No place like home, and other stories

The stories we tell shape us as people and both inform and express the culture we belong to. Those stories aren’t always consciously held nor do we always stop to reflect on the implications of what we tell each other. From our earliest days, people tell us fairy stories full of ideas about what the world could be, and mostly isn’t. As a child I let go of happily ever after and poetic justice fairly early because it was so easy to see those things as unreal. There was one fairy story I held on to for a long time. Putting it down is hard.

It may seem odd to suggest Clive Barker as a writer of fairy stories, but for me, he always was. I came to him in my teens, and under the veneer of horror, found something I had until then been missing: Fairy stories for those who do not fit. Fairy stories for little monsters whose emotions, bodies and minds are not a tidy match for what’s around them. The greatest fairy story of all was of Midian. A home for monsters. A place for the magical, funny looking rejects where there could be home, community and companionship. Where being a little monster qualified you for entry.

I carried that story, and I believed in it as I believed in few others. As a possibility, and a metaphor. I hung on to the belief that somewhere out there was a place, or a tribe that would look at me and say ‘welcome home.’ A tribe that wanted me as I am, and that would be as horrified as I am by the idea of creating a fake shiny surface to fit in. A tribe of wild, open hearted people, not merely unafraid of things being serious and intense, but welcoming that, feeding on it, wanting and needing intensity and meaning as much as I do. A tribe where people think about things, and care, and don’t do as they’re told, and aren’t afraid of difference.

I thought, if it does not exist already, I will build it. I will find those people who dance to other music, and I will hold a space for them, and maybe if I hold that space, I too will be acceptable, I too will belong somewhere.

There is no Midian.

What I thought was a promising space turned into yet another social fail. Yet another wounding experience that sends me scurrying back into my hole, unable to cope with the light. This weekend, had I been able to fake an enthusiasm for sport, there are any number of places I could have shown up for camaraderie. I’d need to be ok about drunken shouting for that, and like Grendal, I find the drunken shouting difficult to take. Although it may be worth mentioning that I’ve never trashed anyone’s mead hall.

There is no Midian, and the fairy story that had given me hope is just another illusion and try as I might, I cannot make it real. I’m very tired this morning. All the other stories, I realise, have us as lone witch women deep in the forest, lone black knights. Outsiders who help insiders work out who they are, because they are not Other. Perhaps belonging is more meaningful if you can see the shadows of those who do not belong and know what is at stake if you do not conform to the requirements of the tribe. Look, act, dress and speak the part, uphold the same values and never question what they do. It’s not the case that if you act out, the wicked witch or the bogeyman will get you, it’s the case that if you fail to fit, that is who you become.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

19 responses to “No place like home, and other stories

  • Linda Boeckhout

    I think even in a group of relatively like minded people, we ultimately find ourselves alone. Even a close-knit group like a family is not destined to last eventually. I try to see ephemeral moments of companionship as little lights on a forest path in a dark night. I do not expect to come home in this lifetime. I hope you’ll meet those new lights too, but I think it’s very human to be disappointed about it now.

  • Sable Aradia

    I often feel this way too. I loved Median. You know what the problem is; us weirdos are so busy doing things we never take time just to hang out and chat. I’ve been there; local SCA, local Pagan groups, local goth groups, etc. etc. Take what you can from the groups you join and try not to take it too personally when you’re not embraced by all of them. And social faux pas can be recovered from. I never learned the girl game well. People have to explain it to me. I don’t get unspoken social cues very well and I end up tripping up eventually. Often people forgive you if you’re willing to be vulnerable, I find. And if they don’t – well, f*ck ’em.

  • angharadlois

    This is a story with a lot of depths and hidden currents, which provoked a lot of reflection…

    “It’s not the case that if you act out, the wicked witch or the bogeyman will get you, it’s the case that if you fail to fit, that is who you become.” A lot of people seem to take pride in this particular story, particularly within the pagan community, in my experience. Though perhaps that is just bravado. Not fitting can be horribly difficult, but I find it equally hard to think of an alternative (other than just “not being me,” which I have had to give up on recently, realising it was never going to work).

