We live in a country where others judge us by our looks, the clothes we wear, the car we drive, and the house we live in. It's not who we are inside, but who we outwardly appear to be, that seems to matter most to others.
The need to "fit in", to be accepted, drives most of us into a life of conformity. Don't believe me? Just look around: the Abercrombie's, Aeropostle's, and Gucci's are everywhere you look!
What if everything in the world was one color? What if the foods we ate were one flavor? What if every man looked the same? Every woman? Total nonsense, I know, because whether or not we've ever taken time to think about it, we all thrive on the very existence of diversity in all aspects of our lives. Don't we? Then, why is it that we tend at times to put others down for being different. Hmmm.
It's taken me a long time, most of my adult life, to come to terms with personal traits that make me different than others. I woke up one day back in 2000 to the realization that I'd lived my whole life being the person others expected me to be. It hit me hard how much I had been missing out on by always holding back, or disguising who I really was. Conformist? Guilty!
On this novel-writing road trip, I decided to be faithful to the cause: to dare to be different! I also made it a point to exercise my mind by catching up on a lot of reading I had neglected while teaching at the university. I grabbed an assortment while packing for the trip. I was severly limited on space and had to limit the number of books in my love bus library. But, I seems I made good choices.
Do you believe that things happen for a reason? I do. Since arriving here in Key West, I have read two books and am deeply into the third. The first book was a total surprise to me. I ran across The Witch of Portobello, by Paulo Coelho by coincidence one night, while washing clothes at the campground laundry. There it lay on a shelf of books, free for the taking. It "spoke" to me, so I took it back to the tent. What's this got to do with anything? Have I gotten off track. Not really. Bear with me.
In The Witch of Portobello, Sherine Khalil, or Athena, as she preferred to call herself, was different than most since childhood. As the grew, she began to discover special gifts she possessed. Like many of the rest of us, she could have chosen to ignore her gifts, or to explore them in secret. But that would not have been the real Athena. She dared to be different and live her life fully as herself, and accepted that doing so might come with a heavy price to pay.
In Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, Mary Ann Singleton struggled, while living in San Fransisco, to remain the "conformist" she was raised to be in Ohio. But, in her new environment, she began discovering her true self, one new social encounter after another. In time, she shed the inhibitions and guilt she had brought along with her from Cincinatti, and accepted the alternative lifestyles of those around her. She, as well as they, dared to be different.
Now I'm well into John Barth's The Sot-Weed Factor, a lengthy literary novel. This fiction piece chronicles the travels and escapades of thirty-year old Ebeneezer Cooke. The thirty-year old poet and virgin was quite different than most in many ways. Hmmm...seems to be a common theme with the three, don't you agree? Coincidence, or psychic phenomenon?
My dream or a long time has been to travel across the country in an old VW bus. Sure, I know, I should've done it when I was eighteen. But, I missed out by being drafted. Bummer, huh? Many friends strongly discouraged my intended plan (but not family, because they know better by now). But, off I went, and here I am, because it's me!
Twenty years in the military I wore hats and my hair short. I have always hated hats and short hair!
So, when I had that epiphany back in 2000, I began growing my hair, and today sport a ponytail. Many still insist on making negative comments about my hair, and think I should act more my age. Can you imagine? Act more my age?! Age is a state of mind. I have no problem at all when it comes to feeling a little goofy, or clowning around ~ and neither should you!
I had been pressured into a technical course of study in college, and spent a career in the communications-electronics industry, but I hated it. When searching for a graduate school program, I fell in love with the writing program at Johns Hopkins. It wasn't at all logical, but I felt all along that I was a destined to lead a creative life, not one as a structured techno geek . Friends and co-workers asked if I had lost my mind.
Hmmm...let's see. I went to Hopkins, got a grad degree in writing, quit work, grew my hair long, got an old VW bus, took off on a road trip across America, stopping first in Key West for the winter. Have I lost my mind? I think not. No, I've finally summoned the courage to be myself ~ to dare to be different!
Life's much too short not to live it as your true self. I say, fly your flag high and proudly. Live your life in widescreen and technicolor!
Whew! That was a blog full! Time for a nap.