“I learned the truth at seventeen that love was meant for beauty queens and high school girls with clear skin smiles who married young and then retired. The valentines I never knew, the Friday night charades of youth, were spent on one more beautiful. At seventeen I learned the truth. And those of us with ravaged faces, lacking in the social graces, desperately remained at home, inventing lovers on the phone, who call to say come say “come dance with me” and murmured vague obscenities. It isn’t all it seems at seventeen.”  —Janis Ian “Seventeen”

Her clear voice begins with the gentle guitar in the background, and instantly I am sad. Presently her face begins to form in my mind. Her true face which is not proportionately divided into equal dimensions. Her true face which is not filtered or retouched but is apparent in the harsh light of crude photography. Teeth are not straight. And nose is not fixed. Hair is slightly overwhelming to her smallness. In all ways truly is the ordinariness of her self presented. And pretty soon I realize I am seeing not her but me, all scars and crooked lines.

Her little truth makes me want to cry. She confesses not only her shortcomings but her fixation on them which somehow is even worse than being ugly. Fixating on fixating. Metafixation. How much time has been wasted on these thoughts. Honestly, how much of our temporal lives are given to worry over things we cannot possibly control or be responsible for or conversely be given credit for. A complete waste of time.

And those of us like Janis with kindness to give and eyes to see more and beauty with words and all things lasting give in to the ridiculousness and stupidity of that pursuit. That pursuit, like a carrot which hangs just beyond our teeth, will never be eaten. And we should be ashamed not of our own truth but of our own inability to accept it. It is what it is. And that which it is, ordinary and ugly, is true. And that which it is, kind and filled with understanding, is beautiful.

In actuality as well as myth most of that which is beautiful and smart in each of us is brought about by those very experiences of inferiority. Never ask a rich man what food tastes like. If you need a ride, depend on the one with the jalopy. For those who have been overlooked themselves will seldom overlook you.  And if they forget you, will apologize. And if they misstep, will make it right. And if you sit alone, will join you. A thing of beauty.

Inversely, what is vacant and ugly in us is born of feelings of superiority. Entitlement. Exclusivity. We witness what is most ugly, most cruel, most compassionless not in awkward girls at dances but in people of power who use it to enrich themselves and rationalize their choices with platitudes.

But in spite of that character we (and I only address the “we” here and leave the “they” to another day) have so thankfully achieved, often we still sit casually by while the others dance, hyper aware of our ineptitude. Acutely experiencing the vastness between the standard and the reality. What is it that we want? What is it that we will trade all our creativity and problem solving and marketable skills for? What is it that we would take if we got to the front of the line? Not full-on beauty, we say, just a simple in between that we can stop worrying about, stop thinking about, caring about. Exchange our huge worry for a regular imperfection that doesn’t take over every part of what you present to the world.

The wallflower in my imagination sits with her skeleton askew. She does not own her proportions; they cannot bend in far enough. Her hips are slightly jutting sideways and her shoulders are sloped, arms folded in. And her ankles are twisting inward in her seated position which she is unaware of. The sleeves of her dress are too ruffled and reveal that it is not her own. It is not her at all. So she sits alongside the wall of the gym, the room as awkwardly made into a dance hall as she into a dancer. I see her elbows sticking out too far, inelegant and wrinkled.

No, take all that away. She is too fat. No, she is too tall. Or she has buck teeth. Something, many things are not right. Not as they should be. And so she is not dancing at the dance or talking at the talk or knowing in the know. And there is a secret about her which no one wonders at. For she is not cute enough to evoke a story or a curiosity at all.

SARA QUAH- WALLFLOWER (pre-order here!)

Romantic moment with my phone
A secret smile for my opponent
The room reflected in my shoes
A backwards dance from my perspective

This is just a waste of time
I can’t interpret your signs
I can’t bring myself to smile
So I’ll sit alone tonight
With my hands
By my side

My toe keeps tapping on the floor
I’m lost in thoughts caught on rewinding
My fingers wrap around the chair
While I’m pretending that I don’t care

Trace my eyes in liquid lines
Glance them back and forth to find
Somewhere to wait in single file
Let’s move in time, assembly line
Hands that glow and fingers blue
Reach for friends who stand in another cue
Then I bite my lip and muddle through
And I disappear to fix my shoe
I can’t see a thing
But I enjoy the view
I just want to dance with you
Just ask me to dance with you

This is just a waste of time
I can’t interpret your signs
I can’t bring myself to smile
So I’ll sit alone tonight
With my hands
By my side

She is not oblivious. She knows. She agrees with you. She might have your thoughts before you have them. She might be more cruel about it than you. Her eyes roll at her own contradiction, at the cliche. At once, hiding and attending. At once, envy and mocking.

Lately, I find myself drawn to those who would take their faults and lay them out for discussion on the table. I marvel at them and try to emulate them but feel awkward when I do it myself. My default is to leave those things which could make others uncomfortable unsaid. But also I recognize that when someone gives me their truth I begin to love them utterly. I begin to live their story and want them to overcome. Somehow their lack of concealment has freed them to live openly with fault and be pursued regardless.

Have you witnessed when a person lives in truth and goodness, they actually become more beautiful to you over time? And the inverse of course is true. No matter their exacting standards of fashion and convention of beauty, those who live in selfishness or meanness or superficiality, become that in appearance. “Remember those who win the game lose the love they sought to gain.”

“We all play the game and when dare to cheat ourselves at solitaire” all we gain is a lonely moment on the edges. I commit to living fully out loud in my own ugly truth. Changing the things I can, making the best of what I have, where I am, who I am, accepting the things I cannot fix. I will get up and dance, and I will not wait to be asked.

first dance square

Here’s me at my first dance. With braces and big hair. Photo blame to whoever was holding the Polaroid at the time.

P.S. – I am giving this track away for FREEEEEEE on Pledge Music, in honor of my album release party this week!

Find it here: http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/saraquah/updates/83826

See the other posts in my Taking Me Back series:

For You, Dear: Pre-Order Taking Me Back on Pledge Music



What I Heard


How I’m Feeling

A Little Bit

Take Me Away

20 Steps

Published by

Sara Quah

Writer, singer, songwriter. Find me @SaraBQuah. Listen to my music at saraquah.com.

8 thoughts on “Wallflower”

  1. Sara, you are more than a musician, more than a songwriter, more than a story teller, you are destined to share your incredible whole package self with others for a much higher calling. I just know it to be true. Much love. ❤️


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