noun: a group or member of a group that is perceived as different, foreign, strange, etc:
Prejudice comes from fear of the other.
verb: to perceive or treat (a group or member of a group) as different, foreign, strange, etc.
--"other". Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 28 Jun. 2017.<Dictionary.com http://www.dictionary.com/browse/other>.
(AKA, THAT KID)
Reasons people are othered: race, gender, color, sexual orientation, religion, politics, socio-economics, appearance (weight, height, development/lack of development, etc), clothing, alcoholic parents, disabilities, speech impediments, intelligence/lack of intelligence...no real reason at all.
GOOD reasons people are othered: ZERO.
Dane is a YA author represented by Tracy Marchini and BookEnds Literary. He's someone I trust to know my writing insecurities and count on for pep talks (because this writing thing isn't always easy). Dane's innate kindness and approachability made him first in mind for my THAT Kid section, and I'm honored that he agreed to share his story with everyone.
KC) Tell me a bit about your childhood.
My childhood was pretty great. Really idyllic. Summers meant playing outside until the streetlights came on. The neighborhood kids and I would spend all day building forts in the woods near my house. I constantly had poison ivy. But it was great. I couldn't ask for a better childhood.
Around fourth or fifth grade, we traded in our forts for the basketball court and I swapped poison ivy for mosquito bites, but the general sentiment remains when I look back on those days now.
KC) When did things start to change around peers and adults?
Dane) For kids, I think it started somewhere around junior high. I remember a boy making fun of how big my gums were when I smiled which led to me not ever smiling in pictures and covering my mouth whenever I laughed. I don't think I began smiling in pictures again until I was in my early twenties.
I was really hard on myself back then (I still can be hard on myself now, but it was worse then). Some of my friends would pick on me and I would put up with it because I didn't want to lose their friendship. Then there were times when I was tripped in the hallway or my books were knocked out of my hands, that kind of thing. Some of the guys that did that stuff would say that they were just joking with me and we were actually kind of friends, which is messed up in its own way now that I look back on it. I was a pretty quiet kid, but stuff like that just made me withdraw further into myself.
KC, interrupting) I also had those "I'm joking!" "Can't you even take a joke?" friends. It's such an impossible situation! You either don't put up with it, and they manage to turn it into your problem, or you laugh along and legitimatize their abuse. And what you mention about not wanting to lose their friendship is so familiar to me, because back at that vulnerable age, any friends feels safer than no friends.
Dane) As for adults, it came later. I remember one of my friend's dads in high school would always have actual conversations with my other friends but he would largely ignore me. It really bummed me out because it made me feel like I didn't matter.
This one time in particular, I remember going over to their house and my friend's dad addressing me as I approached their front door. It led to an exchange like this:
Friend's Dad: "Dane!"
Me: *thinking to myself* "Sweet, he's actually recognizing my existence."
Friend's Dad: "Umm, could you please not pull up to our sidewalk when you park here. You splash mud on our sidewalk when you do that."
Me: *shrinking* "Okay, sorry."
In high school, I was on the basketball team, but I mainly just sat the bench while a lot of my friends excelled at their prospective sports. I also wasn't good at school and like I mentioned, I was a quiet kid, so I often felt overshadowed by my friends and thus overlooked and unseen by a lot of my friend's parents and just adults in general (minus my own parents, of course).
KC) How did you cope with the way you were treated?
Dane) It's weird to think of a fifteen or sixteen year old kid ever feeling like a failure, but that's how I felt then. Basketball was my first love and despite the fact that I constantly played, I just wasn't that good. So my self-confidence was super low, which then of course made me worse at basketball and since I based my self-worth off of that, it kind of bled into everything else.
I mean I know many people have been through way worse, but at the time, for me, this was everything so I took it pretty hard and I struggled with what I now see as depression and some self-worth/identity issues.
KC) Did you have anyone you looked to, a place that helped you get away, and/or activity that took your mind off the negative things?
Dane) For a long time, basketball was something I turned to help me work out negative emotions, but over time, it was just another point of frustration.
Music was something that helped too of course. At the time, I only listened to hip-hop, songs like "Me Against the World" and "Keep Ya Head Up" by Tupac, "Sky's the Limit" by Notorious BIG were a few of my go-to's. Those songs meant a lot to me then but I still felt a disconnect as I looked for where I fit in.
KC) When did things start to get better?
Dane) My senior year of high school, some of my friends and I started to get into bands like Blink-182 and New Found Glory. Then we went to a local punk rock show and it all just kind of clicked. I stood there in the crowd, watching the bands play and I remember thinking, "I wish I could do this." Then another thought came in, "Well, why can't you?" So a few months after that, my parents bought me my first guitar, and though I was a super slow learner, I eventually figured out to play some chords and then almost immediately I began writing songs.
My confidence grew as I learned more about playing the guitar and my identity kind of began to take shape along with it. Eventually I worked up some courage to get something like a band together and though we weren't good at all (especially for our first one or twenty shows) the music scene still accepted us and I felt like I belonged there.
KC) What's life like now?
Fifteen years later, I still play in bands, and while I love it and I'm thankful for all the confidence and personal growth that being in bands has afforded me, I no longer feel like I need to be a "band guy" in order to have an identity. I did feel that way for a while, where being in a band served as a crutch, but I have progressed beyond that. It helps that writing has became my primary creative outlet as that is something I can do for the rest of my life without having to worry about pulling a muscle on stage.
By day, I work as a Case Manager at a Children's Shelter. I try to give guitar lessons to the teens there that are interested in music as often as I can because I know how valuable music can be in a young person's life. I love the work I get to do there.
