Coming out of exile

I recently saw the excellent movie “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” which is based on an amazing book by Stephen Chobsky. Like many creative types, I identified with the main characters, and like these characters I have long identified with the concept of the Island of Misfit Toys.

The American myth says that we are a nation of free spirits and independent thinkers, but join any workplace or school and you’ll see it’s often not how things really work. Most institutions run on the notion of conformity. Hives of workers in gray fabric boxes follow standard operating procedure documents in all aspects of their lives, and some of the workplace chitchat is no less formulaic. Some of these same workers do not like the situation, but they understand that they have to blend in to survive. Others fall through the cracks because they cannot blend no matter how hard they try.

In social situations, too, creative people are often seen as oddballs. Many people love to go to the theater, the art museum, the movies, and to read novels, but tell them you’re a writer or an artist and you may as well have declared that you want to be the Princess of Mars. Unless you’re someone like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling—once you have been declared successful, you are allowed a little latitude, as if you’re the strange relative who made good despite the odds.

Creative people long for each other’s company, and often self-segregate into isolated groupings where they can be themselves, however weird everyone else may deem them to be. Often this means they take less pay and short themselves on creature comforts so that they can be with others whom they feel will understand their impulses to create, to express themselves, to be silly. I’ve had many such jobs over the years, and although I struggled with the low pay I was grateful for the company of others with whom I felt simpatico.

I don’t regret the decisions I made, but I’ve also decided to get off the Island of Misfit Toys. As “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” also suggests, “we accept the love we think we deserve.” We’ve been given the message for years that we don’t fit in, and that if we want to be happy we need to find community amongst others of our own kind, often in marginalized low-paid positions. Sometimes we even suppress our personalities and try to fit in. I think we need to come out of the creativity closet and be ourselves wherever we are. We deserve to be paid well, and we shouldn’t have to pretend to be people that we’re not. Let’s be the independent people we’re rumored to be. Let’s brighten up the universe around us and allow everyone to express their creativity without fear of mockery. Let’s come out of exile.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
227. Examine your interactions with others. Do you marginalize yourself? Do you accept less love from the universe than you think you deserve? What can you do to change things?


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