Bland Like Me

photo montageThe marvelous Diana of A Holistic Journey has been writing posts asking about the influences of race, culture, national origin, education, and so forth and the ways that they shape who we are and how we perceive ourselves. This series of hers is proving an outstanding eye-opening and thought-provoking exercise for me, too. I have spent most of my life living amid and being part of The Majority—middle-class, white, English speaking, native-born, educated, boringly predictable, etc, etc. There were a few touches of diversity around me here and there, of course, this country of the so-called United States being what it is, but those were relatively small and isolated, so mostly I grew up sheltered and unchallenged in nearly all ways.

Yet as an individual I came to know myself as being different in one way or another from most of what I thought of as the ‘norms’ of my own environs, and even learned over time that what I thought was my Majority milieu was mostly just my very narrow path through it in life. While a lot of my classmates, immediate neighbors and friends when I was a kid, for example, were also little pasty white critters like me, the friends I remember best as seeming most interesting to me were ones like Eha, the Estonian girl, or Karen, one of my few black classmates, or the Japanese friends who shared exotic treats from their lunches and who performed classical Japanese dance in a miniature celebration of the Cherry Blossom Festival at school. I have hardly any memories so suffused with longing as that of watching the girls flutter their fans, while dressed in exquisite kimonos and dancing their stately, courtly dance to the strains of the tune ‘Sakura’, which melody in turn still fills me with delicately melancholy love.

My ideals of human physical beauty, as my husband and I have often noted musingly, are nearly all attached to non-whites or mixed-race people, not something I think of as a conscious or intentional choice but a persistent reality for me ever since I can remember. My superficial list of Most Beautiful People would probably have a paucity of caucasian members among its top fifty. While I have never been either very adventurous or flexible in my choices and tastes and experiences, I suppose I have always been fascinated by what seemed different or even exotic to me. I am a fantasist and a romantic in the cheap, popular versions of those ideas, I guess.

I have even wondered, in a broader sense, if part of my very nature is simply to feel like an outsider for no very specific reason. I was always shy, and learned as an adult that this expressed not only a naturally introverted character on my part but also demonstrated lifelong social anxiety and probably the incipient state of my developing depression that didn’t come to full fruition until later. Those, along with undiagnosed dyslexia, tremors, the dysphonia that came into play in my forties, and who knows what other quirks of my unique persona and biological makeup, could perhaps explain why I never felt I fit in with any particular group or was especially central to its character. But I still can’t say I felt consciously sad or was overtly unhappy or removed or, certainly, ostracized for any of this.

What was odder was that as I reached adulthood and gradually began to find a more comfortable sense of self and direction, I have a feeling I may have chosen to put myself into groups where it was plain that I didn’t quite match the norm, specifically because, if I knew there was no possibility of my being an exemplar in its midst of the highest standard, I might unconsciously feel safe from being expected to be so by anyone else. This might be complete nonsense, but it gives me pause. In any event, I spend a great deal of my ‘quality time’ nowadays in the company of people who are immersed in and even expert at music, pedagogy, administration, and a number of other topics in which I have no training whatsoever and only a very little observational knowledge, and I am very happy in this environment.

Conversely, I tend to keep my company of good visual artists and writers and others with training or knowledge more likely to be similar to mine at the seemingly safer arm’s-length of cyberspace, and that probably doesn’t reflect well on my personal fortitude. I never did, at least, make any claims of being any better than a big ol’ chicken. Being a scaredy-pants is probably not race-specific. Or attached with any particularity to culture, social stratum, nationality, educational accomplishment, religion, language, income level, or anything else in question. Being a scaredy-pants is just part of being myself, and the unique combination of qualities and characteristics that make up the wonderfulness of Me.

On the other hand, being attracted to, frightened by or otherwise connected to or dissociated from people who are Not Like Me is a central consideration of understanding how the human species works. Or doesn’t. And there’s no doubt that all of those things influenced by proximity (physical or metaphorical), the aforementioned race, culture, social strata, and so forth, are very potent indicators and influencers of how we will experience the concept of Self and Other at any level.

So what does that ‘solve’ about me, about how I feel about those who are or seem in any way different from me? I’m still not at all sure. Perhaps the best I can say is that my feeling of being, in a value-neutral way, unlike those around me makes me unwilling to assume much about them, in turn. I would generally rather let personalities and individuality be revealed to me and my understanding of my surroundings at the moment unfold in their own sweet time than that I jump in and make any precipitous assumptions. I’m perfectly capable of finding lots of other ways of being wrong and making a fool of myself without constantly worrying over whether I’m being judged, rightly or wrongly, as a stereotype of either the majority or the minority on hand.

Most of my blogging friends and acquaintances are significantly different from me in nearly all of the aforementioned identifying categories, and yet I feel remarkably at home among you. So I’ll let you decide if sameness or difference affects how you see me. I feel at home, and that’s good enough for my part of the bargain.photo montage

13 thoughts on “Bland Like Me

  1. Well said….I am currently sitting in Muscat Oman and the words you wrote fit so well here. Oman is filled with people from all over the world and there is broad acceptance of both peoples and cultures. Our Omani driver engaged my workmate and I in some “culture” conversation on the drive in from a field camp in Northern Oman to Muscat. This was my second trip but the first for my Canadian traveling partner. He asked him whether or not he enjoyed the trip so far. Pat had formed the same opinion as I form my earlier visit. The Omani people are very warm and embrace their visitors with respect in a welcoming way! Our driver then said, ” I hope you see that not all people from this region are the same”! I smiled because just that morning a young Muslim man was asking about my preparations fro ‘my” upcoming Easter season. Very tolerant!

