calling in the outcasts, the friendless, the fringe dwellers, the sexually ambiguous and the popular girls together to think about things differently, to consider our possibilities, to draw and dance together, to make a great adventure out of life – only now it is called, Cosmic Cowgirls instead of the Rage Club. Cosmic Cowgirls is the vehicle through which all of this work of identity is expressed for me, and my invitation to be true to yourself in those teenage years continues to inform my daily work in my outreach to the women and girls of the world. The work is focused in providing a place for original voice and images to be shared and expressed and supported by a community of women. We have plans to meet for the next 100 years as the company is member owned and is designed to be a legacy for the creation of personal legend!

Fifteen years ago, I married another outcast who went to that same school, although he was younger than me and our paths never crossed – our mother’s moved in and out of that town all our lives – and somehow I never met him. But we knew all the same people! Years into our marriage, I would discover, that he was friends with the kids who had been members in the Rage Club and reported to me, that they did indeed, remain true to themselves! To RAGE against the machine, whatever that meant for each person.

Our gypsy wedding, which happened at Wellspring in Philo, California, would make that days news, both in KZYX and in the Anderson Valley Advertiser, reported on by none other than Bruce Anderson himself, who was there that day with my former Italian Stepfather, The Holmes Ranch Hags, The Barbies, The Goat Ropers and their little goat roaper children, The Winery Owners, the Hippies, and the Punks and business executives from San Francsico and the Fashionistas and their entourage. That night we danced under the Anderson Valley Moon to music of Bonnie Raitt. We are still in love, and never forget meeting on the streets of Boonville, when we expereinced love at first sight at Raffas Guatamalan Import Store and Acupuncture office. It was an open mike, and he was to play a song, my mother was to read a poem, and Billy Owens was there to yodel.

When I tap my red cowgirl boots together and ask to go home, I always end up back at Indian creek, kicking tires and drinking beer under the moonlight.

“I’m going to get into it darlin’. Down where it’s tangled and dark. Way on into it baby,
down where your fears are parked. And there’s no turning back, no turning back this time.” Bonnie Raitt.

My husband and I have what we call “cafe” almost daily, where we talk and learn and drink coffee and write in our journals. Now I know that I was having “cafe” when I was down at the Horn of Zeese with the old timers. Horn of Zeese means cup of coffee in Boontling.  Just this morning, my husband concluded our cafe with the idea that we should write about what it means to be an individual, and then share what we wrote. This writing, The Rage Club is what came.

Names have been withheld to protect the innocent, and the guilty.

Disclaimer: This is a rough draft. I am sending it my mother now for editing. And I am sure I have bene unpolitically correct in here somewhere, so forgive me in advance. I will update it once my mother cleans up after me.

http://www. shilohsophia.com

http://www.cosmiccowgirls.com

there is no place like home

there is no place like home

http://www.shilohsophia.com