Finding myself neither here nor there

by Kristin on April 15, 2010

in Culture, ideas & paradigms

Photo by Kenneth Lu

I’m in Grand Rapids for the Festival of Faith & Writing, which starts today. I’m here on my own—not with a colleague or pal—so I’m feeling slightly anxious. Will I meet people and enjoy good connections and real conversation? Or will I be sitting alone at lunch, feeling as lost as I did my first week at college?

I have to admit, I really thought that by this point in my life I would magically always fit in, because that’s what adults do, right? At the very least, I thought I would no longer want to fit in. But alas, this is yet another one of those myths about adulthood. There’s a long list, that starts something like this: You will no longer have petty hurt feelings between friends;  you will have a clear complexion; you will stop growing and be able to fit into your favorite jeans forever; and you will feel confident and comfortable wherever you go. Yeah right.

On the outside, through my adolescent and teen years, I managed to fit in fairly well. But on the inside I felt like an odd-ball. Much of that feeling came from the growing importance of my faith in my life. I went to a public school, and while there were certainly many people who went to church, I never felt like religion was something you could admit to, let alone talk about. I didn’t know how to weave together all the parts of who I was.

Trying something different

When it was time to look at colleges, I was intrigued by the idea of going to an academically rigorous Christian college, like Calvin. I visited, and the students seemed normal enough—they dressed like the kids I knew and did things like play frisbee on the commons lawn. But they also went to chapel together and had Bible studies in the dorm lobbies. Maybe this would be a place I could fully be myself, I thought.

Being a student at Calvin College was a wonderful experience in most ways, but I still didn’t completely fit in. I was too liberal, I had the wrong kind of Bible, I was dark-haired among a sea of Dutch blondes, and I didn’t graduate from a Christian high school or know anything about Calvin’s Institutes.

Getting used to a life in between

Now, 20 years later, my search for “fitting in” has mostly faded, but there are still moments when those doubts sneak in. I blame social media—mostly blogging and Twitter—for this new bout of self-questioning. When you’re interacting with people online, it helps to neatly package who you are and what you care about, so that others who share those qualities and interests can find you. I’ve written my Twitter bio and my “about this blog” spiel. I’ve felt not quite accepted by mommy bloggers or by faith-focused bloggers, because I don’t wholly commit myself to one camp or the other.

I’ve also run across a number of people who are smart and genuine and open—who write well and crave real dialogue—but it’s difficult to really categorize them as a certain definable group.

Which brings me back to conferences. Sigh. Trying to find the right conference to go to has brought all of this angst to a head. I can’t seem to find the conference for “people who are Christians and parents but write on a variety of other topics, and who take seriously the process of thinking and the craft of writing, yet aren’t willing to let their careers to engulf their life.” Where is that conference, anyway?

So now here I am, sort of back where I started: at Calvin College. This time I’m here for a three-day conference, not a four-year degree, but I feel sort of the same way about it (with the added benefit of some wisdom): This probably won’t be the perfect fit for me, but it’s still going to be a great learning experience. I’m going to absorb all I can, meet some kindred spirits in person for the first time (like Rachel Held Evans!), and enjoy observing a world I’m not fully a part of.

Ultimately, I’m realizing there really isn’t a perfect fit for me—and that’s just fine.

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  • Dave

    On the contrary, I think you fit in exactly where God needs you and wants you to be! You have a gift. Relax and enjoy.

  • erin

    Thank God you don’t “fit” in the prescribed places you “should”–I don’t either, and it’s really relieving to find kindred spirits as we stumble along the “wrong” paths :-)

    (PS I was always the sand in the oyster in college, too. I went to the ever-conservative-Baptist Samford U in Alabama–I was the liberal, Springsteen-listening, quirkily-dressed girl who wanted to be a minister *gasp!*) HA!!

    You’ll be fine today. It’ll be fun to hear about all the sudden moments of nostalgia that are sure to happen as you wander around campus.

    Take a deep breath, being thankful for who you are now, and where the journey since college has taken you–even if it hasn’t always been the “right” path. You’re not alone. :-)

  • Sam

    I totally feel you, especially lately. I hope you’ll enjoy the conference and makes some friends along the way…

    We can’t find the right church, and the place I do attend for Bible study/Moms group is so NOT me, theologically – I am definitely the liberal, President Obama-loving outsider. We considered going to church there for awhile, but I had to put my foot down – I knew I would silence my authentic self/soul in that atmosphere. No reason to squish my round self in that square hole.

