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One thing which makes it difficult for me to find community is that I have spent so many years seeing myself as a misfit (in the literal sense: a "poor fit"), that this is an important part of my self-image. I find it very hard to latch onto commonalities between me and other people; to the contrary, I am very quick to notice how I differ from the rest of the group, and I'm sure that other people see me the same way. It's not about superiority; it's about uniqueness I think. I know that my self is very important to me: the thought of personal annihilation after death is extremely terrifying to me. I am suspicious of crowd thinking, and whenever someone expresses an opinion my immediate reaction is to take up the other side of the argument: it's not out of malice (though it can appear to be), and I like to think that this comes from a drive to be open-minded and fair, but maybe it comes from a fear of agreeing with people, that if I don't have a different opinion then this other person, then what's the point of me being around?

This came to mind this morning as I was bicycling to work; towards the end of the ride, another bicyclist ended up behind me, and followed me all the way to the physics building, and indeed even into the physics building (where most people would leave their bikes outside). Some people might see this coincidence as a nice way to connect with someone who works in the same building and the same department; I, on the other hand, was extremely annoyed that he had "followed" me. This happens to me a LOT (though I was maybe a little touchier about it this morning than usual). In fact, someone just decided to sit at the table next to mine in the restaurant, when the rest of the section is empty, and I caught myself glaring at him: "what the hell? Go sit in one of the 20 other tables!"
You can imagine how this played out in Chicago, where there was always bound to be someone following you anywhere you went.

Even in the communities where I've felt the most welcome, I still carried the misfit label in my mind. My first year in Bethans, I was "the freshman" (the only one that year), a label I was always ready to embrace as an excuse for not knowing things. Sophomore year, I kvetched about everything, to the point where, when Colin and Zach pulled me aside and asked me to direct the next year, I thought they were going to chew me out for being so annoying in rehearsal. :) Being a director sets one apart as well, of course, which is maybe why I was more comfortable in Bethans than I've been in any choir since (being one tenor among a whole section is too anonymizing for me). And looking back, I kick myself for the times I turned down invitations to coffee or board games, or sat alone in my room instead of seeking out company, because I didn't feel like I belonged, felt like I might be a nuisance without being aware of it. During senior year, I fought with Heath tooth and nail because I saw him as more "popular" than I was, putting me in an underdog position. About halfway through the year, though, I was surprised to realize and discover that in fact I was greatly respected (not to oversell this here), and that rather than being the underdog, I was in fact the senior director trying too hard to impose my will when I didn't need to try nearly so hard. I like to think that this discovery allowed me to back off, and brought our directorial relationship into a more cordial state.

I think everyone must wrestle with the twin desires of belonging and being unique. I think one can have both. But I probably have to find some way to sacrifice a little bit of self, and try to develop a self-image that includes my belonging to a group (which is something I really desire).

Date: 2009-11-20 06:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Wait... we argued? Boy, is my memory fading.

You were an excellent director, whether it was my sophomore or junior year. For my part, you were respected, even as we disagreed - your musicianship was always fantastic, and I always knew that you cared about how the group sounded, regardless of whether or not I agreed with the details of that sound. And let's not let your wife go without credit here - she was invaluable in bringing things together when they got tough - a mediator that I wish we'd had the year afterward.

It was a pleasure, and a great experience, directing with you.


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