Saturday, October 8, 2011

Otherness

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.

22 comments:

grrl + dog said...

I think it takes time in your otherness skin

to appreciate it, and then love it.

The foibles and idiosyncrasies..

Marylinn Kelly said...

Denise - We may not know it at the time, but whatever comes that removes the wish or possibility of denying our otherness is a gift. Free at last. xo

Melissa Green said...

As also a cutter of my own naturally curly and forgiving hair, I have rejoiced that I've had the cash for other pleasures and do not always (or will not, in some alternate universe) have to perpetually fist my way through all my coat pockets looking for bus fare. I'm happy to have the filthy lucre for something wondrous.(Perhaps inappropriate or rather a sign of my otherness, I'm reminded of a joke by the redoubtable Henny Youngman that goes like this: A prostitute says to me, 'I'll do anything you want for $200." (beat) 'And I say, "Paint my house!')

Ah,the bliss of otherness. That odd, benighted thing that separated me from playmates at school and at all points thereafter has become, in a woman of a certain age, her strength, her passion, her often laudable and sometimes lovable distinctness, depth and originalilty. If you can bear living in a young skin that requires us all be the same, the joy of it is is that you get to live in an old skin, which is flexible, all-embracing, character-full and so gosh darned much fun--freedom, ah yes, the joy of finally being one's complete, utterly other and loving self. Joy!

Marylinn Kelly said...

Melissa - There it is: the trial by ordeal of being young and wanting more than anything to be mistaken for normal, but alas. That curly hair would never really smooth out, real and metaphoric buttons were always popping off and landing in the custard. Henny Youngman...I'll have to add that to the repertoire. I think signs of our otherness could usually be considered inappropriate or, at the very least, non-sequiturs...especially when the otherness encompasses curious synaptical leaps. When otherness is claimed and embraced, can turbans and other eccentric-identified manifestations be far behind? Joy, indeed. xoxo

JeannetteLS said...

I have been so fortunate as to have found, in every phase of my life, including childhood, an other soul here and there, who recognized and celebrated my otherness. And I have them still and they have me. THAT is good fortune indeed.

What a wonderful post and comments. I confess to enjoying haircuts and colors. I love the feel of someone washing my hair. I enjoy the woman who cuts my hair. I feel as if I am vicariously watching her family grow. We laugh a lot. It is my "sin" and my luxury and my delight. I don't always like how she styles it. I don't care that I don't. I wash it and do it myself. But I save my money for it; I wait for the day and feel pampered.

I would rather do that than go to movies or out to dinners. When I was at my poorest I could go but twice a year. NOW I can go THREE times. Riches.

But I think it is out of certain memories that I go... A rebellion of sorts. In my own otherness I rebelled.

We each have our pleasures, don't we. Anyway, I am learning to love being older and often over-looked. Often, it doesn't matter how different I AM, no one cares anyway!

Yet here, in my entries, I find that I am always afraid someone will judge me for writing TOO personally, exposing my otherness TOO much... or simply exposing my life.

But it is where I am choosing to fly anyway.

As I said, marvelous post. And your art always makes me smile like a child. What better gift?

Isabel Doyle said...

Dear Marylinn
Thank you for being who you are, proudly, auto-barbered and perfect in your astral projection in these dimensions.

You are right, we are all 'other' only far too many of us are afraid to admit it.

Isabel x

Radish King said...

Marylinn, this is a wonderful bit of writing and should be assigned to children at a young age in order to help them become human beings each one an other.
Rebecca

Jayne said...

"Bless its pointed little head." I love that Marylinn. It's all there in that one little sentence, oh joy to otherness.

Sometimes I feel like I missed the boat to Otherness. I sailed instead to Fit-in-Land, fearing otherness would be inhospitable. But I know there's an Otherness that is safe and accepting, and I'm making that journey there now. Sheesh, it only took me near fifty years.)

And my children, well, despite my fears, I made sure from the start that they knew which ship sailed direct to Otherness, entirely bypassing Fit-in-Land. Bless their pointed little heads. :)

beth coyote said...

My reaction to your thoughtful post was...a bit contrary. I think we struggle against our perceived otherness (or we embrace it) but it is all illusion. We are all the same in our longing for family, home, love, acceptance, etc. and we experience the same losses, griefs, desires as well. The compassionate heart sees this and then can understand the loner, the misfit, the freak. Because we all have those inclinations within us. I've spent my life looking for home and finding it finally in lovingkindness for myself. (Can you tell I just got back from a meditation retreat?) Anyway, I think we have unique gifts; of poetry, music, art that spring from our yearning to connect, across our loneliness and sorrow and joy... XXX Beth

Robert the Skeptic said...