    Personally, I have always struggled with the notion of “tribe” in modern paganism – the idea that we somehow belong more to each other than to everything else around us. I used to get beaten up at school for being not enough of either one thing or another, and it has left me wary of any notion of “tribe” and any kind of belonging based on something other than mutually respectful relationship. The internet provides access to a community of like-minded acquaintances with whom I can discuss ideas like these and, although my involvement waxes and wanes, it feels good to know it is there. Then there are neighbours and colleagues, the people I spend most time during the week, and even though we have almost nothing in common other than our neighbourhood or workplace, we find ways to get along. But most importantly, I am lucky enough to have gathered a close-knit (albeit scattered) community of friends who truly feel like family – mostly the misfits from school/university/various jobs who gravitated towards a fellow misfit and, in these wonderful cases, stuck. I have never read Clive Barker (though am adding him to my reading list now!) but I suspect that if Midian is to be found anywhere in my world, it is here.

    All of which left me pondering…
    What if Midian is real; but just much, much smaller than expected?

    • Nimue Brown

      we’ve talked about that size issue too. There are two of us. I think there’s a critical mass for resilient communities, and 2 isn’t it, but small and real is better than the imaginary and achievable.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    Nimue aren’t you again trying to be what you are not. I have ever fit i and she I gave up trig to fit i s when I relaxed. There are advantages to being the outsider. You are seen as curious, interesting, sometimes even brave and daring by the rest of the people that are so desperately trying to fit in when really few us really do fit in anywhere.

    We are not supposed to be the same though it is certainly pushed on us. It makes us easier to predict, easier to control, easier to rule, and certainly easier to make a bigger profit off of if we can convinced to do, want, need ad buy the same as everyone else.

    That does to mean we cannot cooperate, or share some interests, but not at the cost of giving up our uniqueness. I am an outsider and proud of it. I can dip into my society, but I don’t have to be part of it, and be just like everyone else. I am not a sheep.

    Enjoy you uniqueness. Had the gods wanted everyone to be the same, we would have been built that way. Why try to be what we are not, and not want to be. Accept the fact that the gods knew exactly what they were doing when they designed you the way that your are.

    • Nimue Brown

      I need to change how I think about this stuff. years of pressure to accommodate and be useful to others regardless of the cost to me. I am rethinking, and I am not playing this game any more if I can manage it.

      • Christopher Blackwell

        As the Greeks said, “Know thyself”. Be the real you and associate more with people who accept you as you are. Avoid those that tear you down or demand that you change to fit them. I know it is especially hard for a woman because of generations of how we have trained girls to be. Feel free to use the word no. It is a word of power setting your boundaries of what you will allow done to you.

        Stop before you reach your limits and be honest that you have them. We all do. Going beyond your limits leads to burn out ad we have far too much of that in our Pagan communities. Do difficult things when you have the energy to tackle them. But during ties of low energy, do simpler things that you can do. You will still have that sense of achievement by getting something donee.

        Arrange for me time. There are somethings that you need for yourself that only you can provide for. Do what you need for yourself. You will be happier and easier to be around. Don’t wait for someone else do it for your, but do it for yourself.

        You are built the way your are for some reason though we may not know for what. But each of us affects others and sometimes their reaction to us is needed for their own growth just as our reaction to others my be needed for our own growth. But don’t forget to set your own limits y how things affect you.

        Use you own pain and suffering in a positive way when possible. Sometimes we are fortunate to be able to turn our own suffering into compassion for others also suffering. We all need support at some times and when hurting is when we often feel the most alone.

        Now you do not have to take on all the suffering people. No you might woke with one on occasion. Six months after my partner died, a little over a year ago a neighbor lost the grand daughter she had been caring for to cancer.I told her I could to do anything about the pain, but that she could come over and talk with me whenever she needed it.

        So she did daily at first and she talked about her grand daughter. Later we talked about her life as a police women and still later about day to to day life whatever she needed to talk about. Daily turned to weekly and now to monthly sometimes, but I always have and hour of my time if needed.

