Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Differentness and the Art of Being Self

Growing up homeschooled had its advantages and disadvantages, each of them novel-worthy in depth and breadth. A love of reading and writing was inspired early on. Though I did watch TV here and there as a kid, I mostly watched shows like Zoom, Arthur, Wishbone, Zoboomafoo, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Mr Roger's Neighborhood, and Sesame Street. Nearly every show I watched taught me something I didn't know before the show began, and most importantly, more than half of those shows encouraged reading and learning more than actually watching the show. Science, history, math, experiments, literature, language, everything. It was all there.

I was a PBS kid while most of the other 90s kids were watching Nickelodeon. I was listening to classical music and jazz by choice, and loving it, while most other kids were hooked on N'Sync and Brittney Spears. I was taking vitamins and milling wheat at 6am to bake bread on my own agenda when I was 11 while other people were eating Fruit Gushers and sleeping in on Saturdays. I spent my allowance on Wordly Wise workbooks. My favorite toy was a LeapFrog globe that taught and tested you on Geography. 

As an adult, I don't find myself happily infused in the culture around me. For the past several years, there has been a very obvious divide in my emotional state of mind. I was different for so long and about a decade ago I got really tired of being different. I tried off and on for years as an adolescent and even now into my adult years to camouflage my obvious differentness. I loved and hated the things that stood me apart from the other people my own age.

When I was 5, I remember latching onto the kids at church that were in third grade. By the time I was 7, my crush was 13. When I was 11, I was enamored by the minds and ideas of the high schoolers, and it was only a few months later that I found myself having more fun talking to college aged young adults rather than the one-track-minded kids in my youth group that were--god forbid--my own age. I always felt a little weird not fitting in, though. I was making a living as a preteen and found more solace in chatting about responsibility with the adults that I worked for than in trying to make a conversation about the latest Pixar movie happen with a fellow middle schooler. I always tried, and I was always let down. Things evened out a little in the teen years. As a 14 year old my best friends ranged between 2 and 4 years older than me, but in teen years, that's really saying something. When I got to college, I was mortified and disappointed to realize I had a deep loathing for many of the characteristics I saw in the people I met. It led to an all-time-low in self-esteem, degrading myself as a pretentious asshole who obviously thought herself better than everyone around her. Despite this oddly shaped depression, I still found comfort in older friends. Coffee dates with young 30s, and even long, intricate email-based friendships formed through the internet with professionals ranging from their late 20s to mid 40s. I hated and loved being told how different I was. How unlike other 20-somethings I was. It was a painful truth. It was my favorite compliment.

It wasn't until today as I was going for a walk in the brisk night air with my significant other in the park behind our house that a lot of the connections I've made above started making sense to me. (Coincidentally, my significant other will be 35 next week.) Sometimes I think that I must be a freak, or a loser--or other hurtful, judgmental words I wouldn't even use on someone I hated--for not fitting in at UGA the way I'd hoped I would. For being a little off-the-beaten-path. But I'm starting to realize that all the things I actually, honest-to-god, love about my history and my present (and daydream about my future) revolve around differentness. Speaking more languages and learning technology. Cooking crazy awesome meals, and spending hours in libraries. Museums globally and being best friends with people in their 50s (one of my favorite friends at work has children older than me). Why have I been fighting it?

I know that answer: loneliness. Many, many hours I spend reading/exploring/thinking and wishing that I had a compadre who would sit beside me and do all of these things with me. How few and far between true friends become when adulthood settles in. I'm not comfortable with this idea and I hope to god it doesn't stay this way. I am thankful for my realizations about my history and how it has shaped who I am. 

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