Of course conformity, fitting in, is the life blood of adolescence. I was unfortunate enough during my formative years to not be tall enough, blond enough (I grew up in California) or cool enough, to ever be popular, or worst of all, of any interest to girls.

Knowing full well I would always be a social outcast I embraced the difference and eschewed conformity... which surprisingly began to suit me well once I attended college.

I ultimately married a woman who describes herself as being "invisible to waitresses" in public restaurants. One odd attracted the other odd and we have been very happy for the last 26 years.

Antares Cryptos said...

If otherness is no more than individuality and a lack of homogenization than it is to be celebrated.

Then otherness becomes mainstream, geek is in and I stop paying attention to trends and continue to pursue my interests.

Even when those interests are considered arcane and long before my time.

Thank you for another "banding" post. Ought to be a verb that has nothing to do with keeping track of birds.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Jeanette - Thank you. Aging does bring abundant gifts...we grow into ourselves, or so I am finding; not at odds every second. Then we get to discover that we are often overlooked and that may be the next best thing to a cloak of invisibility. Once upon a time with two outstanding forms of health insurance, massage was one of my favorite things...including a head massage; I know what you mean about having a shampoo. It always reminds me of that scene in OUT OF AFRICA...now that's romance. We ARE here to inhabit our bodies and our lives, don't you think? That is best done by being us as fully as possible. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Isabel - Thank you. From the perch I now inhabit, I wish such awarenesses had come sooner, though they may have tried and I couldn't take them in. I saw a quote this morning that said 80% of everything is irrelevant. If we can get to what matters, what is real in the midst of mass illusion, we are doing very well. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Rebecca - Thank you. I know of children who are comfortable being their authentic other selves; in my growing up I encountered one or two who derived enviable strength from the joy of being exactly who they were. The process of birth lasts much longer than we thought. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Jayne - Some of us fashion the best camouflage we can - usually inadequate and fooling few - and sometimes it tides us over until...until. I do bless any and all who do not see their pointy little heads as anything but beautiful. All through my teens I had Thoreau's quote about the different drummer pinned to my bulletin board, but knowing there is otherness and embracing it are two very different things. Hooray for children who are not concerned with Fit-In-Land...so much more energy for what is important. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Beth - What better ground for integrating and embracing our assorted parts than a retreat? The struggle is all within and yes, is eased or nearly eliminated by recognizing how our compassion must encompass, or begin with, the self. Lovingkindness is the source of all healing, as I understand it. And I do see us, with our gifts, as you describe them, reaching, seeking to be known and valued for who we are. Thank you for opening your retreat gifts here for us. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Robert - I cheer your 26 years of shared otherness, which I think is what any of us desires...the phrase, 'like seeks like' is one that stays with me, for we do. Conformity was never too good a fit for me, though I admit I tried...something always popped out of the tightened-down hatch and gave me away. Your story in further confirmation of our growing into ourselves - if we are fortunate or wise. I am very grateful not to be a teenage today. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Antares - Nothing quite as enjoyable as arcane interests...what odd bits they allow us to offer in conversation. Thank you for our 'banding' word, which also draws in the notion of each stepping to the music he hears...however measured or far away. :D

Jaye Ramsey Sutter said...

Thank you for this post. I am so interested in the "bullies" comment.

Love this blog.

Angella Lister said...

surely otherness explains the likes of steve jobs, and perhaps all of us here. i too cut my own hair.

someone once said, if you want you children to be creatively self-expressed, be sure to expose them to odd gentlemen and peculiar ladies. fortunately for them, my extended family provided many such.

this is a lovely piece.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Jaye - Thank you. I have such empathy when I hear of bullying; hard enough to be with our own sense of outsider/otherness without being targeted for what we can't control. I feel fortunate that I either managed to slip, unnoticed, past the bullies or was simply unaware of them. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Angella - Thank you. I, too, had the benefit of odd gentlemen and peculiar ladies (grew up to be one), in fact they are the ones I remember. We possess unknown capacity for genius and innovation - not that we will all be Steve Jobs - but in authenticity there is such potential. xo