        As her need ended, an online friend lost his parter of twenty years, at the beginning of this year. So in this case it is E-mail. But again whatever he needs post about. Sometimes I share my own experiences. Again I am just available. We started with several e-mail posts a year and now we are dow to a single post a day. But it can change if need be.

        So no I do to dedicate my whole day to it, just what I am comfortable with. But I find this has a good effect on me as well, and I have found a positive use for an experience of mine.

  • Éilis Niamh

    Nimue, sister…I say because I recognize myself in that same elusive tribe of people…I’m sorry you are so exhausted and down. I can feel your pain in your words. I have been there. Recently.

    “A tribe of wild, open hearted people, not merely unafraid of things being serious and intense, but welcoming that, feeding on it, wanting and needing intensity and meaning as much as I do. A tribe where people think about things, and care, and don’t do as they’re told, and aren’t afraid of difference.” This is what I have been looking for my whole life, too. I think, very sadly, you are right that they don’t exist…in this world anyway. No, not in this world. People have small selves here. People get scared to be themselves, try seeking power over others, are terrified of some differences while embracing others, grow imperfectly, get a lot of scars, get defensive for those reasons, don’t feel enough to shine their light and often don’t like people who do. Some of us do all those things occasionally and know to apologize and keep working on ourselves. Others don’t.

    The thing is, this intense wild and loving sense of belonging and home, it’s the divine light, it’s soul life, and I found it. I can only share my experience, it is this: I looked inside myself and found my belonging already there, that I am already enough, that separation isn’t real and I have belonged all my life and I came home. Here’s the awesome bit. I didn’t just center in myself and become my own group of one. That would have been okay in a way but hugely disappointing. I mean I love myself but a community of one within yourself isn’t exactly what your dream was made of, right? Well, I came home within myself, and I then realized I am part of everywhere and everyone and everywhen. And then I met many, many absolutely incredible awesome people (not gods, people who used to be embodied humans) in the otherworld. If I wanted to describe them, I would use your words I quoted earlier, and would not have to qualify anything. I have never, ever felt alone since then, even when people in this world do their small self stuff which is painful and makes me feel betrayed and foolish for trying. And, when I’m about doing small self stuff because I’m still growing in this world and it happens, the people I know in the otherworld help me grow, and don’t abandon me, or reject me.

    So my experience is that this place you heard about in fairytales just might be a metaphor for the world beyond and intertwined with this one. There are more people there than there are here. You can choose to walk your journey with whoever resonates with you. Oh and there are also other kinds of beings like nature beings, trees, animals, you don’t even have to stick with humans. And maybe you just want to stay only in this world. Some people really feel at home here. I personally never have. It’s all up to you. But just know what you’re longing for, what you see in the stories that you’re hoping have truth to them but aren’t sure in what way, it’s not a dream that has already flown or never was. There is this way you are already home and centered in that belonging you’ve been wanting. It’s living consciously aware of all that every day which would fill the gap between wanting and knowing. I have done this and am on the other side of longing, which is belonging.

    Sorry for the novel! Hugs.

  • Éilis Niamh

    Belonging is not the same as fitting in. Whenever I have decided to conform, be like everyone else, do what everyone else does just because, play a part, turn my life into an anthropological assimilation, I have only succeeded in betraying myself. I don’t find it tolerable when I personally don’t live by my own truth, when I actively don’t act with integrity. I end up feeling emotionally awful, and what is worse, I fall back into the illusion of separateness and go through the motions and stop living consciously. I’ve even made myself physically ill from running from myself. It’s never worked for me. I would rather do whatever I need to do to truly be living regardless of whether I fit in than be in that isolated, fearful, lonely, surreal place of feeling cut off from everything. I decide, sometimes I have to decide moment by moment, to stay present instead. It is worth it!

