Of Malus and Malice

Some people just think in categories. I walk to get the mail with my husband, expounding upon umbels and corymbs, and keep Cullen’s Identification of Plant Families on my bedside table. I collect impressions, sort through examples, and pigeon hole results as casual entertainment. I am a born taxonomist.

I recently moved. The new locale has given me more opportunities to explore the far reaches of my passion (or is it an affliction? I guess it is neither – it’s just who I am.) as I explore the pondsides, streamsides, mountainsides and roadsides of my new home. Birds and plants, but mostly plants get noticed and filed away, neatly connected and interconnected, their forest cousins from my old home a memory that informs my new observations. My brain, I imagine, looks like a card catalog, with drawer upon drawer of cards with varying amounts of information written upon them: “Saxifrage. Never seen one before. Look it up when I get inside.” “Lovage. Same family as angelica, caraway, and carrots. The woman’s herb. Good in brandy.” “Rosa canina or rosa rugosa? Same family as apples…” and so on.

apple buds

apple buds

 So here’s the confession: I do the same thing with people. The most overly simplified categories start with locals and weekenders. And of course tourists (no, I don’t really call them tourons, despite the fact that that particular epithet is rather catchy). Citiot is another great word that captures so much of what one might feel towards the weekly influx, but I don’t use that word either. There are ungenerous labels for locals too, and not all of them related to the color of the skin above the t-shirt’s neckband.

I guess I was a local in the town where I was born and raised, but my experience has always been that of an outsider – probably because my family was different: my mom wasn’t American, and my dad died when I was five. I was raised by a single mom a few decades before that was done. I had a key around my neck and came home to an empty house as an elementary school kid; my dog was my babysitter. Not common back then. And between Mom not being able to guide me in the ways of girl cliques, and my dog being my preferred company, I drifted off into outsiderdom early on.

me and Vinne circa 1977

me and Vinnie circa 1977

Moving here has underlined for me, once again, that I am an outsider. I am not a local and will never be one – in order to qualify, I would have needed to have moved here three generations ago. I am also not a weekender (yes, I guess I am playing “Let’s State The Obvious”). The strange thing is, I thought that I would be able to make friends with all and somehow not feel like an outsider any more (do not ask where this delusion came from – I have no idea). There was a moment early on in this New House Adventure when I got excited about that possibility of having a crowd – my crowd. I thought I wanted to have people to hang out with, and indulge in that feeling of belonging. As the dust of this move settles, that reality also settles in – despite the fact that everyone from every category has been perfectly nice to me, I am an outsider through and through.

Now I have to decide whether or not I care and whether or not I will take any time or expend any effort in trying to be In. I don’t love being an outsider. I do get lonely – admittedly not often and a little bit of social connection goes a long way for me, which is probably a big part of why I’m an outsider – I am finished with social interaction long before other people are finished, and crave solo time and space more than most. I don’t have much interest in things other people seem to enjoy: whether it’s riding snowmobiles, shooting guns, doing needlework, drinking fine wine or cheap beer, or pretty much anything at all to do with the entertainment industry… I’m equally ignorant and uninterested. I collect skulls and make jewelry, go hiking, and write. I think I’m probably not very interesting to most people, and downright unappealing to the rest. Although I understand why I am not “In Crowd” material, I can’t help but get a little irked at the feeling that I’m excluded. It would be easier if there were no crowd at all, no hint or hope of social connection. But there very much is a clique here, and I’m not in it. I admit it, sometimes this irritates me.

Which helps me circle back around to my delight with taxonomy – I think I want a crowd in part because I am engaged in a perpetual search for where I fit in. A social group to which I might belong would be like a mirror – I could hold it up and say “this is who I am.” Here is my class, order, genus and species. But all I seem to be is outside of the groupings. I drive a pick up truck – oh, but it isn’t made in the USA. My clothes are all old, second hand, perpetually splotched with mud and fuzzy with dog hair, and the only boots I wear are muck boots. But I can’t eat dinner in a restaurant unless the salt is infused, the sauces contain the descriptor “reduction” and there is at least one item on the menu I need to google. I’m poor, but that’s because I stopped working as a psychotherapist and now stay home making butter, yogurt, granola, bread, jewelry, ghostwritten articles, and these blog posts. I wear a ballgown to go hiking. I don’t have dogs, my pack of four (yes, I’m up to four) rescued Belgian Malinois have me.  I could go on but I think the point is made. I don’t know how to behave to fit in. I am now, and have always been too much: too much and too many different things.

Part of my post-divorce, post-career life has been intentionally focused upon embracing and expressing all of who I am. I spent too many years trying to squash the parts of me that were too weird, too intense, too random. I tried to fit in with a number of different crowds, failed, and tried harder. Doing that made me angry and sad but it didn’t make me any less weird. Being honest about who/what I am doesn’t exactly lead to lasting or deep social connections. I don’t fit into categories and I don’t make much sense. Most people don’t want to work at understanding someone – most people (me included) want it to be easy, to feel comfortable. I think, after all these years of being an outsider, I can say with some certainty that I make people uncomfortable. Not so much so that they run screaming from the room, but uncomfortable enough to be put off.

