They feel like they don’t belong and find it hard to identify with the temperament and values that are prevalent in the community they were born into. Such people can’t even remember a time when they felt differently and, instead, their memories, right up to the earliest ones, are infused with a strange sense of nostalgia for something they can’t even define. Usually, of such people we say that they were “born in the wrong place,” which begs the question – What is the right place? Take my word for it: they wish they knew. Some are lucky – they manage to follow the mysterious call to a place where they can be at peace – or at least something like it, while others never really get to belong.
The go-to example is, of course, that of Paul Gauguin, the Post-Impressionist artist who left France for Tahiti, where he lived the rest of his days and created his most eerie and unsettling works.
Another famous case was that of Lafcadio Hearn, an Irish-Greek writer who, during the first part of his life, moved all over the United States and married a Black woman at a time when this was unheard of. A few years after divorcing his first wife, Hearn moved to Japan, where he changed his name and religion and married a woman from a samurai clan. Still, despite being a well-respected professor of English literature, Hearn was never truly accepted, and his professor peers did not shy away from making his life difficult, which probably contributed to his untimely death of heart failure at age 54.
However, most of the people who feel like they don’t belong are not famous. They are among those you see walking down the street every day – like, for instance, me. I don’t remember a time when I felt differently. Even as a child, I remember feeling somewhat confused about having ended up where I did. I’ve always suspected that it was the result of some sort of cosmic accident – a bad joke of fate, or bad karma, if you will.
I do not hate, despise or reject the community I was born into. I simply have a strange feeling of something not being quite right. Furthermore, this is something I’ve always been open about, even though it would have been much wiser to keep it to myself, considering that my talking about it was often met with enmity and aggression.
I am shy, introspective and very particular about my personal space, in the middle of a culture that is prone to extroversion, loud manifestations, gregariousness and touchy-feely-ness. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s just that it’s – so to speak – not my jam. My temperament doesn’t fit in. I need quiet and zen to feel safe, whereas loud, gregarious manifestations, as well as over-familiarity from people I’ve just met or see too rarely, agitate me. I have been called snobbish, mean and aloof. I have been told to my face that I despise and reject my country and culture, and that I’m doing it on purpose.
I am aware that my nostalgia is much more about a certain feeling than it is about a certain place. In truth, there is no place one can go to and have their troubles magically erased upon arrival. You take yourself with you wherever you go. At the same time, I have my doubts about the common insta-spirituality-lite (just add water) idea that all places are the same as long as you are at peace with yourself, and therefore you can be happy anywhere. I believe there is such a thing as a spirit of the place, and it’s made up of people. It’s true that one can get along and have a conversation with anyone else, as long as there is a will to do so, but I believe everyone longs to be surrounded by people of similar temperaments, with a genuine interest in one’s thoughts and opinions.
It’s hard not to feel stuck. It’s hard not to feel alienated due to the difficulty of finding like-minded people. But, come to think of it, it’s exactly this difficulty that makes the joy of the moment when I actually do come across a like-minded person that much greater.
One of the books I will always be fond of, because it was the first that led me to question my way of thinking, is Michael Ondaatje’s “The English Patient.” One line in particular has stuck with me – “We are the real countries.” Still, I don’t think it’s quite right. We are, in fact, whole worlds. Each and every one of us is an incredibly intricate system, capable of constant transformation. Besides being worlds, we also have the power to create our own worlds. I, for one, have found that surrounding myself with things that I like and care about – even if my enthusiasm isn’t shared by others – and doing something that relaxes me every day, gives me more strength to face the outside world and allows me to be proud of who I am, even though I am often perceived as strange. That’s what everyone’s mini-world is for – not a secret lair where one hides, but a bubble that contains one’s unique identity.
Just remember to leave some room for the like-minded ones who would share worlds.
Anca Rotar is a Romanian-born writer, over-thinker and caffeine addict. She is the author of two books, Hidden Animals and Before It Sets You Free, both available from Amazon.com. Among her interests, which she finds it hard to shut up about, she counts fashion, yoga, city breaks and deadpan sarcasm. She is also currently studying Japanese, so wish her luck. You can sample bits of Anca’s creative writing here.