A caveat: This was a writing exercise about “On-The-Outside-Looking-In”
and is not the sum total of my life, just my life looking through this lens.
On-The-Outside-Looking-In. I don’t remember when or why I began feeling On-The-Outside-Looking-In. I felt that way in High School, even though I had friends. I felt that way in Junior High, and had friends. It may go back to the fact that I was shy, or maybe that we moved every fricking year, sometimes mid-semester, due to my mother’s non-payment of rent. I am lucky I was smart and a good student, or my life would have been screwed. I owe a debt for my smarts to my mom and brothers. Hell, maybe On-The-Outside-Looking-In began with my brothers, who were 15 years older than I was and had each other in a different way than I had them. They could lay in bed at night after a ruckus with my mom and dad and say, “Did you hear THAT?” and find camaraderie. I didn’t even know many of the stories about how screwed up my parents were until I pried them out of the Boyz as I got older. And I grew up alone with her, which means I didn’t know the lies told until I repeated one of them and my brother (doesn’t matter which one) would say, “Whaaaa?”
On-The-Outside-Looking-In. One of 13 women in five years of architecture at USC. REALLY On-The-Outside-Looking-In to the good-old-boys-club. When I had abusive professors it was hell. I became tough to the verbal abuse thrown at me in the middle of a presentation packed with my peers: “Were you painting your nails? Too busy at the sorority? Too many hot dates?” They treated the men with respect, even when they were nailing them. I didn’t paint my nails and wasn’t a member of a sorority and even tried to tone down my good looks with a tight bun, Earth Shoes and men’s Levis, but why look at the facts (same was true then as now.) My only regret is that I didn’t tell them to fuck off. I was a pretty polite 18-year-old and took it personally because I had never been treated like a stupid blonde. I didn’t know it was THEM. I quit once, but Pierre Koenig and Ed Niles saw something in me and brought me back, gave me hope and time to make up the missed project.
On-The-Outside-Looking-In. I finished college, but didn’t follow the path of school chums and became an in-house architect for I’ve-Been-Moved (IBM, but see the connection from my childhood, too funny!) I couldn’t commiserate with my friends who had no money. I didn’t have to worry about where my next project was, because it was always right in front of me — the entire Western USA of IBM office buildings. But I was bored, quickly. I mean, how many of those can you do without feeling skull-brain dead?
On-The-Outside-Looking-In. My IBM manager told me he was not going to recommend me for the plum transfer to San Jose. “Too tough for a girl, they will eat you alive, even one as good as yourself.” San Jose was a stepping stone to Europe to Armonk and to the head of IBM, which the friend I recommended for hire (a man) was chosen for and yes, he went all the way. I left to work for Gensler, not a bad move after all.
On-The-Outside-Looking-In. I had a life and friends, and here is where my On-The-Outside-Looking-In changes a lot. I could afford an apartment by myself, and loved the freedom of living alone. Sometimes I missed the supposed fun of the friends who shared a big house in Santa Monica with the ever-revolving pick of fighting roommates, but not really; I usually went to their parties. I discovered buddhism, and wanted time to read and meditate, which set me apart from my friends, who had no interests in a spiritual life at all. I discussed these pursuits with nobody. I could not attend the local sangha’s events early in the morning (I might have run into my oldest brother, what a hoot) due to my work schedule, and so, again, I was On-The-Outside-Looking-In. I worked, played, became a pretty good cook, read, meditated, saw a therapist, and spent a lot of time by myself. I liked it, and turned into an avid journaler. Getting sober at 30 both threw me further into On-The-Outside-Looking-In (how to dance sober, how to party sober, how to relax sober, and sleepless nights when the world was asleep, sober) AND made me a part of a secret club for the first time in my life! What a dichotomy!
On-The-Outside-Looking-In. When I finally married the first time, I moved to Oregon and was a stepmother. Goddess, talk about On-The-Outside-Looking-In. Californians are persona non grata in Oregon. My parrot-colored clothing sent them running in their forest-colored organic cotton Birkenstocks. My former husband and I did not have a peaceful marriage, and we learned a lot from each other, and we often were very separate. I was not able to have babies, and so became On-The-Outside-Looking-In living in a community that demanded you have kids, be gay (not), or be in the Shakespeare club (gads NEVER!) They suspected you didn’t like them if you didn’t have them. (Why don’t people ever ask? I like kids.) Step-parents get a bad rap too, and I have done it twice. NEVER AGAIN. I was included when it suited them to enjoy my Christmas tradition (their Jewish mother did not celebrate Christmas), but was not considered family after twelve years. On the other hand, I wrote and painted and continued on my path to consciousness. I dropped in on my therapist when I needed to talk about pithy issues outside my marriage. I finally began to feel alone in that I wanted to share my pursuit of consciousness, and my therapist, a Vedic practitioner, said, “It is a lonely path; the people you resonate with are a handful and scattered like stars.”
