Jul 29, 2009

All Kinds of Peculiar

At some point, I suppose I'll fully embrace the fact that I'm different. If not for the fact that I'd feel ridiculous using the word "exotic" to describe me, I'd be all over it as a first response to "Tell me about yourself". Growing up, I didn't feel exotic or unique. I mostly felt peculiar.

My names (all 4 of them) are a never-ending saga through the badlands of Peculiarity. My first name is a creative (weird) variation on my father's first & middle names. This name has been more burden than blessing since my earliest brush with institutionalized learning. At the beginning of each school year, I dreaded roll call because teachers always mispronounced my name (and a few were flat out shocked when a girl answered "here"). Once, a service desk rep @ my alma mater chortled in my face, "That's a cracker white boy name!" (gee thanks).

My middle name is Hawaiian. It's such an odd combination of consonants & vowels, I refuse to utter it aloud unless pressed. There are people who've known me for decades who still don't know what the middle 'K' in 'JKK' stands for.

My last name, even though it's only 4 letters, is always pronounced wrong. Not your typical American surname, but you'd think it was written in hieroglyphics the way Americans stumble over it. Why, after all this, would I go and marry a foreigner whose last name is (you guessed it) hard to pronounce?

Well, I'm on a roll, can't stop now, can I?

For creative introverts (like me), solitude is almost seductive in its appeal. I have a high need for uninterrupted alone time so I can recharge (read, write, meditate, stare at the wall, daydream). This is as true now as it was when I was 10. Try explaining to a family full of extraverts that you spent 5 hours on Saturday afternoon in your room alone reading (Reading?! [pure incredulity] Yes, reading! [indignant & defensive]) and you get the not so subtle hint that there's something wrong with you.

Introverts are a frequently misunderstood minority in this society. They are often labeled "sneaky" or "strange" because they enjoy being by themselves. "The Introvert Advantage" tries to explain introversion. My husband is a shrink - he could barely contain his laughter as I described the book's position that we introverts are just "wired different" than extraverts & there's nothing wrong with that. In his professional opinion, "you just described someone who's mentally retarded" (introvert advantage, my ass!).

My tendency to seek seclusion & my love of solitary activities stood out since I was a child. The seeds were planted early that I was not normal but peculiar.

Who doesn't feel peculiar in high school? High school is all about belonging (or not). For me, it was just another exercise in all the ways I different from the norm (the norm being my older sisters, who I am nothing like). When compared to my older sisters, I was the "un-Cola" to their "Blind Taste Tests Prove Their Brand is Best."

How many ways did I not fit in, let me count the ways... My sisters' friendly chattiness to my silent aloofness. Their athleticism to my obesity. Their popularity to my invisibility. Their identical twinness to my "younger sister who looks nothing like them"-ness.

Put it all together, stir it in a pot, simmer on low 3 or 4 years, wuddya got?
Peculiar stew, comin' right up, enough to last a few decades & it's steamin' hot!

As a child & teen, I internalized many messages about my differentness as innate liabilities I had to overcome. That internalization fed a global sense of shame that bled into other areas of my psyche, contaminating my self-esteem, self-efficacy & self-worth for years.

Today, I recognize some positive side-effects of internalizing the message "you're not like everybody else." I'm most at home on the margins of a group. I feel comfortable among the foreign-born whose daily experience in America is likely filled with reminders of all the ways they diverge from the predominant cultural norm. These days, I deeply appreciate the ethnic cocktail that gave me a face & complexion that can blend in among any number of different cultures & countries on the planet outside the US.

A healing truth dawned on me one day when I realized: my place is to be "out of place."

Maybe I'm meant to be one of the ones who never fits in. The periphery is where circles overlap, the margin is where you build bridges. Hey, I bet Barack Obama had a similar experience (and my name is every bit as "unusual" as his). Now, if only I had the President's gift of gab... that'd really come in handy out on those edges.

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