I am an outsider. A feeling of being an alien crash landed in a strange dimension pervades nearly all facets of my trying to be part of the human social organism. I can relate to some human individuals. Yet being part of a group is endlessly perplexing. Being a part of a collective is never seamless. Entering any herd is fraught with frustration, anxiety and difficulty. Belonging to anything is not something that seems natural to me.
(Seneca, Hercules Furens, Act 5)
Like those lines in Seneca’s play, I am so confused much of the time with the absurdity of waking up alive in this time and place. Alienation can be big as finding little resonance in anything about society, not belonging anywhere on planet Earth. Though alienation persists through every small level too. Out of place among any group of 3, 4, 5 people like some important part of myself has to be chopped off just to fit in.
“Well, find the right group” tends to be the easy answer. Not like I have not tried. I’ve been all across America. Ran with everyone from homeless punks, to artists, to technology business people, to theologians & philosophers, to bohemian writers, to 9-to-5 blue collar workers, to school teachers, people of various cultures, aims and values. Some individuals of all those categories meant something in my life. Groups that would form around those occupations and artistic inclinations were at times mutually useful, worthy of some participation.
Yet in every instance I didn’t belong. I didn’t fit. I could never merge my identity or find a consistent place in any group. More than finding a particular right group, the issue is probably with my orientation toward groups in general. I’m ever the outsider. I’m ever the stranger.
“When Plato said that if I’d gone to the Sicilian court as I was invited, I wouldn’t have to wash lettuce for a living, I replied that if he washed lettuce for a living, he wouldn’t have had to go to the Sicilian court.”
(Diogenes of Sinope)
That quote from Diogenes captures the essence of why I tend to be a loner in my endeavors. Why I tend to remain independent and D-I-Y sometimes to the bafflement of others. Its not that I don’t want to belong. Its not that I don’t want to play my music in big important places or publish my writing on more than a wordpress site or haven’t occasionally found a happy compromise. But usually, I have to take the scissors to much of myself in exchange for access to big important things. And even if I wanted to I can’t. I’m unequipped to lie in Procrustean beds. I am either utterly silent, ghost like and void. Or I am full and raw and pouring everything I have into my words even if it reaches a pitch some find too intense.
Almost always, someone vying for some kind of power within a group hierarchy sees me as a threat. Every microkingdom, no matter how small or insignificant, has a weird hierarchy I seem to offend. Even if no one is threatened I just don’t know how to be part of a group. I seem to have no place so I end up undertaking everything alone. For a long time I thought people saw no value in anything I could possibly bring to their collective. Now I think it has more to do with being idiosyncratic in many of my methodologies. Even if a group or person(s) wants to work with me, it is often quite perplexing to us both how I might possibly fit some group or project.
Typically I’m not looking to upset any kind of status quo. Despite becoming something of a leader the last several years I am severely introverted. I get no energy or thrill from people. Being involved is utterly draining so I have to choose my battles carefully. Socializing takes up so much energy for me. Being present in a way that is engaged burns so much mental and emotional fuel. Many times socializing or being part of something is not worth the cost. I’d rather be a ghost passing through, silent, untouching.
I also have no attachment to any image of myself as some rugged individualist. I would rather community, being part of groups, came more naturally to me. I have no attachment to myself as some kind of contrarian. Though I’ll stand steadfast on what I think is rational, ethical, or just, even if my conceptions seem different from many people. Too many people I meet merely take the fact a thing has existed the way it has for a long time as justification for it continuing to exist that way. Too many people I meet gain some benefit from the way a system has been set up so argue for that system out of inertia. I end up being the contrarian because none of this seems self-evident or inevitable or particularly good to me. I have no love for this image of myself as someone who challenges people and ideas. Honestly, I wish society were such I never felt a need to challenge anything. I wish everything was working and I didn’t have to point out all the minds, bodies and souls getting mangled in the gearworks. I wish no one were falling through the cracks of society — cracks that are a succession of Marianas Trench sized abysses if you are looking closely. I wish I knew people who were dedicated to the same things as me, felt like the same things were important.
I always seem to find trouble. Wherever I am people never fail to project strange illusions of their own misunderstanding onto me. Because I am quiet some assume I am dumb and think they can verbally and intellectually dominate me. Some think because I have no interest in climbing hierarchies that I don’t see all their obsessive machinations to ascend the ladders. Some assume I am passive because I find many things not worthy of caring, then find I am absolute and nearly unmovable when it comes to anything I think matters.
Many find me unsettling for the sole reason I utterly evade their efforts to figure me out. And I evade those efforts not by trying to be evasive, but by just…existing as who I am. People get so attached to their theories about others. Its unsettling when those theories collapse. Even when those theories were built on not much more than a handful of prejudices, surface deep assessment, and over reliance on archetypes and stereotypes. Nothing I’m about or who I am was ever hidden to anyone with deeper vision to see.
As someone who has rarely belonged anywhere in the nearly thirty years I’ve spent on planet Earth I relate to this fragment of poetry.
(Mark Strand, Keeping Things Whole)
We live in an age where so much value is placed on being unique. Everyone trying to be their own special flavor. Oftentimes the ideology is old, the mentalities canned and boring — but wait, the ideology is now dressed in anchovies so its new. The stuffy mentality of yesteryear is coated with cinnamon and sugar, or now donning a colorful tie — please find it unique and interesting.
I’m not sure most people desire true uniqueness, much as many venerate this ideal of the unique individual. It is often painful to be unable to fit into a group. It is often frustrating to be alien to everything that seems so self-evident and natural to others, and have to find some way of entering that norm because you can’t do everything alone. When you are the outsider, you are often the first to be sacrificed to circumstance. Many people find you fascinating for a moment, but eventually too far outside their experience. Most people live their lives by inertia, and have small space for the stranger, a small space that is ever vanishing.
I never had much of a choice in being an alien on this Earth. I was born to a strangely mixed couple, different races and cultures. Those differences led to my parents divorcing but stay forever entwined in my veins, two disparate worlds I had to find some way within. I was never someone in whom image and essence found much congruence. Physically I’ve always looked like a behemoth. Mentally I’ve always been more poet, artist, reclusive hermit among the library archives. Its truly amazing how much that physical and intellectual incongruence throws off so many people. I also just seem to be idiosyncratic and have my own way of doing things. If I had the ability to go back to being 6 years old, I might insist on being tested for some psychologically misaligned reason for all this. At the age of 30 a diagnosis wouldn’t matter either way. I’ve navigated my own path, odd, twisted and unorthodox as it may look through education, career, life.