I guess defying categories extends the search for appropriate ones. If I found a plant on the roadside with, say, flowers arranged in umbels, thorns on its stem and a vine-like growth habit, I would be intrigued. It would be a challenge to find where it belonged, and eventually place it in its proper grouping. I think I will likely continue to try to fit in, to try to find “my crowd.” I think I will continue to fail to do so. Just like working my way through a decision tree or an infographic, I can use each rebuff as a right or left turn on the decision tree – just another fork in the road. Eventually I’ll end up somewhere. I don’t think I can change much about all this, but I can change how I feel about it. It doesn’t have to hurt.

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7 Responses to Of Malus and Malice

  1. Alan says:

    You may not want to do that, but when folks join the local fire department, that cuts across a lot of generational ‘fit-in’. Either as a firefighter or becoming an EMT.

    • Miminy says:

      In some towns, the fire dept. and ambulance squad are controlled by vicious political cliques that crush people and sweep them out if they don’t fit-in or if they try to become too involved. It can be quite ugly. Doesn’t matter if you are good at the actual job. The rank and file will just lower their heads and follow the leaders without trying to find out the truth. Lots of hours of training down the drain and limited recourse if you have family members living in the district who may need help sometime.

  2. Hoof n Paw says:

    You are not alone! I have spent my life hoping I could find a “crowd” to fit in with. Horse people,I fail,I am not a snob,dont have the money to afford the boots,and Sperry’s etc.Nor do I enjoy the politics. Socialite,fail.I like you enjoy folks company but enough is enough.I want to have parties and lovely chatter and banter but yet my house isnt clean enough,big enough,I dont have that many friends to do it( I really do but that is what I tell myself). I moved a year and a half ago.I have made one friend,a neighbor who is a Bulldog person,we understand dogs LOL.We both are independent and a bit unique.My best friend growing up was my Cat and neighbors English
    Springer Spaniel!
    I truely understand how you feel,but believe that others find your ability to write,make butter,can goods,have such a wonderful ability to hike with a bunch of dogs in wilderness and come home in one piece,etc attributes that not all humans have.

  3. halia466 says:

    I have thought about becoming an EMT — you’re not the first person to suggest that, Alan. I am time crunched at present, spending a heckuva lot of hours per week engaged in one of several freelance pursuits. Life isn’t always going to be this busy, but right now taking on one more thing just doesn’t seem sane.

    And you are also correct, Miminy – it could quite easily become another opportunity to feel awkwardly outsiderish. I think when the moment arrives, I’ll probably seek to get involved with the county’s k-9 search and rescue team. Yes, potentially yet another clique and another opportunity to feel alienated, but maybe not. And in the meantime I might be able to be truly helpful to folks in need. that trumps worries about belonging any day.

    Hoof-n-Paw, you made me grin with your “house isn’t clean enough or big enough: etc. Boy do I know that feeling all too intimately. In the comment thread on Facebook this morning, I said that the key was the not care about being in or out – to truly, authentically, and completely not care about cliques, gangs, crowds, clubs, or any other social grouping. Not to try to be above it all, but maybe just to be oblivious to it all. I’m practicing turning my attention elsewhere. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

  4. Miminy says:

    The k-9 search and rescue sounds pretty exciting, Halia466. It is a unique and important skill. There may be more bonding among k-9 people because of the shared love of dogs. It is true, the feeling of helping someone is extraordinarily gratifying. Not all FDs and EMS squads are so negative. Many, such as Andes, are nice and need more people. Sorry to Alan, didn’t mean to squash your idea.

    I have found community and friendship in unexpected places such as a yoga class or volunteering at a thrift shop. This area has lots of needs and outlets for people willing to give time: library, Humane Society, ARC workshop teacher of something fun, school aid, big bro/sister, etc. Also getting out and about in general helps. It’s not easy but I was surprised to find love with a person who’s been in the periphery of my life for many years. Ultimately, friends are individuals in your life.

    Malus, would you want to teach jewelry making or yogurt and butter making to a BOCES class? Might be fun.

  5. Miminy says:

    Or sharing your knowlege of plants. Love the picture of apple blossoms.

    • halia466 says:

      Thank you! I love to take photographs — especially of plants. Birds? Too tricky. They move way too much! 🙂

      You have many excellent ideas, Miminy, but I think the real words of wisdom are exactly as you put it: “Ultimately, friends are individuals in your life.” You are so right. Having a “crowd” to hang out with and feel a part of is nice, but having a friend is something wholly different. I am blessed to have my husband, who is certainly my best friend, and a few other wonderful friends – some new and some from way back.

      I keep saying “when the dust settles, I”ll…” but really — when the dust settles, there are a few more ways I know I will get involved locally. I do volunteer at the Hunter Mountain Fire Tower, and I maintain a section of trail, and I lead hikes for the 3500 Club and the Catskill Mountain Club. I will probably lead more hikes locally, and maybe make some of them hikes with a specific focus: plant ID or photography or something like that. As for teaching … I am the Queen of Kitchen Disasters and the title of my autobiography is going to the “The Accidental Cheesemaker.” Read my blog post on green beans for a flavor of what my kitchen skills are like! I don’t teach yoga anymore, but I could always try again. My thoughts on yoga are published in here too: I broke up with yoga is the name of that piece. I should start attending classes locally. Maybe when the dust settles I will. 😉

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