Since December of 1989, I’ve walked my dogs (anywhere from one to six of them) a mile or so every morning and every afternoon. Every day unless I’ve been too sick or the weather has been downright dangerous.
Yesterday we had our first frost. I bundled up, but the breeze was just stiff enough to pierce my clothes, redden my cheeks, and set my nose dripping. Ava seemed to enjoy herself, but all I could think was, “I can’t face another long winter of bone-chilling morning walks.”
Ava, even at 14, has boundless walkie energy and will stare at me guilt-trippingly for hours if I don’t meet her a.m. expectations. And of course, my sudden dread of frost (and rain and wind and snow and general can’t-get-warm-for-monthsness) is selfish nonsense.
Heck, they’re blizzarding already in Montana, and heaven knows what chills and thrills “global warming” will bring you readers in the more volatile places of the world this winter. We’re lucky here in the famously moderate NorthWET.
Besides, I’m reading a book, A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols, about the 1968 race to determine who would be the first single-hand sailor to circumnavigate the globe non-stop (via the deadly southern capes, yet; not routing though the Panama and Suez Canals). The current leader of the race in the chapter I’ve reached is rounding the Cape of Good Hope in a vessel that’s drenching his living quarters incessantly with 50-degree water while near-daily storms try to kill him.
I have my nerve whining about a little harmless frost. But I’m doing it, anyhow. I love my dog, but when she’s gone, nothing short of a 9.0 full-rip Cascadia quake is going to force me out of the house on a frigid winter (or fall or spring) morning.
It feels odd to mention a book without Amazon-linking it. I wonder how long it’ll take to get used to that?
At FishOrMan’s urging, I’ve appealed my account closing. I hadn’t planned to, and I know Amazon too well to be optimistic — especially since they claim to give a 24-hour response and it’s now been five days.
In the meantime I thank the handful of people who’ve pledged monthly subscriptions, raised their existing subscriptions, sent a one-time donation, or bought me a coffee, most recently new patron DB, who made generous monthly pledges via both Patreon and SubscribeStar and became my first supporter on the latter site. Personal notes of thanks to come soon.
I’m also been offered a three-month trial with an advertising banner. It’s a nice offer, but it’s only going to work beyond that term if a lot of readers want to buy a lot of ammo. So how’s your ammo stash and your ammo budget doing, people?
Now to the real meat of the post, even if it is mere hamburger.
After writing last month about both tribal elders and Outsiders and their influence on society, I’ve been thinking more about the Outsider’s perpetual problem. That problem is that, while Outsiders have outsized influence, often for good, they’re usually scorned, rejected, and abused if they stick out too much — and sometimes even if they’re only a little different from the norm, whatever the norm of the moment might be.
Which seems monumentally unjust. Except that quite often, the scorn, rejection, and abuse actually make Outsiders better people and may contribute to their accomplishments.
That’s an over-broad generalization of course. The rejection (or perceived rejection) that frees one guy up to spend his time alone writing brilliant computer code turns another into a creepy little incel who shoots up a school. Some Outsiders are born so much in their own worlds that they scarcely notice how others treat them. Others may be Outsiders because they were raised in a bubble of prosperity, encouragement, and achievement and earn nothing but praise and happiness from their set-apart status. Others enjoy great social lives as well as great accomplishments, and are Outsiders only because they achieve or think or feel something no one else does.
But generally — very generally — a core part of the Outsider experience is suffering and struggling, not only in the cause of achievement (which is enough difficulty for anyone), but at the hands of very nasty young peers and highly doubtful older ones, and with the agonizing self-doubt that comes from trying to grow up and find a way to live when you’re different.
Sometimes the same wounds that might turn a lesser person really nasty turn better people empathetic. Or simply turn them inward to create dream worlds or works of art or invention.
Then everybody wants to know them. Or wishes they’d known them before they died.
Vincent Van Gogh is the classic example. A song about him got a fair bit of airplay back in the day; the song talks about how terrible it was that the world rejected the luminous genius in their midst. True. But it subtly implies that the songwriter himself, had he lived back then, would have gotten it and appreciated the heck out of poor, tortured Van Gogh and his work.
