“This is what we want. We don’t want to be Americans or Germans or English. We want to be extra environmentalists. Always feel that where ever you go, you are a stranger, the outsider, the one looking in. This is the viewpoint that makes all places the same to you.” – Terrance McKenna
Every time I’ve heard that quote, I’ve wondered why McKenna would think that there is something good about always being the outsider. It may sound strange to some, knowing what you do about my nomadic life thus far, but I’ve always hated being the outsider. Part of my travel strategy is to become and insider as fast as possible. Find a small connection fast and grow it into a network of roots that support life in all its messy forms.
The problem is, I may have connection after a fashion, but I don’t have a legible identity. That’s a hard thing. Sometimes this can cause some serious heartache. The way that other people view you has serious repercussions on what you can and cannot do in the world, even if we like to pretend that’s not the case. When we choose to live a life that doesn’t fit someone else’s ideal, we are making trade offs just as surely as the people who choose to live their lives inside a tidier socially-constructed box.
It is not fun to be questioned at airports because my travel patterns look strange. It is not fun to be questioned by strangers about why I “can’t” settle down. It is even less fun to be questioned by family members of someone close to me because they are “concerned” that I’m somehow a bad influence on that person. (Because, you know, mentoring someone in a high-paying profession and getting them involved in charity work is really dangerous.) McKenna’s idea that there is value in always being the stranger does not sit quite right with me, even as I live that reality.
I’ve been accused of being too honest for my own good. I’ve tried to learn to hold back pieces of myself, to not be wholly all the parts of me in front of any one person or any one group at any time. That’s so hard. The real me is all of the pieces. Coaching ice skating has influenced how I teach programming. Living in third world counties has influenced what kind of software projects I care to put my personal energy into developing. My mystical religious experiences play a role in the way I deal with difficult situations and how I help friends through theirs.
This week I feel very much the outsider. The weather in Glasgow is mirroring my mood as a few days of sun have given way to rain, and I feel isolated once again. I haven’t had time yet to build up a real social circle here, just a few friends that I speak to in single context spaces. I feel embarrassed every time I open my mouth and someone misunderstands me because my American accent is so “thick”. It’s ironic that I seem most American to people in other English speaking countries. In Israel everyone thought I was from Argentina. In El Salvador I was always pegged as a Mexican. In Mexico they always noticed my supposed Salvadoran accent.
All I can do to get through this is turn to my practice and ask the Land and the spirits around me for their support. They’ve come to my aid before. Prayer and meditation are not just crutches; they are fuel for my spirit and the foundation of my resilience.