I think a lot about how I came to be a writer and what makes a person an artist. Identity can be such a slippery concept built from a creaky and fallible mind. I’ve questioned the crystal clear image of a damp church basement in rural South Carolina with dim lighting where my brother, cousin, and I sat learning the books of the bible with albino twin girls. I’ve questioned whether or not I got drunk on wine coolers in the car with my dad and the frogs he ran over on the rainy highway. Are these real or dreamed spaces? How has this memory shaped my perception? How has it shaped me? Memory is tricky. Identity is moveable.
How much of how we think of ourselves is based on how others treat us?
I have always felt like a misfit, but I’m not entirely sure if this is because this is where I have situated myself. I have come to embrace this identity, but as is the case with any child, there was a time when I wanted nothing more than to simply blend into the great vat of vanilla that is mainstream culture, to plaster their brands on my body, to fix my face in a smiling mask, to be perky and carefree, to perform as one of the usuals, to be nothing more than ordinary, to be anyone but the principal’s daughter or the musician’s little sister, to avoid questions about my father, to smile with my mouth closed because I had buckteeth and kids called me Bugs Bunny. To hide my face as much as I could. To avoid exposure. To wince. To retreat.
My family disbanded early. My dad remarried soon after and had a new family. As it tends to, life went on. As children of a single mother, my brother and I spent a lot of time on our own. When one of us was sick, the other would stay home and we sort of took care of each other in that way. When Mama was home, she was so worn out she didn’t have much to talk about. You could see the weight of everything in the cigarette smoke drifting out of her bedroom. Most of my family has lived a life quite separate from me. Between that and being a girl who grew up without much money and with severe anxiety, depression, and some wicked front teeth, I became comfortable with the fringe, found solace in it even. Birds of a weirdo feather and the like.
I’ve always loved to imagine the stories of people who don’t fit into social/cultural norms whether this path is chosen or destined. Who are the people who do not seek the constant confirmation that whatever they’re doing is correct/right/cool, etc.? Do we love to imagine stories of the illustrated man and carnivalesque stories because we are afraid to push the limits of our own identities? Do we test boundaries with art making and by experiencing art?
I talk to my husband and to the great electric bubbling sea that is social media about my own status as an outsider often. The short version of what all this questioning has yielded is that we all identify with the misfit figure on some level. The human condition is one of loneliness, of want. Part of why I love Flannery O’Connor is because her stories exhibit this persistent longing of those whom society has displaced alongside those seen as typical. In the Misfit issue, I’ve looked for that rare connection, that moment of grace when we all have the capacity to be better versions of ourselves, to love what we are, why we are, and the moment we have together.
Jason Olsen’s “Butterflies” starts The Misfit Issue with a haunting poem about “a man in a dated plaid suit” trying to get a jar of butterflies through airport security. The tension and sadness of both the narrator and the man build until its necessary rupture. Olsen captures a moment of intense ephemeral beauty.
In “3 a.m.,” Cheyenne McIntosh highlights a strange conversation with a security guard who shares more than the narrator wants. Things get real and true this time of night.
Julie Brooks Barbour takes a closer look at a common type of play in her poem “Because You Wanted to Become Real.” She subverts the scene by giving both the doll and its child parent agency. This is a doll maker playing with her creation. This is not a doll purchased whole and perfect; this doll has wishes and a creator that could not grant them.
In “Sideshow Vanitas,” a child steals from mom in order to catch a glimpse of a real live freak, but finds someone more human than expected.
Poetry editor Michael Meyerhofer ignores his own advice and reviews James Franco’s debut poetry collection Directing Herbert White.
Lori Sambol Brody looks at the fluid identity of a teenage girl in her story “Tuberose,” proving that there is no time more volatile or strange than adolescence.
In “No Matter How Far Apart,” Justin L. Daugherty takes us into the world of a woman who’s lost a fiancé to another woman and her friend Tabitha whose husband has just left her. It is an exploration of how we react to a sudden severing, of how little we know those to whom we have attached ourselves, and how sometimes they are only unveiled when relationships dissolve. Maybe, at times, we try so hard to be everything to other people that we wind up losing ourselves.
Photo By: Melanie W.