I used to hear that song and cringe. Because NO, Mr. Twentieth-Century Songwriter who saw one of world’s most earth-shattering and fatally misunderstood artists only in retrospect; you would not have appreciated, understood, or liked Vincent Van Gogh. Nobody liked Vincent Van Gogh. He was a born-and-bred crazy. A difficult personality from childhood. A drunk. Prone to hallucinations, fits of violence, and mad acts like slicing off his own ear. Paul Gauguin fled from him. Local merchants barely tolerated him. Kind neighbors gave him food as an act of charity in exchange for his paintings, which they considered so valueless that at least one painting ended up as part of the wall of a chicken coop (it’s now, of course, resurrected and worth bazillions). The only contemporary who managed to tolerate him for any time was his patient and devoted younger brother Theo — poor Theo, who seemed to function normally in society, but who died literally raving mad six months after his brother. Theo worshipped, financially supported, advocated for, and influenced Vincent — who (you will not be surprised to learn) treated him like cr*p.
Nope. For every 1,000 people who like to imagine they’d have befriended, reassured, aided, or bravely stood up to defend some suffering genius Outsider, probably not more than one actually would have.
Did Vincent Van Gogh’s suffering — including his sufferings of loneliness, rejection, poverty, and stays in mental hospitals — help make him a more dedicated, unusual, and pioneering artist? Or would he have always been what he was, and did suffering do nothing but shorten his life? Who knows. But 130 years on, people who gaze back from a safe distance admire him and imagine they would have taken his part against a hostile world.
But nobody did (except Theo). Therefore, nobody would.
Nor would many have stood up for Galileo as he trembled before the Inquisition. Or shouted that Giordano Bruno didn’t deserve his burning. Or defended Alan Turing when his brilliance was being snuffed out by contempt and color-of-law punishment for his homosexuality. Nobody held Nicola Tesla’s hand while he died alone in a barren hotel room or assured a suicidal Rudolf Diesel that his engine wasn’t a failure after all. Outsiders, even genius ones, are more likeable at a nice, safe, comfortable remove.
After they are safely removed, we pat ourselves on the back and boast (even if only to ourselves) that we would have understood them, we would have helped them, we would have perceived what all those lesser people were too blind or bigoted to recognize.
We — even those of us who are Outsiders in our own ways — are captive to the values, assumptions, and fears of our day. We’re merely human, too, and most of us avoid people we perceive as weirdos or as being dangerous to our security, even brilliant ones.
And even though real genius is often unattractively packaged or otherwise not easy to perceive, the human race is amazingly, oddly resistant to the very people who might lift us all to the next stage of evolution.
Woe betide you, too, if you’re a somewhat-less-than-genius Outsider. An ordinary high school brainiac, for instance. A spectrum-dweller whose social interactions are just that far off the norm, but whose accomplishments will also be that far off the norm and no more. A person who sees the world just slightly different than her peers. One whose conscience drives him to make hard choices that others consider ridiculous or even immoral by their ingrained standards.
The first modern parents to begin homeschooling their children risked being arrested or even shot to death. It wasn’t many years ago that anyone who prepared for disaster was considered a paranoid loon.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man isn’t king; he’s burned at the stake for heresy.
Those are just some random thoughts for today, a brain dump if you will. I’ll be writing more on this topic, but I don’t know where it’s likely to go, if anywhere. I make no claims that anything I’ve said today is original — or even, for that matter, coherent.
This is just the mud my brain throws off when its wheels are spinning.
As a teenager, I read Colin Wilson’s pioneering book on the role of both real and fictional Outsiders in art and literature. I recall gobbling it up and identifying with every word. A decade or so later I read it again and discovered it wasn’t at all what I remembered and not terribly interesting. I recently put an interlibrary loan request on it and if it comes through we shall see what the book has evolved into as I’ve evolved.
The more important question is not about the Outsider in art or literature, where he (usually he) has become a stereotype. It’s about the role of the Outsider in saving our collective asses from the new political and social Orthodoxy of Destruction.
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