|Copyright M. Kelly|
One of the tells of otherness might be cutting one's own hair. Which I have done for nearly 32 years, this go-round. A natural curl is very forgiving. I'd much rather, if there were the funds, pay someone to houseclean than to cut my hair. Yet I know I am a minority voice here; and, thus, know this inclination to be part of my own brand of otherness. Well, it wouldn't be otherness, would it, were it being practiced in the same way all over town?
I wonder, do we recognize it in ourselves first or does it scream at family members and schoolmates? Regardless, we know it soon enough and then, oh, joy, get to spend the rest of our lives growing into a state that looks eerily like acceptance of it, of us. Bless its pointed little head.
There is otherness in each of us, only some received larger portions. I suspect it is most clearly exemplified by states of mind and heart, conditions best known to ourselves, not as screamingly public as the wildly gesticulating hands or the breathless rush to describe a just-seen photo of the dream box of cheaper-than-cheap watercolors in 36 named shades. But there are further giveaways: vocabulary, the diverse categories of arcane gleanings we share too willingly in conversation, our passions, our pasts.
When I asked my son what the word otherness brought to mind, he reeled off two of my favorite things: a parallel universe and astral projection. That is atomic otherness, or simply, purely, other. In my dreams.
As the news continues to show footage of Steve Jobs and recall his life, I feel we are observing otherness in full flower. Unassigned territory is where all about us that is not sameness gathers its strength and gets to practice its best parlor tricks. I put more faith than is probably wise in what we each bring that is unique, for who can know where our one-of-a-kind brains will take us, possibly take us all.
Where I lose patience, and try to know as little of these matters as possible, is with bullies of all ages whose own inescapable otherness is so unbearable that someone must be punished. It is a world full of weirdos; we're all bozos on this bus. My former in-laws, people of superior-to-extraordinary intellectual gifts, were once denied the Checker automobile they wanted to purchase, told by the sales person that they were "not self-realized enough" to drive such an other car. I think he misread the signs.
My favorite show on broadcast tv is FRINGE - they still have dirigibles in the alternate universe! And they/we have Walter Bishop, played with such range by John Noble, who has my vote as poster boy for everything that is other. That the character was institutionalized for 17 years has contributed to his inability to blend, yet he would be exotic, unidentifiable and far from ordinary had he somehow managed to run the toy department at a Target store for that vanished span of time.
While the sense of being the one thing that is not like the others may have felt like a pox on your life since you began to think for yourself, it, too, is something so different from what it seems. Strangeness, oddness, peculiarity, individuality, all are really synonyms for special, wondrous, rare, unique. Each of us, whether it can be seen by the masses or requires a closer look, a more intimate knowledge, is in some way or multiple ways as other as it is possible to be. There are very few who can disguise it forever, and who would choose to spend so much energy for so long trying to pass for normal, a state which doesn't even exist.
What is great in us comes from our otherness. It is the compost in which we bloom and thrive. It will carry us past our imagined limitations. All we have to do is scratch it behind its curiously-shaped ears and love it.