Sunday, July 22, 2012

Letter to a Young Misfit

There was a big memorial service on Sunday for those who were slain or wounded in the massacre at a Century 14 movie theater outside of Denver, Colorado last week.

Like many, I have tried to make sense of an event that will never make sense. Like many, I wonder why anyone would do something like this, especially someone who was so accomplished, and so bright.

So, in the spirit of Rainer Maria Rilke's wonderful "Letter to a Young Poet," and as someone who knows a little something about being a misfit, I write this letter:

Dear Misfit,

You may think you're alone in your isolation, but you're not. Many share your experience. I, for one, know what it's like to feel like you don't fit in. In high school, I was reading Dostoyevsky and Jean Genet, smoking dope, and ditching class in stairways. I'd read Rimbaud and sneer at anyone who didn't know what surrealism meant.

While many of my classmates were either enlisting to fight in Vietnam, or prepping for ivy league colleges, I was an outcast, yet went on to graduate Summa Cum Laude from a state university in New York. And what did I do with my 4.0 cumulative index? I worked as a temporary secretary in an advertising agency. I had nothing but contempt for my situation in life. I was a poet, and thought I was brilliant. Try as I might, I never fit in then, and I don't fit in much better now.

If you consistently check the "other" box, odds are you're a misfit. But, lest you think being a misfit is unique, if medals could be given to all those who, at one time or another, felt like they didn't belong somewhere, two-thirds of us would get them.

I wanted to make a name for myself. Somehow, I think you know what I mean by that. You have a name, but it has never felt quite right to you like a belt that is too tight.

You know what it is to feel incarcerated within yourself. But, remember, you have built that prison. You have an address, but it has never felt like home to you.

You collect friends many of whom like letting their feet dangle off the edge of a roof.

Even when you're alone, you're not really alone, but filled with the contempt and criticism of others. It is as if there are a hundred fingers pointing at you in an empty room.

You awake every morning trying to convince yourself your dreams aren't nightmares, but they are.

You think no one understands what you're thinking, and you're right, except that
everyone (well, almost everyone) understands what you're saying. The words you use are not known only by you. The silence you hide behind is not exclusive to you.

You fumble for answers, but keep reinventing the questions so that answers will forever elude you. You want them to elude you. You mystify enigma, then call it science. You have less interest in the questions than the answers. You confuse the journey with the destination. Death is something that happens to somebody else.

At one time, you thought life was a joke, but you know better than that now.

You read books whose authors are obscure, and surround yourself with minutia that you compel others to believe are facts.

As one misfit to another, may I make a few suggestions?

You can't hide behind your contempt for the worldview of others, and then expect them to worship your intelligence.

More important, nobody gives a shit whether you fit or not. You needn't care either. Life is in a constant state of flux, and you must prepare to change with it. Life isn't about labels. In death, whether you're a priest or a predator, you will stink just the same.

It doesn't matter whether you're a scientist, pre-med, a straight A student, an artist, or a bricklayer. It doesn't matter how smart you are, or how much you think you know. All that matters is your heart. Your heart is not a fortress meant to protect you from imagined injuries from others, but instead a door that must open to let others through.

What you condemn most, you become.

If you commit acts of evil and, yes, as poet William Blake said, there is such a thing as evil, make no mistake, you will be damned for all eternity for those mistakes. Only the heartless may not forgive you down the road, but no one will forget what you've done. Do not confuse fame with infamy.

Don't corrupt stillness, and solitude with a pathological need to get the attention of others. Don't confuse an explosive mind with that of a visionary.

Galileo was a misfit, Joan of Arc was a misfit, Albert Einstein was a misfit, James Dean was a misfit, Jack Kerouac was a misfit, Hunter S. Thompson was a misfit; do not confuse the radically different visions that set them apart from the world with the twisted, and vapid contempt for humanity that was displayed in Aurora, Colorado at midnight on July 20, 2012. To do so would itself be an act of depravity.