Be Yourself Reality

Being Different Is Not Cute And Fun But Be Yourself Anyway

I began my writing career at fourteen as a poet. Poetry allowed me to survive fear and anger and hope in verse and rhythm and iambic pentameter when there were no characters or plot lines that could describe how different I felt. And when I took a five-year hiatus from writing in my 20s, I came back to my odd ways of looking at the world again through poetry. I’ve even had two poems published (Confessions Of A Church Attending and My Thirteenth Birthday) and another poem on domestic violence used in a prison writing class. I don’t post poems Late Enough for a variety of reasons, but this humor and opinion blog is dedicated to poetry and being yourself, which you’d only know if you’d read since day ninety.

“Late enough” is from a line in the poem The Journey by Mary Oliver.

“It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road fill of fallen
branches and stones.”

The poem is about how one day you finally have to pick up your life and live it even when others think your choices are wrong or want you to stay and fix their lives. You have to shake them off and brave the wild night because you’ve already waited so long as there must be a sense of urgency around an unlived life. It’s not too late but it is late enough. As you trudge along the path, over time the stars come out and you feel stronger and you venture further into the world to live the only life you can live — your own.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

© Mary Oliver

While my life was at a major crossroads over a decade ago, I’ve also felt this way at various times since then — to push on or to stop, hide, run back. Those moments where the stars dim and I can either continue into the unknown and live my life my way, or I can live another person’s version of an acceptable life and all the uncomfortable silence it demands.. I named my blog “late enough” to remind me to stop waiting for approval or safety or enough understanding to embrace who am I and what I believe. To write as if I was not afraid to be wrong, but I also as if I was not afraid to be right.

But it’s not easy to live as yourself if you aren’t naturally like those in your community, whether online or in real life. People have talked and shared quotes about Be Yourself and Wave Your Freak Flag and Live Out Loud since I was my children’s age, but actually doing it when you aren’t surrounded by thousands of people doing exactly what you are doing? It’s uncomfortable. Living on the edge without angrily telling everyone to screw off? Without shaking? Or crying? To stand there and calmly say This is what I believe and This is what I’ve been through and None of this makes me bad or broken or even better than you and None of this means you can dismiss me or be rude to me or treat me less or more or different and What you are doing doesn’t make sense or feel right and it’s okay for me to not do it, too.

The original. The half-truth.

The posters and mottos should say: Be yourself within a range of norms with which your community is comfortable. At least those of us who feel different and act different and believe the world needs to change would know what we are getting into and what we are expected to grow out of when we become adults.

Be Yourself Reality
I’m not saying I’m that girl. I’m saying I’m the person who says what happens to that girl.

I was told recently that I’m a tree on the edge of the forest and that is what makes the forest grow. It felt really good after a tough few weeks. Liberating. Powerful. I rushed home to look up the quote online to post as my new motto. Except it doesn’t exist. She made it up to make me feel better about feeling like a misfit. I couldn’t even bring myself to read the ecology papers to find out whether trees on the edge help forests at all. I didn’t want to be disappointed that I don’t help, or worse, to find out the middle trees are the most important trees.

Because the truth is, I see people who are trees in the middle, whether by accident or by choice or by fear, and I think it must be nice in there. Safe. Calm. Cool. Sometimes, I want my kids to live in the middle. Sometimes, I stop venturing further along in the wild path, and I head back to the voices who tugged at me for so long. I cry and rage and hide under my covers until I remind myself that I had my moment years ago and it was already late enough. I can’t stop now. I can’t go back.

I’m not good at being quiet and cute and acceptable. I never was. My opinions and my battles are mine to voice on here and out there in the real world. The poem The Journey ends with hope but also with the reminder that you need determination because the nights are still wild and the stars aren’t always out. I just have to be the tree I’m meant to be and appreciate the view because in the end, my life is at its best when I make it my life.

Realities of Being a Misfit

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Hulking with the Hulk

The Hulk And True Bravery

When I was a toddler, I used to scrunch up my face and make upside down muscle arms, and my parents would run away as I chased them around and around and around the house. They called it THE HULK.

The story goes that we once went to a park near our home in Maryland, and I saw a Kindergarten-age boy who MADE ME ANGRY so I tightened my face and bared my teeth and popped out my delts, triceps and biceps and I HULKED.

And the boy stared at me like What are you doing little two year old girl the wind might blow over?

I thought: Why are you not running away in horror like my grownups do?

So I hulked harder.

The boy stared at my gummy mouth and weird breathing, and I stared back with the fury of a hundred giant green gamma-rayed monsters. He shrugged and continued playing as though his life was not at risk.

I was paralyzed with confusion. Imagine one day being The Hulk and the next day being only a tiny toddler.

The reminiscing ends there, but I imagine my mom stepped in and began running away from me so I could continue to believe in my Hulking.

Because I do.

Hulking with the Hulk

I still got it, but not everyone takes after me. When I see this photo days later, my daughter’s not hulking, and I wondered if I’ve failed her. She’s going to need to be strong in this world because people are mean and judgmental and confusing. If she won’t be The Hulk, who will she be? Is she the kid in the park? Too grown-up or disinterested to play along? Is she Betty Ross, Bruce Banner’s on again off again wife and assistant, who is destined to fix or demand we be rid of The Hulk every chance she gets?

I look at the photograph longer as I think of her wild outfits and shy attempts to befriend others. And I finally recognize that she’s the bravest of us all. Because while we mimic, ignore, fix or put up fronts and hope these make us bigger and stronger in this harsh world, she is willing to hold a ferocious green monster’s hand and give a little smile no matter what everyone around her is doing. Her instincts are kindness, which is exactly what this hard life needs the most.

Note: My son has this bravery, too, as he is so kind that parents in his class routinely stop me to let me know how he’s helped their child in one way or another, and E is also not hulking in the photo. He’s probably ninja fist-bumping someone over a math problem well-done.

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