(standing at the edge of grace, archival prints available here!)
"If you have attempted to fit whatever mold and failed to do so, you are probably lucky. You may be an exile of some sort, but you have sheltered your soul. There is an odd phenomenon that occurs when one keeps trying to fit and fails. Even though the outcast is driven away, she is at the same time driven right into the arms of her psychic and true kin...It is never a mistake to search for what one requires. Never."
-Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes (Women Who Run with the Wolves)
I have always been an outsider...ever since I can remember. I have never ever, ever fit in with my "family" of origin or my culture. I tried to fit in, I pretended (largely as a matter of survival), I wished and hoped...but I just never could. For the life of me, I could never ever understand why my only goal in life should be to get married and have children. Not that there is anything wrong with wanting to do that...it just wasn't for me. I could never understand why women and girls were afforded second class status on everything. I just wasn't feeling that whole thing!! I mean...we are the keepers in this world...the keepers of our families, traditions, stories, culture, dreams, children...Even at 14 years old, I knew this. I could never understand why I had to respect and be nice to people who were ignorant, mean and unkind simply because they were older than me. I could not see myself adopting the values of misogyny or racism or classism simply because I was told to. I had no idea why I had to pretend as if my sexuality did not exist ...as if it was something ugly and wrong. Even at a young age I knew that all of this was bullshit. So...I have always been an outsider...the ugly duckling, exiled from my true family and kindreds. In reality...I was exiled from mySELF. It was lonely and deeply deeply painful. When you are young and your psyche is vulnerable and fragile ...you see what the mirror of those around you reflect back at you. So if that mirror reflects back..."you are a misfit"..."there is something/everything intrinsically wrong with you"..."why aren't you...?" then of course, you will start thinking that way about yourSELF as well. If you are constantly abused, denigrated, ridiculed and devalued...you internalise it. That is exactly what happened to me.
(self portrait at age 42...and a half!!)But something miraculous happened along the way. Because I was an outsider, I was afforded the luxury of forging my own path. I could (and did) live very unconventionally. I met the most amazing people who showed me very different ways of life. I had the most amazing experiences...I listened to Toni Morrison speak, I lived in an ashram, I rode through the Thar desert on a camel, I started painting...but what was really happening was this. I was forging my soul... defining and inventing and uncovering mySELF. My true SELF...not the proscriptions of society/culture/family etc. I learned that I am brave and beautiful and fearless. I learned that I am poetic and artistic and hardworking. I learned that too often, guilt was an indicator of my own low self esteem. I learned to choose my life partner based on the heart and soul of the man. I learned the value of the creative life.
(brave, archival print available here!)And I made mistakes along the way-as we all do-but they were mine. Mine mine mine!!! Mine to learn from, grown from, live from. So...in retrospect, I see that all those long hard years of being the outsider...I was really standing at the edge of grace; I just didn't know it. Isn't that true for so many of us? I learned to seek out my own people...my tribe. I learned to accept mySELF and see the very real beauty of my heart and soul. And for me...the real gift that I received from being exiled is this right here...I get to create a whole different wide world for Tara; I don't get to pass down the very narrow world I lived in. And that...to me...is the real grace.