This just in: Suri Cruise just made fun of my shoes.
Well, not really, but I imagine she would. I feel like I’ve been standing just outside of “cool” my whole life, not to mention just outside of “smart,” outside of “beautiful,” “fashionable,” “charming”—just outside of all kinds of adjectives.
Don’t get me wrong: I like myself just fine. When I’m alone, I have stellar self-esteem, but I guess esteem doesn’t quite work that way. When I’m around others, I feel slightly askew, not quite right, like I’m missing some arbitrary mark. It’s not something I obsess about, just something I notice about myself. I’ve always been kind of a strange bird, wiggling out of boxes that I don’t quite fit in.
And I don’t think I’m alone in this.
Sure, there are a few fortunate souls who do/wear/say/study/become the “right” thing. People gravitate toward them, lift them up, perpetuating their myth of awesomeness. They always have good hair, I’ve noticed, and their friends can’t imagine holding a birthday party without them there. (Here’s to you, Winnie Cooper.)
My first personal experience with this—and thank God Suri Cruise was not in my class to taunt me about it—was in kindergarten. I wanted to play alone. The other kids just weren’t that interesting to me, and I remember having the thought that it was silly for my teacher to expect me to be friends with other kids just because we were thrown in the same classroom together. So she ordered some tests to see what disorder was making me “socially backward.” A few Rorschachs and puzzles and quizzes later, the conclusion was that I had an impressive IQ for a five-year-old and that nothing was wrong with me. I was simply exercising my preferences.
But the damage was done. I became aware of how others thought of me, and that they thought something wasn’t quite right. And it sucked donkey balls.
Fast forward a few years, and I was a tomboy with skinned knees being dragged around to my older sister’s beauty pageants. (Say they aren’t beauty pageants all you want; say they provide scholarships and rely on talent and interviews. Say it, and I will call you on that bullshite, because we both know that Rosie O’Donnell wouldn’t stand a chance in one of these dog-and-pony shows.) I went backstage; I sat in the audience; I yawned through countless performances of overperformed renditions of “On My Own” from Les Miserables.
What I saw was this sickening drive to win—for the scholarships, you guys—and to be perfect. The women were catty and most seemed only artificially happy. I knew, even then, that there was no way I would ever be on a stage under those circumstances, that my sister got all the beautiful DNA, and I gobbled up all the sardonic, gum-chewing, bike-pedaling, eye-rolling genes. There was even a pic in the county paper that illustrated our differences: my sister had won the pageant, and I had won a raffle for a Huffy bike. We both posed with our trophies, my sister smiling broadly, and me smirking, afraid to open my mouth because my teeth weren’t as good as hers.
It was a world I didn’t belong to. I was in it, but not of it. And it happened to be a world that excited my mother, who whispered to me, in the audience of one of those damn things, “I can’t believe that she came out of me.” She was completely in awe of my sister’s beauty. My mother was an outsider too, but my sister made her feel like a part of the game. I, however, didn’t get that same gratification from the whole thing, being that my own looks didn’t quite make the cut, which often reduced me to tears. “Your sister is flashy-pretty,” she told me once in an effort to console me. “People look at her when she walks in a room. You’re the kind of pretty where when people get to know you, you’re gorgeous.” Um, thanks? My teenage translation of that was that I would always be…outside.
Even today, my mother rarely takes pictures of me, as if my hideous face would crack her Canon. I am not show-off-able. Though, thank bejeezus my husband passionately disagrees, and usually disagrees so heartily that I have to remind him that I have a brain too.
So here I am now, writing from the periphery, writing from behind the psychic fences I still can’t seem to see past. But really? Secretly? Most days I’m happy to be separated from the quest for Being All Things Awesome. My middle school principal had a saying: “Good enough never is.” Screw that guy.
“Carl, Inc.” is a masterfully written story with some of the best-placed dialogue I’ve seen. Jaime Clarke has a knack for bringing out subtle aspects of outsider-dom: how inalienable rights can be alienating, how bearing knowledge can create a schism, how familiarity doesn’t count for much when you’re on the outside of it, how annexation begets annexation.
Michael Cocchiarale’s “Whack” is a romp, a snapshot of how mutable we can be when we are led, rather than lead. Beauty and class produce outsiders, but it goes both ways, and I love that Cocchiarale had the insight to see this, and let us see it too.
A lover who doesn’t love the beloved is just a guy, just a gal. Love is the connection that prevents us from being outside the circle. The first four stanzas of “Leaving” by Leah Mooney are full of noticing these things, and the last is full of quiet action, a tiptoeing away, the speaker taking wing herself. Mooney makes the act sacred and beautiful.
I was tempted this week to include some of the show tunes I heard ad nauseum during the ole pageant days, but I refrained (you’re welcome). Instead, I thought mostly of relationships—since most songs are about love and stuff—and how easy it is to be flung outside a person’s intimate circle, to go from “number one” to “not on the radar.” So here you go.
Photo Source: Freelance Folder