    Sometimes, I think it’s a gift to not fit in. A lonely gift, but it gives you so much perspective. I think it shows a life that asks questions, doesn’t keep up with the Joneses…but I also know the comfort and fun of finding a group that definitely includes your Whoness.

  • Meredith

    Instead of thinking about it as “not fitting in” (which frames the issue in the negative), maybe you could think about it in a positive way: it’s not that you don’t fit in; rather, it’s that your interests and talents spread across so many different parts of life that you’re too fabulous to be reduced to one label (a faith blogger or a mommy blogger). Sometimes it’s as simple as rethinking and rephrasing.

    Still, I understand your longing to “belong” – fitting it isn’t just about the label but about finding other like-minded people. Maybe the trick is to surround ourselves with enough people who each fit in with some part of ourselves so that, when taken as a whole, we fit in a little bit with everyone.

    (As for that conference – why not start your own? That way, it can be whatever you want it to be.)

  • Roxanne

    Our beauty lies in what makes us different. It’s okay to be different as long as you’re good at it. I was always different ~ did not really fit in. I can play nicely with others, but often miss my home planet! LOL.

  • Sugar Jones

    I hear ya, sister!

    I’ve been going back and forth, from this group to that, visiting and hanging out but never really fully committing to a label. Mostly because as soon as I start to get labeled, I get all weirded out and think about my heroes in writing and in life and I wonder if they would be happy “fitting in.”

    We don’t fit. And that’s awesome.

  • Joy Eggerichs

    Lesley sent me your blog link. Let’s connect tomorrow please! Look forward to meeting you in PERSON.

  • Susan

    When I was a travel writer, I went on press reps where I knew no one, very frequently. I found I always connected with at least one person and we would be travel ‘buds’ out of sheer survival if nothing else. Those friendships ended up being treasured moments.

    I still don’t feel like I fit in, though living in an anonymous city like NYC helps. Still feels like I’m waiting to be ‘popular’ one day, or the ‘cool chick’. I’ve found I like to use my husband, who everyone seems to adore, as a buffer. He’s my gateway to the cool kids :-)

    I’ve never heard of this festival, sounds amazing, looking forward to hearing more!

  • Tara Mohr

    i love the boundary crossing you do through your work. i can relate to that feeling of frustration about not fitting neatly into any categories…but on the other hand, i have the sense that when your book comes out, and as your blog continues to grow, this –your uniqueness and the freshness of what you bring together through your writing – is why people are going to be soooo thirsty for your voice. i mean thirsty! because your voice and point of view are unique. and needed.
    also, if the people at the conference can’t detect your fabulousness, their loss!

  • Kristin T.

    Dave, that’s the sense I’m getting, too. :) Thanks for affirming it (and me).

    erin, the kindred spirits make it a much less lonely path, don’t they? I’m finding that so much of these worries and fears I have are mostly in my mind—that we’ve all somehow been tricked to believe most other people fit in or are “normal,” but it really isn’t the case. Time to beat down that myth!

    Sam, I’m already feeling so good about my choice to come to this conference. As I mentioned to erin, so many of my fears are in my mind, and there are many people here who are quite similar to me and have the same fears. I wish I would trust more going into these things! In your case as well as mine (and all cases, for that matter!), I think the most important thing is to be true to who we are and to trust that something wonderful can come out of all the wandering. Blessings to you!

    Meredith, I like how you think! I do feel committed to that way of thinking about my blog and self, but I just wish it didn’t feel like such an uphill battle out in the world! Of course, that’s a big part of what’s making me who I am, so I suppose I should just buck up and face it. :) (I love your conference idea! Someday…)

    Roxanne, that’s a great way to put it: “It’s okay to be different as long as you’re good at it.” I suppose being good at it means 1) truly embracing it, and 2) being open to lots of interactions with people who are also different—from you.

  • Joi

    I love this, Kristin. Such great comments, too, from your readers. One thing I’ve noticed about writing is that it allows you to be bold and vulnerable and say things without having to read the body language of the person or people who are who are reading what you have written. Whenever we are face-to-face we immediately start interpreting everyone’s reactions to us, and then we are conflicted about exchanging our confidence in our self and our opinions with whatever it takes to get someone else to like us. I think one thing that really helps to get past this is to force oneself to see others as folks who are perhaps struggling with this even more than we are, and then try to give them your respect and see past their idiosyncrasies and even their tendency to possibly even come across as defensive or abrasive because they are trying to protect their self from your disrespect or dislike. You may totally make someone’s day or change the mood of a discussion group.

    I hope you are having a great time!

  • Kirstin

    “This probably won’t be the perfect fit for me, but it’s still going to be a great learning experience.” YES. I would even go a step further and suggest that an imperfect fit is necessary for a “great learning experience.”

