Yesterday morning I was on an airplane. My phone told me it was 8 a.m. in Omaha, the city I’d just left. But I was miles from there, somewhere above some state somewhere, one I couldn’t even see. The sky was blue above me, and below the world was nothing but a layer of white clouds. I felt comforted by it. I was as nowhere as I could possibly be, but I felt safe and sure. For three hours and fifteen minutes, I was at peace with my place in the world while far from any point of reference.
I’ve been reflecting on my (short) life as I prepare to enter my 25th year, and I’ve come to realize that I’ve never really felt like I belong. Anywhere.
I grew up in an aggressive place. My classmates were the children of politicians and diplomats. Old money. New money. Families who’ve lived in the same sheltered, wealthy reality their entire lives. I grew up in a place where it was normal to apply to 25 colleges – and god forbid you land on the waiting list, or worse, get rejected. Growing up I was taught to wear my failures as shame. Failure wasn’t an option. Every brush with failure was met with some sort of silent punishment. Not just from my loving and well-meaning parents, but from the community generally. In some ways I’ve always felt like failure – but those are posts for another day.
My environment felt so restrictive, and I’ve never been one to go with the grain. I loathe authority. I reject the status quo. The moment I realized what “rebellion” was, I was all about it. Somewhere along the way I learned to take pride in being different – being an “other.” I was a weird kid. I was bullied and teased. I learned to be confident in my quirkiness. I was that kid with an adult sense of humor; with tastes and interests beyond my years. And though I felt cool and smart, all of these things only served to distance me from everyone else. At the time, I liked it.
Now I’m an adult with a bevy of dysfunctions and a frustrating inability to let go of my hangups and live my life as a social person. I’ve got an all-too-healthy case of imposter syndrome, and an utter disbelief that any accomplishments I make are remotely worth celebrating, in fact, they’re pretty much failures because they aren’t accomplish-y enough. Whatever that means.
When I left home for college, I told myself: this is it. I’m going to belong. I’m moving across the country to be around people who I feel like are just like me – misfits, outcasts, those who believe in “keeping it weird.” But after my first day of freshman orientation, I knew my dreams of belonging were far out of reach. I met up with my parents for dinner—not in the dining hall like all the other frosh—at an off-campus restaurant where I complained that everyone I’d met so far was participating in some elaborate performance.
Every conversation was like this: “I first heard Fleet Foxes during accepted students weekend in some senior’s basement in southeast and I swear to god Robin Pecknold was there. You know he lives in Portland, right?”
Christ. Get me out of here.
Honestly it could have been me that said that. I was trying so hard. Probably too hard, which is why I ended my freshman year with approximately one friend who ended up transferring before we came back in the fall. Of course.
So, campus wasn’t my scene. I tried inserting myself into what I saw as the be-all-end-all of my place in this world, the Portland music scene. But I was 18, and most venues were 21+. I went to my fair share of house shows but spent most of my time standing awkwardly in a corner (this is still my M.O., btw). And it turns out that cool 20-something musicians don’t really want to hang out with quiet 18 year old girls who wear clogs and hoodies exclusively and know entirely too much about them—you know, if they’re not creeps.
My obsession with fitting in in Portland probably made my fitting in at college that much harder. I always had to be one step ahead of my peers when it came to cool Portland stuff and hanging around town. Thank god I discovered I was pretty good at running the newspaper toward the end of my sophomore year. That’s one of the two places I’ve ever really felt I belonged, but that’s another post, too.
In the three years since college I’ve felt alienated from all familiarity. People moved away. Friends stopped being friends. Coworkers moved on. I’ve learned that consistency is something you chase and never quite grasp day after day after day.
I’m sick of not belonging. I’m sick of feeling like I’m always on the outside looking in. Believe me, I know that the secret unlock to all of this is buried somewhere deep in my soul, and someday I’ll “adult hard” and make that therapy appointment I’ve been putting off for two years. In the meantime, I’m keeping a blog.
I decided to start this blog after I cried in the Bolsa Chica State Beach parking lot in Huntington Beach, California, when my boyfriend told me, after months of humoring my day dreams, that he didn’t want to move to Los Angeles.
I’d been plotting our theoretical move and picking out our new neighborhood for at least four months. But that day at the beach, he finally put his foot down. It’s not the right time, he said. We can’t afford it, he said. (Can you tell I still think these reasons are BS?) But most importantly – he wants to stay in Portland. (I can’t blame him. He’s from Southern California and if he were begging me to move to suburban Maryland I’d probably be like “hell no” too.)
I wiped the tears from my eyes and thought about why returning to Portland made me feel so miserable. My escape plan just went to shit. I had to go back. And besides, I love Portland, right? Right?
I guess I don’t. Not right now. Not the way I used to.
I want to fall in love with Portland again. I want to wake up in the morning, greet the grey sky with a smile, and feel happy and excited to be a part of my community. I want to try new things. Meet new people. Stop being so scared of fitting in, of being a part of something bigger than myself.
This blog will document my search for my place in this world, my place in this community, in the city I’ve called home now for nearly seven years.
Maybe by the end of it all, I’ll feel like I’m not shoving my square-pegged self into a circle-shaped place, like I have forever.
This blog is also an exercise in vulnerability. A place for me to be honest with myself and with the world about my experiences, my shortcomings, and my successes. I don’t do that nearly enough.
I hope you’ll come along for the ride.