“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” ~Anna Quindlen
It should theoretically be simple but being authentic is not easy. It takes gumption to assert with courageous conviction “This is me!” and grace to accept what comes after.
From my first discordant bear cry in a nursery full of normally crying babies, I was different, quirky. My own way of doing things—dresses over jeans, art over sports—made me an early outcast. Nothing I naturally did fit me within my particular society.
For a while, during a specific section of years, in order not to be misfit, I conformed completely. I lost not only the misfit but also myself, and with each false friendship, however popular, my spirit gradually disintegrated.
I forgot the organic, things that for me bring me into alignment—nature, certain family members, words, a childhood best friend—while weekend hazes fizzled my concept of identity. In a fog of boozy, belligerent moments, I grasped for something substantial, some shred of tenderness, but nothing was there.
Various events cleared the fog enough so I could see the way out—alternative schooling, a trip abroad, college. And out I ran. In the clearing of my twenties I realized popularity was the false idol of an insecure twelve year old. Older, I felt free to reject others and accept myself.
I have devoted this decade to the integration of all my fractured shards. The process of authentic self-resurrection is like solving a puzzling mystery—examine the evidence, look for clues, decipher what is real and what has falsely been accepted to cover up excruciating truths, reach a conclusion.
My conclusion is that I am most decidedly a misfit. I have not, do not, will not fit.
I want winnowed “friend” lists, not 1,000+ and counting, a core group of loved ones, where reciprocity is the foundation—of kindness, respect, intimacy, and sharing. I want Saturday night curled up on a chaise with a stack of board games and a bowl of pasta, Sunday brunch with the seagulls.
I am an adult who likes stickers, who prefers a bird call to the drone of a machine. I am more comfortable in the company of older people, Disney still makes me smile, and I never feel more alive than when I am dancing with the wind.
Energy and time are precious gifts. We do not all get a hundred years; some of us die before we take our first breath, others at six, twelve, thirty-one, fifty-eight, or seventy-four. I have bargained with Death during decades of ill health, so I know how precarious Life is. How brief.
I do not want to misspend on dangerous entanglements what little time I have, to invest where there is little or no reciprocity, or where I feel unsafe. There are enough worthy recipients; I have especially learned that this year, so it is on these nourishing relationships that I focus.
During a crippling period of sickness, one where I was completely dependent on others—for a bath, or a sandwich—I was humbled. It is easy to take for granted the use of legs, that we have twenty-eight teeth and five senses.
I have learned this lesson repeatedly but when I literally could not move without collapsing, my days spent almost entirely alone, inside, I had little else I could to but consider not only the why my circumstances were such but also the who, as it was me I had for company.
What helped me clarify my authentic self during this time of healing? A notepad and pen. These household items helped me synthesize into simple lists decades of self-examination:
- Who unyieldingly matters to me?
- Who do I feel cares deeply about me (during the light and shadow times, when I am healthy and sick)?
- What do I most and least enjoy?
- What dreams am I passionate about enough to pursue?
- What are my flaws?
- What are my strengths?
- If this were my last day, moment, would I be sad or happy with my choices?
The lists, because they were succinct, showed me essential truths.
I saw someone who dreams sometimes more than they act, who around certain types of people gets weak, someone who can be melancholy, who agonizes, who needs to laugh more. But I also saw empathy, intelligence, a free spirit, a musical, imaginative, loving explorer.
I saw real—shadowy and flawed, light and strong. I saw popular—with myself.
I also saw a letter writer. Since I’m an old-fashioned soul, who still listens to records, who prefers the twitter of birds, it is no surprise the unfettered scrawl of my pen to an eager recipient excites and nourishes me. Others say this is a flaw; that I need to catch up with modern culture. I say not.
Before last year this desire was dormant. I had stashes of stationary stored high on closet shelves, stickers and stamps collected and unused, scattered in drawers and stuffed into boxes. I feel more complete since owning and passionately pursuing this previously invalidated aspect of myself.
Because I prioritized reflection, and went within to my most gnarly corners, I found something hidden, something incandescent, a forgotten romance, a creative reservoir for deep connection.
My lists showed me the way to myself, then to a community of like-spirited souls. I listened with my pen, I recorded the words, and I heeded their wisdom. Via Interpals and the Letter Writer’s Alliance, I found in places as diverse as England, New Zealand, Russia, Austria, Slovenia, Canada, and Denmark, others who wanted authentic connection.
These snail mail relationships are based on reciprocity, on honest, open exchanges. To with the hand intimate the what, where, why, when, and how, to take the time to stamp into an envelope a careful selection of thoughts, sorrows, and hopes, is not only to harken back to a time when this practice was regular, but to decipher profoundly what it means to live, and to connect.
The status of a person cannot be confined to a certain number of words on a briefly scanned page. We are more complex than that. We deserve more attention, and to attend more thoroughly to others.
Letters taken seriously are generous that way. We ask questions in letters, and lazy words like “I don’t know,” “Anyways,” “It is what it is,” and “Fine” do not merit a stamp, nor do they fill a page.
My friend asks me to sum myself up in one word and I have to stop and consider not only the genesis and evolution of my story, but the magnificent supply of words I have to choose from. When “quirky” proudly surfaces it fits. And I am no longer misfit in her company.
My grandpa said we should consider ourselves lucky if, at the end of our lives, we can count on one hand our genuine relationships. These are soul-level authentic connections, those we can be imperfect and honest with, the people who do not want our tears hidden or our smiles false.
Use your imagination to honor the misfit within. List your truths, make them visible, and see what parts of your honest identity you have stashed away on high shelves. I might be a quirky letter writer, you an eccentric dancer, but as long as we are real with ourselves and others, how can we be wrong?
Happy people dancing image via Shutterstock