This summer I have been taking the fiction course The Fiction Of Relationships offered by Coursera. One of my few regrets in life has been that I missed out on the college experience, not the degree, or the drinking, or sleeping around, the actual classroom lectures and discussions. When I discovered free online courses I was more than excited. This is the first one I signed up for and I love it.
Having moved several times in my childhood there are large holes in my English/Literature education. Every state has different requirements and every school a different curriculum. I have tried on my own to fill in those gaps by reading many classics over the years, but many of them are still there. This summer I have read Kafka, Melville, and Borges for the first time. Reading the books caused me to set them down and think deeply about life, but Prof. Weinstein's lectures have taken that to a new level.
Reading Kafka gave me chance to structure my thoughts on otherness. His stories provided a framework to fit them on. Otherness in society is something I have thought a lot about over the years, but without calling it just that. I was born other. Not by genetics, but by circumstance was I placed slightly outside of society's pale. My childhood, along with my many siblings, was a result of a woman with some neurosis marrying and procreating with a man with a growing psychosis. As a result they were never good providers. We moved a lot. Teachers unintentionally didn't invest much time or energy in us. Friends came and went too quickly. We started most school years as the new kids. I'm not complaining, for the most part I enjoyed my childhood. I am simply explaining that I do understand what it means to be the other.
My graduation day is mostly a blur, but the one clear memory I have is of watching the students who had graduated from kindergarten together, and now high school too, group up to take a photo. I understood in that moment what roots were. I vowed that my children would have them.
In that quest to give my children roots I quit being other. That scared feeling that filled me every time I walked into a bank slowly dissolved. I became the mother who talked to her children's teachers, being open and honest, never needing to hide a family secret. Honesty was something which was foreign to me before; we always had secrets. I taught Sunday School, baked cupcakes for school, went to work full time, got elected to the school board, all things that seemed to belong to a different world when I was a child. By the time my children graduated I had fully integrated myself into society. A part of me wanted out.
Borges suggests that we can take both forks of a path when we come to them. That life is a labyrinth which we can explore fully. Coming from the outside it is easy to see the falseness of society. Why is a long marriage good and teenage pregnancy bad? One is natural and the other is usually forged on sacrifice and lies. How come people get to feel superior to others as if their faults are not as bad? Who made this scale that deems lying a lighter fault than drinking too much? Does driving a nice car and living in a nice house really make you more successful?
Slowly and without realizing it I have been reclaiming a bit of my otherness. There are rumors that I am wild now. They are not true, but I like that they exist. I am not going out more, or even as much as some single women do. It is simply that it is not what people expect of me. I am not staying inside lines they have drawn for me. The problem is trying to take both roads at the same time. I realized just recently that I have started to feel like I don't belong again. In this small town where I have lived for over twenty years, where I know everybody, I have a feeling of not being good enough. I do not know where this came from. I just realized it was there. That is not a part of the otherness I want back. I am stepping away from society, just a bit, because I want to, not because they will not have me. That should give me a sense of pride. Somehow I need to find my center and balance.