On-The-Outside-Looking-In. My first husband died. No one else my age had a dead husband, and it was a shockingly lonely time. It served me well. I learned to my bones the lesson of impermanence.
On-The-Outside-Looking-In. Met my current husband, my soul mate, twins, and found out what a Town-Without-Pity-Can-Do: gossip. Our being together banished us to the edge of all possible community, which was funny as we were both single. The town had other ideas for both of us. My husband is a partner for the first time in every sense of the word. And he brought more stepchildren. His son was a college-aged ass with an undermining mom when I met him, and no real loss there. I was a stepmom to a child who had a dead mother, unlike my first marriage’s two stepchildren, who had a good mom. I raised this child from twelve on, and loved her like she was my own, with all my heart. After all was said and done, I was totally dispensable, and it hurt being discarded.
On-The-Outside-Looking-In. A dozen years later things have changed again. Business partnership AND wondrous lovely marriage. We are living in a city. We work together, sometimes in separate parts of our building, and some days feel isolated, but we have each other and the cats we love and the Best-Time-of-the-Day, the time when we curl up to read or watch murderous English tele or paint or write.
On-The-Outside-Looking-In. Recently, I was forced to step away from a spiritual family that I enjoyed because they decided to charge fees and frankly, I cannot afford them. So back to my childhood, for the first time in my adult life money is keeping me On-The-Outside-Looking-In. I’ve made wonderful connections in this group, and will keep those folks around with which to share. It has made me scrutinize the group and the various people running the group. I’ve noticed that the ones who run it rarely share who they are, are defensive about the most innocuous questions, and rarely are vulnerable as are most of the other participants. The spiritual teacher who died (and his death was the prompting for this group to form) was not defended at all, but quite open about his vulnerable parts. The best teachers are, and teach by example, learning along the way. He was an amazing man, and humbly stepped aside for everyone to bring forth their truth, and also offered his. My experience is only those who want to hide out as pretend-gurus are not vulnerable themselves.
Exceptions are made every day and in many ways for folks eager to participate in spiritual endeavors until such time as costs can be reached. However, that is not an option offered to me, and I have come to the what’s-so of this. This online “ism” is not for me. However, this recent ousting in my life prompted me to write about this issue of On-The-Outside-Looking-In. That issue has changed dramatically in 50 years, and I am happy to see the growth in this area.
On-The-Outside-Looking-In can bring forth feelings of humiliation, sadness, otherness, inadequacy, and loneliness; I have felt many of these things. Today it brings awareness, and a looking-in at what is really lost and what is really important. I’m narrowing my life to what fills my soul as I approach my Saturn return. Turns out it is the friends I’ve made in the group. I was never able to share what is most important about my life freely with the group, because it’s considered advertising. (Really?) Looking closely, I will only miss one thing about the pages of possibilities of the group, the dreamwork, and I have other venues for that.
What is On-The-Outside-Looking-In REALLY all about? My husband can identify with it. Most artists and writers can identify with it, and of course, they embody the otherness of the Creative. Being different gives you a lot of alone time to create, because those that are always part-of-the-crowd can’t take that time or they also become persona non grata to the groups to which they belong.
Alone is not lonely. Lonely is for someone or something that is missing. It’s a body ache, a feeling of hollowness in your heart. Loneliness can be a wakeup call to what is missing in your life. It is nice to have dialogue with friends with shared values, or maybe a better way of saying this is the shorthand of shared values and experiences. I don’t need 100 friends, just a few that are interested in life, have a quirky sense of humor even in dark times, have staying power, and are willing to go deep into whatever subject is at hand, even if we don’t agree. The latter is interesting to me, exploring a side that is different to my viewpoint, but I have rules. You can’t abandon over the differences!
With artists the dialogue is imagery. I care about their paintings, sketches, sculpture, color, line, and excitement for their work. I thrill each day with the many artists globally with whom I share images through the internet. I worship at the feet of the Creative, publicly, and continue to work my practice as a Buddhist, mostly privately, and mostly because I don’t have much to “share” about Buddhism unless someone has a question. I sit. I reflect. I practice tonglen.
Maybe everyone feels On-The-Outside-Looking-In. Many say they don’t. Where do you feel On-The-Outside-Looking-In? How has this shaped your life? Has it enlivened it?
If all the people who are On-The-Outside-Looking-In were to band together, what kind of club would that look like?
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