Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Stranger: On being present and unaccounted for

Before you read this entry, you might want to read this: The Stranger, or not. It is up to you. If you are a student, it is not optional.

I have always felt out of place. Not in an insecure, wall flower kind of way, I can hear the ones who know me the best laughing out loud at the notion of me being a wall flower. It is more like a deep knowledge that most times I don't understand anyone around me. I don't understand their motivation, their logic, their sense of right and wrong, or their priorities. It is like being in a constant state of culture shock. This "out of placeness" combined with my out spoken nature, can put me into some pretty interesting positions, but I don't usually mind... and it all comes out in the wash. The real problem with not being able to understand the things that are going on around you, above you, and below you in the subtle undercurrent that is society, is that you become vulnerable to exposing naiveness. I do it all the time. I share a great, new, progressive idea only to find out that it was already hashed around and tossed out the window last year (I usually do that in meetings in front of a lot of people). I expect that when people say something, that they mean it. Patently untrue, by the way. I frequently misunderstand bureaucratic politics and stub my toe on informality. Youch. I am shy, so even though I am outgoing in safe situations, I shock people by not wanting to go to luncheons or to conferences where I don't know anyone. At heart, I am a loner. I am afraid of joining things. It is why I have enjoyed virtual social networking... it is a way to belong to something without having to belong. You log in, you log off. You define what you share. You have the control. I like to think of social networking sites (especially facebook) as social sociopathism. Another term! We get to go in and collect a lot of people and keep them in little boxes and peek in on them when they least expect. Hell, we can even delete them. I've done it! hee hee.

Anyway, I have always been a social person who internally did not trust, like, or even want to be in social situations. Hmmmmm. What is that all about? If you are confused, you still have time to go back and read the article I linked up at the top of the page. It is written by my favorite sociological theorist, George Simmel. Okay, I am partial to Mead as well, but they were similar.

When I met Bill things changed. He was the first person I ever met who seemed to understand that crazy internal hypocrisy of mine. He suffered the same problem. He is a person people like, a person who is social, and yet he doesn't like that many people. Bingo! It was love. The only difference was, and still is, he is a fundamentally nicer and kinder person than me. And by the way, when we met, I was broken.

Bill likes to find things at tag sales, estate sales, flea markets and even on the beach. He is a treasure hunter at heart. He likes to find them in imperfect states, that way he can get a deal on the item of choice (if it isn't already free) and he can bring it home and fix it up. Wire it, shine it, glue it, paint it, whatever it takes to make it work again. To make it beautiful. This is a hobby that makes him very happy.

I am quite sure this hobby of his is what led him to love me. I was alone, trying really hard to make a life for myself and my baby. I was scrappy and I worked hard, but by the time he met me I was aware of my deep dislike for everyone and everything around me, and it made me bitter. The balance was gone. I was a complete stranger on the verge of completely strange. Outdated and overexposed, worn thin and no longer bright and shiny, at 26 I was on the bargain shelves, so to speak. And then there he was. It took time. Years. But he loved me back to pretty, sane and functional. Thanks babe, by the way.

The one thing he couldn't do, was take that feeling of "out of placeness" away from me. We can't always stay home, right? So here I am in the world. An Academic who does not understand Academics. An administrator who doesn't understand bureaucracy. A writer who doesn't understand.....wait. Stop. Hold the presses.

Last night I did something very unlike me. I went to a seminar for writers. I secretly looked up free seminars online a few months ago and I found one at my local library and I signed up. Me. I don't sign up for anything. I am not a sign up kind of gal. Even when I signed up for the thing I didn't think I would actually go. It entailed so much. Driving into downtown New Haven at rush hour, finding a parking space, walking in, seeing other people, looking at a panel of people who I aspire to be. Asking a question or two.... Yikes.

But last night I went to the thing. I parked, got out of my car and went in. I have to be honest, I didn't feel a sense of oneness with the people in the room. I still felt like a stranger, but when the panel began to talk of their experiences with writing and the publishing business I knew something for sure. I knew right away that they were speaking my language. It was the place for me. I found a home. I could have stayed all night and talked about the process, the query, the love of writing, the way a story comes out. I have only felt that comfortable twice in my life. The day I sat in Introduction to Sociology, and the day I got married. Well, I am a sociologist and I am still married, so perhaps this means I am a writer. For true in my heart. And that is where we begin to grow close to one another, to become less strange, it is in the heart. That is where we all begin to remember that each one of us is a stranger to the other. It's the one thing we all have in common.


  1. thanks for the nice words...and for adding me to Good Stuff...i will check it out!
    I started as a fun thing to do on the side about 10 months ago, and it has taken off...

  2. I hear you! I am in the process of trying my own dream career... but his one takes a lot of patience... thank god I work at a computer all day or I never would be able to get my "real" work done! Your site is great and the idea is great. I am sure you will prosper. I have already toyed with the idea of buying one for christmas! Get ready!