Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Gift of the Outsider

In her book "The Seeker's Guide," Elizabeth Lesser states, "I recently heard a great writer say that an essential element in the life of a writer is to have been an outsider in childhood, to have been given the 'gift' of not belonging." Gift? I never thought of it that way. Lesson, maybe. But ... gift? Those long, endless days of my lonely childhood as the incubator, the essential element, of my writer's soul?

There is no doubt that I was an outsider ... an only child growing up in the country spending more time with Anne of Green Gables and Dorothy on her trip through Oz than the flesh-and-blood playmates of real life. Books were my friends, my teachers, my magic carpet taking me far beyond the small, southeastern Kansas town where I lived and introducing me to people in all parts of the world, past, present and future. And that journey made me different, not quite on the same page as anyone else I knew. Hard as I tried, I couldn't quite force myself into the mold that would have let me truly belong. Outsider was tattooed on my forehead. So I asked one of my new best friends, "What does it mean to be an outsider?" and Google replied:
Being an outsider can do either or both of two things to a person (or a group in society). It can make you feel alone, lonely, isolated ... faceless, nameless, voiceless ... like you don't have a say in decisions that concern you. But it can also give you a unique perspective on the people around you or on your society as a whole. But, as Henrik Ibsen wrote in his play "An Enemy of the People", "The strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone."
And because Google has many voices, I also found a long discussion of one of my favorite poems from Emily Dickinson ...
I'm nobody!
Who are you? Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us — don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!
It seems that being an outsider was part of Emily's "gift" also. And, like many gifts, one wonders if there were a return counter for life's "gifts," which ones would we return and which ones would we keep now that we know what it brought us. I can't imagine a life without writing so perhaps a lonely childhood as an outsider was a fair price to pay for the world of books and the joy of words.

4 comments:

  1. I love this poem by Emily -- and I imagine her prescient, that the last line is just a typo, what she really meant to say was:

    To tell your name the livelong day
    To an admiring blog!

    I grew up the youngest of four -- and always felt like an outsider. I didn't quite fit in.

    In my life today, I focus on being an insider -- inside my life, inside looking outward, sending outward what I want to create in my world around me emanating from the beauty I acknowledge through everything I think, do, say within me.

    I'm glad the gift of your childhood casts such a beautiful light in the present of today.

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  2. Louise ... I love the last line correction ... perhaps if Em were here today, she'd be one of the blog sisters! Our blog circle is one place I do feel like an insider ... it is a most amazing gift.

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  3. I am the fourth of nine children; seven of us lived to become adults. And I am as different as different can be from my siblings. Books and writing and art were the worlds I chose to inhabit. Not too many came along with me until I got out in the world.

    I laughed at Louise's "correction" but how right for the world we're in today. It's fun to imagine what Dickinson might come up if she had a computer, an iPod, and an iPhone.

    Being an "insider" with you and Louise and Diane is just about the best place one can be many days.

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  4. Boy, you and I were certainly on the same page today! And -- as an only child who moved a lot -- books were my only friends. No wonder isolation became a habit, and boundaries were slow to form...

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