Most nights, I spend at home with my wife and two sons. I write in the morning or at night or on weekends, just whenever I can. Then sometimes, I stay up super later to play shows with my friends. It's a good life.
Dane Johns' Story
KC) Do you think the way adults treated you will influence how you interact with your kids' friends?
Dane) For sure, and it affects the way I interact with the teens I work with. A lot of times, I find that they feel unheard (which is how I felt) so I do my best to listen. I try to encourage honest communication even when I may not like the things they have to say or how they say it. I want them to feel safe to speak how they feel without judgement so I can better understand or relate. That's what I wanted when I was a teen, and I think that's a pretty universal want.
My hope is that when my sons are teenagers, I will be able to communicate with them that same way, but who knows. A lot of things haven't went how I thought they would as a parent so I can't get too far ahead of myself. I'm still figuring things out. Turns out, you never stop this growing up thing. It's tough.
KC) Basketball was an outlet for you until it became a source of sadness. I imagine that must have made you feel at least a little lost when it stopped helping you work through your emotions and frustrations and actually *became* a cause of emotions and frustrations. How far off was that first guitar that took basketball's place? Do you think your parents bought that guitar knowing you needed an outlet, or was it a happy coincidence?
Dane) I got my first guitar for Christmas the year after I stopped playing basketball. I remember that I asked for it and they were surprised since I hadn't shown much interest in music beyond hip-hop for most of my life up to that point. My mom later told me that she was excited to get it for me and that she hoped I would stick with it because she knew I was looking for something. Even still, I don't think either of my parents expected me to fall in love with music or playing the guitar the way that I did.
KC) Back to basketball, when you won the free throw championships you mention in your "Secret Talent" section of this interview, did you get a boost of courage and confidence to continue to play (at least for a while), or did the pride of the accomplishment take growing up and looking back to appreciate?
Dane) It did give a slight boost in confidence. I worked really hard at practicing to be able to shoot as well as I did so I was happy to have those trophies to show for my hard work. Overall though, it was one of those things that still frustrated me because although I shot well on those days, whenever I tried playing in an actual game or anything, my confidence was so low that I would look kind of lost or scared out there on the court.
KC) They say we write things we know. Does the teen you were or the people who made you feel invisible find their way into your characters or situations they face?
Dane) Oh, absolutely. For my first novel, I was definitely influenced by the youth that I work with at Night's Shield. Their situation was (and is) different from mine, but I think they want the same things that I wanted then (and still want): a place to fit in, people who accept you for who you are, and a purpose to strive towards. So when I write those stories, there's definitely a part of me there.
What Younger Me Would Tell Adult Me:
I think younger me would be proud to see that we didn't end up lonely, sad, and bitter. Because I think that's how I was feeling like adulthood would be like when I was a teen or even into my early twenties. I guess blame movies like American Beauty or Fight Club for that. I kind of thought that life would be a lot less fun and a lot more boring when I grew up, but it's definitely not. So I think younger me would be happy to see how my life is now.
I think younger me would say, "Don't quit. Keep going" as far as life advice, writing advice, all of it.
What Adult Me Would Tell Younger Me:
That it's going to get better. That those little failures that seem like everything at the time actually are building blocks for what comes later.
I don't know if that would help though, because my parents tried telling me versions of that. And it didn't change how I felt or really sink in until years later.
Also, also, also, in some kind of Butterfly Effect/Back to the Future/Rick & Morty-ish space-time-continuum sense, I wouldn't want to tell him anything that could profoundly alter events that could change who I am now. I would have to tread very carefully.
So I guess I would tell him to not be afraid to smile or laugh whenever possible. There are too many moments in life that call for you to show some teeth.
My Secret Talent:
As I mentioned earlier, I like playing basketball a lot, though I can't say I am that talented at it. I'm also not awful. I'm somewhere between awful and okay. I won two consecutive free throw championships when I was a teenager and I guess I'm still proud enough of that to share it here.
5 Random Facts About Me:
1- I like playing and watching sports. In particular playing basketball and watching the NBA. I follow the NBA pretty closely year round. I also like the NFL (though I'm less proud of that) and my favorite team is the lowly Los Angeles Rams since they used to be located much closer to me in St. Louis.
2- I play guitar and sing in an indie rock band called Sleeping Tapes. My friend Payton, who also plays in the band with me, recently wrote the lyric: "I'll hold on to what I can/I'll keep playing in punk rock bands/with no real fans/just a loyal group of supportive friends." And I like that a lot, I think that accurately sums up where I'm at with music nowadays. I never thought I'd still be playing in bands after I turned 30, but it's too much fun to stop. I'm thankful that I get to keep doing it and that we still have so many friends that come out to see us in cramped, smelly basements.
3- I've collected comic books off and on since I was a kid. I still read comics when I can, mostly X-Men and series like Saga and Paper-Girls.
4- I like going to the movies a lot. I try to see as many new movies as I can each year. I keep a running list in my phone with my rankings for any given year. So if you ask me what my first (or seventeenth or whatever) favorite movie of this year is I can answer pretty quickly. So far this year, The Big Sick is my favorite movie and Split is my seventeenth favorite, though that will likely change.
5- Over the last year or two, I've gotten into going to Improv shows whenever I'm in Chicago. It's probably my favorite thing to do so whenever I'm up there visiting friends, we'll sometimes attend multiple shows in the same night. My favorite theater is IO, but Second City isn't far behind.
Other Places to Find Me:
My author website is www.danecjohns.com
I was so happy when my introductory interview went live on BookEnds, that can be read here: http://bookendsliterary.com/2016/07/01/welcome-to-bookends-dane-johns/
My band Sleeping Tapes can be heard here: https://sleeping-tapes.bandcamp.com
I'm also on Twitter and Instagram: @danejhns