    That makes me an outsider, depending on your definition of what’s outside and what isn’t. (but goodness, hardly a loner or a bogey person, just me, trying to live exactly how you described the people you’d feel at home with.) I’ve fought that most of my life. I’m also thirty something and realizing I can accept and embrace that part about who I am and not run from it. That’s scary, at least to me. It’s easier for some people. I do it anyway because I want to wake up to who I really am and live authentically, live out loud, really put my all into existing. Sometimes, that means doing really difficult things. Sometimes ending friendships, moving on when that’s hard, saying no, or saying yes when you’d rather go hide under your bed with noise canceling headphones. (I mean I’m totally blind, so don’t need the blindfold.) 🙂

    But I’ve found it’s in the end easier to be me than not me. I’m doing all sorts of wonderful, awesome things too, things can definitely be intense, but usually with emotions like enthusiasm or joy or wonder. And always when I find I’m an outsider to one community or group or way of being, I still feel I belong, and am never alone, in the way I shared earlier. I certainly am not an outsider by myself. 🙂 And when all is said and done, I wouldn’t want to live any other way. I mean that. Light to you.

    • Nimue Brown

      Fitting in is not belonging. I should probably have that tattooed somewhere about my person, because it is such an obvious point now that you’ve said it, and the price of fitting in is, as you point out, actually reducing that bigger sense of belonging. thank you, you’ve nailed something huge for me there.

    • angharadlois

      “Belonging is not the same as fitting in” – I love this. So true.

  • Lea

    On the surface, I seem to fit in. It’s something about my personality, my energy, that makes me appear to be “normal”. And sometimes fitting in can be just as lonely, because people don’t see the you that you try to show them, they see the you they want and expect from someone who makes them feel good.

    The frustration of that, of showing my true heat and people refusing to look at it for what it is, has led me to choose to walk mostly alone. Of course, I’m lucky enough to love and be loved by someone who sees me as I really am – sees the dark pieces, the strangely shaped and textured pieces – and lives and accepts me anyway. Our tribe consists of less than a dozen people (ourselves included), most of whom we left behind in search of that mythic idea of a physical home.

    So give yourself time to recover from this, but don’t let it steal your hope. Like angharadlois said, true tribe is not a universal belonging, but a few faces that welcome you with warmth because you’re all different, not just from the norm, but from one another, as well.

    I hope my errors can help, or at least not harm. I wish you well, Nimue.

  • River Stone

    Dear Nimue, others here have expressed words of support and I would like to add my voice to theirs. I haven’t met you (maybe I will one day, as we’re both UK-based), and I wouldn’t presume to say I feel like I know you, but your words matter to me and so I care about you, this person I haven’t met or know, because of your words. I extend wishes of care and solidarity to you, with a sincere heart. Take care.

  • Gwion

    If Midian is the place where all the misfits go (I haven’t read the book), perhaps you’ve found it; perhaps it’s called Earth.

    My observation is that everyone here on Earth is desperate to be accepted and terrified that others will see the real them and reject them. The ones who surround themselves with the biggest crowds are the least secure; the bigger the party animal the more fragile the person inside. So what appears to be others basking in the security of their tribe is just a group of individuals each trying hard to be accepted – and most often feeling that they’re failing, even while the other misfits envy their apparent popularity. If this seems a pessimistic view of life I’d argue that it’s not really. It just accepts that, whilst we’re all different, we all have the same basic drives – so we’re not really that different from each other after all!

    I don’t expect others to like me – but then I don’t expect them to dislike me either. I don’t blame those who reject me; they’re too busy trying to avoid rejection themselves to have the time or energy to cater for my needs but, so long as I’m not threatening their own acceptance by the “tribe” they’re trying to join, they’re likely to tolerate me.

    Why struggle to change yourself or put on a false face in order to join a group that is after all, only an illusion? Once one realises that the “tribe” is an illusion, it’s quite comfortable to live on the fringes of them, neither accepted nor actively rejected, just getting on with staying alive.

  • Questions of Belonging | Druid Life

    […] few days ago I blogged from a state of despair about issues of tribe. It elicited some incredibly helpful comments. Thank you all of you who shared and inspired me. On […]

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