    When I assign group projects in upper-level college classes, students often ask to be paired with a friend taking the same class. I’ve stopped agreeing to these requests because, in my experience, people who aren’t friends produce better work together than people who are. The “fit” may make it easy for friends to work together, but it also makes them too comfortable. They arrive more quickly at some glib conclusions without pushing each other to think more deeply about the topic and explore unfamiliar ideas. Strangers working together have to deal with more personality conflicts and find the project more difficult (and there’s the inevitable problem of group members who don’t pull their own weight), but they are more likely to end the project having thought through new ideas and wrestled their way to deeper understanding of the subject matter.

  • Kristin T.

    Sugar, what a great way to think about it—consider all the people you look up to and admire most in the world, and consider what their route has looked like. It probably wasn’t all scenic, smooth and predictable! Thanks for that perspective.

    Joy, we have one day left of this conference—let’s make a point of meeting up!

    Susan, travel writing sounds like quite the life, although I’m sure it isn’t all a joy. This festival has been a great experience. I haven’t had the spare time or signal to tweet or blog what’s going on, but I’m planning to process and share the Best of FFW from my perspective. Stay tuned (and consider coming to the conference in 2012!).

    Tara, thanks for saying that about my “boundary crossing” and “fabulousness.” I’ll be sure to call on you whenever I’m feeling discouraged! :) What I’m finding is that while individuals seem generally open to treading and/or stepping over lines with me as we converse or they read my blog, institutions and businesses seem much more reluctant. I guess more is at stake (ie money)? In the end, publishing seems all about finding the right fit at the right time, which is definitely worth the wait.

    Joi, that’s such a great point about writing—that it allows us to be bold and say what we need to say, without trying to read reactions along the way. At one of the sessions I went to today, the writer Tim Stafford was talking about what makes writing different from other forms of expression (filmmaking, preaching, etc.). One reason it’s different is it’s non-intrusive—when it’s just a person and that piece of writing, the reader is in control of what they read and if they keep reading. That allows them to open themselves to topics and ideas that they might not be willing to have a conversation about. (Thanks for the good reminder about compassion, too!)

    Kirstin, an imperfect fit is necessary for a great learning experience. Hmm. I think you’re definitely on to something—I especially agree that when we get too comfortable we tend to arrive too quickly at glib conclusions. I might have to argue, though, that we *can* cover important ground in learning and growth when we’re in a “perfect fit” environment (I feel that way about conversations with my husband, for instance), but we also need to mix it up and provide lots of contrasting opportunities to keep our learning from getting too predictable and stale. As a professor, I think you’re definitely doing your students a great service (and I’m learning from you, too!).

  • Shirley

    I tried to leave a comment, but something happened to my screen. If it came through, disregard this one. If not, let me know. I too was at #ffw10. Would love to keep comparing notes.

  • Jackie

    Thanks for facilitating the session on blogging at the FFW. What strikes me most about returning to Calvin is the smells–the obscure ones that you catch in the stairs that lead up to the top floor of Hiemenga Hall, or the stairs that lead up to the Alumni Room in the Commons . . . or pretty much anywhere you catch the dusty, metallic smell of stairs which is a lot like the smell of a spare room. It reminds me of those contemplative angsty college moments. When you had a moment to yourself to slow your pace, as you looked up and felt everything in one poignant moment.

    Plus, for me, the Gezon Auditorium always holds a kind of melancholy magic–that it has never lost. This time, I caught the author of American Born Chinese at the Gezon. And it seemed fitting.

    My blog is pretty much my commentary on t.v. shows, movies and a band that I had a lot of affection for. It really started out as a fan blog–so don’t drill down too deeply. I’m considering your advice to get off the LJ / Blogger train and really get serious. Thanks for being vulnerable and, yes, inspirational!

  • Kristin T.

    Shirley, it’s good to meet you here, even if we didn’t meet at the conference. Let’s definitely keep comparing notes—I would love to hear what you got out of the sessions you went to, and will definitely check out your blog.

    Jackie, I love your observations about returning to Calvin. Such great descriptive thoughts! Was it your first time back after many years? Thanks for coming to my session at the conference—I’m glad it was helpful. I’ll take a look at your blog now, and would love to hear what changes you plan to make with it in the future.

  • Alisa

    “I can’t seem to find the conference for ‘people who are Christians and parents but write on a variety of other topics, and who take seriously the process of thinking and the craft of writing, yet aren’t willing to let their careers to engulf their life.’ Where is that conference, anyway?”

    Sounds like you need to spearhead that one!