    Oh yes…..being a man I have noticed an almost mystical beauty in the eyes of the Arab/Persian women. I am sure that I have been caught staring too many times….Wonderful people in Oman!!!! Thanks Kathryn for a well said and thought provoking post!

    • What a fabulous experience, Bishop! I have never been anywhere in that region myself (not yet, anyway), but have plenty of friends and acquaintances who have either lived or traveled in the broader Middle East and reported lovingly on the vastness of beauty and diversity that can be found if one travels with open eyes and heart. So glad you’ve been immersed in that goodness again! May there be much more of that ahead for all of us.

    • London is indeed one of the great havens of diversity, and I hope it won’t be terribly long before I can manage to revisit its joys! Meanwhile you’ll soak in it in my stead, I know. 😀
      xo

  2. I chose my home, Kathryn, because of the neighborhood’s diversity. Syrian, Hungarian, Latino, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Serb, Croats, and African Americans fill the homes. A half-mile away is Little India where Indians & Pakistani shop and, at one end, there are a number of Jewish bakeries and the like. I will never live in an all-whatever community. What fun is that?

  3. This is fascinating, K. First off, I never got the pingback. I followed up with you bc I suspected this was the case, and finally wrote Support why this keeps happening.

    Just love your descriptions, as always…So you equate being “boringly predictable, etc” with staying unchallenged. You bring up something really interesting: the barometer of our perception of beauty. I noticed a long time ago that the race or culture we find physically attractive (and, unlike the way it applied to you, I mean it in the context of hopeful romantic relationships) is telltale of the culture we most identify with. Always, exceptions.

    “I have even wondered, in a broader sense, if part of my very nature is simply to feel like an outsider for no very specific reason.”

    You put your finger on what the Race has really been about. The sense of displacement, the struggle to belong and find our anchor. I have been planning to seque into this when the race is over, to spell out the outsider theme in a couple of posts, even invite a few bloggers to contribute again.

    And then I LOVE how you tapped the beast of FEAR. Right…you don’t want to get in the game, and so put yourself where you don’t have to measure up to expectations out of fear that…..
    And so you feel at home among us bloggers because you feel….safe.

    Wooooweee! Are we lighting some dynamite? You might save more thoughts that bubble over for a post on my board. =) We’ll talk again.

    Thanks for the PR and kudos. Thanks for the rich post.

    Xxxx
    D.

    • Diana,

      As I think—hope—I’ve said before, each time I get to spend time at your blog in reading and rumination I come away both provoked (in the very best ways) and inspired, and I’m all the more grateful to have ‘met’ you. That you so gracefully and graciously invite this kind of thought and conversation is a great gift that I treasure! While I’ve found the whole blogging community in which I so serendipitously landed to be incredibly open-hearted and supportive, even in this safest of virtual places I sometimes see that it’s easier to be bold and passionate about our beliefs in ways that we might not dare in the physical world, yet we can still be less than ideally open-minded about others’ passions and beliefs. I would never propose that open-mindedness mean utter lack of discretion or some kind of anything-goes foolishness, but I guess what I’m getting at is simply that while the alluring ‘anonymity’ of cyberspace makes us feel freer to express ourselves, it isn’t clear that it *also* makes us better listeners or more thoughtful logicians and analysts. So very human, eh! 😉

      That, as much as your elegant way of expressing yourself, is what I think appeals to me so much about your blog and your persona: that you invite us to care about and *examine* others’, as well as our own, thinking, not just hop around congratulating ourselves on finally having a bigger soapbox and meeting some cool like-minded souls as a result but actually examining whether or not we are indeed like-minded, and what that might mean in practical and life-affecting terms! Always a joy to ‘visit’ with you, my dear one!

      xoxo,
      Kathryn

      • “that you invite us to care about and *examine* others’, as well as our own, thinking, not just hop around congratulating ourselves on finally having a bigger soapbox and meeting some cool like-minded souls”

        I sure appreciate every bit of this effusive encomium, Kathryn. Gosh, I would be beet red if I were the type to blush LOL. I appreciate it for a number of reasons, just one being the labor of love I call my blogging and two, the vision (for self-examination, other-examination, transformation, hope, action) that you’ve been eager to catch and light on your own blog.

        I am not merely existing, then. I am living, somehow inspiring (to borrow your word) others to live more fully.

        Another reason I am grateful for such amazing feedback is I am quite angry right now LOL. Your comment caught me on a day a blogger upset me – which hardly happens. If I’m mad enough, I just might post the what and wherefore.

        Ok, so I had flagged you a while back as one of the best writers I have stumbled on WP and hope to work with you one of these days.

        Xxxx
        Diana

        • Sorry to be incredibly slow to respond! Life happening, and all of that. 😉 I hope that in the meantime your reasons for being angry at the time you wrote have abated and life is being kinder to you. Little is as frustrating as the Stuff that gives us cause for anger—so much work to overcome it all!

          Sending many hugs your way, dear Diana.

          xoxo,
          Kath

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