On Following Rules and Breaking Them

Do you remember those trick quizzes teachers used to give us in elementary and middle school? The ones that asked you to “read all of the questions before starting to work on the quiz,” and some of the questions were insanely hard math problems or statements telling you to stand on your chair and do the chicken dance? And then the last question would inevitably say something to the effect of, “Write your name in the upper right-hand corner, don’t do anything else, and pretend to concentrate on this quiz so that your classmates don’t catch on.”

I loved those. I loved being in on the secret, knowing that I had done what I had been asked, had followed the rules and come out on top. I loved knowing that I had checked all the right boxes. For as long as I can remember, I was The One Who Followed the Rules. Even as toddlers, when my brother Jack would climb out of his crib and mess around in the room we shared, my mom would hear me on the baby monitor: “No no, Jack a bad boy.”

When we were at the library, I never cut in line. I didn’t lie to my parents, never said bad words. My second-grade teacher taught us to always push our chairs in when we got up from a desk or table¸ and I still do it. I still answer our home phone with “Hello, Hazan residence.” When the orthodontist told me to floss with braces, I did it. I still floss. And I still wear my retainer every night.

Even now, when I know that there is a creative power in using fragments, cutting or adding commas, or starting sentences with “And” or “But,” I still cringe a little as I write them.

Because it’s the rules. There’s a reason for them, right?

Even the most mundane rules have a logic behind them. I still can’t justify watching television or Netflix on a “school night” (except Survivor… but that was an exception in my house growing up) because it would keep me up later than I want to, and there’s always some homework I could do. This rule has actually helped me a lot; I’ve been able to limit my social media use, spend less time on the internet, and be a little more productive in the evenings after dinner.​From the outside, though, I can see why some of them look ridiculous. I still don’t swear—I remember Middle School Taylor deciding (pretentiously) that she could find a better way to express her frustration than yelling expletives—and while I’m proud of that fact, I know that people look at me oddly for it sometimes.

Because I’m that kid. The one who does all the readings for class, who saves her dessert for last and eats her veggies first, who doesn’t want to drink until she’s twenty-one, who follows pedestrian laws while she’s running in the road (Did you know you’re actually supposed to run on the left side?). But I know that these rules sometimes limit me. They keep me from taking risks and thinking outside the box. They keep me from having those spur-of-the-moment, off-the-cuff, probably-might-be-okay-definitely-could-be illegal experiences.

But since coming to college, I’ve started to break some of my rules. I’m writing more run-on sentences. I’ve stayed up past my bedtime. I’ve eaten dessert for dinner. I’ve done one or two things that the law might or might not frown upon (but nothing too dangerous or anything like that, I promise…c’mon, I floss every night. You know me at least that well.).

So maybe I’m a little lame. And part of me is proud of that side, that Taylor Who Follows the Rules. And now that I know the rules, it’s time to start breaking the ones that need breaking.​Image Credit: Taylor Hazan