I'm an existential artist. People just don't get me!

How can I go on living in a world where people are so unoriginal?

By Cary Tennis

Published December 5, 2007 11:37AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

There's a question lingering in the back of my mind that you and your readers may be able to bring some light on.

I am a 26-year-old single girl. I have only been in one relationship in life. I feel confident and attractive "to my kind of people" and I haven't really found anybody who interests me romantically -- I only have a couple of close friends "who may" or "may not" get me.

I find myself dismissive of everyone who doesn't meet a certain criterion of originality or truth. I am starting to feel weird about this solitude that I embody; it makes people around me uncomfortable, starting with my family and co-workers.

There is a part of me that wants to conform and date "normals" and dress up to greet each day with lipstick on -- but I personally feel like it's OK for a person to be who they want to be ... messy hair and white socks with dress pants ... but it seems everywhere/everyone is all about socializing and "getting out there." Am I really missing something? Why does everyone push relationships? Why does everyone feel the need to push others? I just want to be myself -- whoever that is at any given time of the day.

I thank you for your time, sir. And RADIOHEAD ROCKS!

existential artist

Dear existential artist,

Those of us who are odd have two or three general choices. We can live in a secret world of our own. We can adapt our appearance and our utterances to the capacities of those we are interacting with. And we can limit our interactions with people who "do not get us," and try to hang out mostly with like-minded people. I think that in general we use all three methods to some degree.

What do you say to a clerk in a shoe store who says, "How are you?"

Do you say, "Well, I'm a loner, a misfit, I feel like the world is against me, and I do not understand how some people can have the kind of taste they do."

No, that's not what you say. You say, "Fine, thanks. And you?"

Otherwise people get the wrong idea. They think, Am I going to need backup?

So you have to learn to tailor your utterances to your audience.

It may also help to consider the question, If I have a dour, sinister view of humanity, why should I expect others to be nice to me? If everywhere I go I critique the clothes, the attitude, the driving, the hair, the shoes, the skin tone, the manner of speaking, the stroller, the moronic kids in the stroller, the puffy white legs of the moronic kids in the stroller, the shiny black shoes on the puffy white legs of the moronic kids in the stroller, the loosely tied laces on the shiny black shoes on the puffy white legs of the moronic kids in the stroller, the slow-moving traffic in the congested parking lot of the barely disguised strip mall in the conservative southwestern quadrant of the liberal Northern California county where we live among Republicans in dangerous social isolation and where the street-sweeping machine barrels down the street every Monday and Thursday like a German tank ... if our heads are filled night and day with such thoughts, should it come as any surprise that people sense this about us and become a little wary, a little concerned?

If I hate everything, why should I be surprised when people are not nice to me, when they don't "get" me?

If it's OK for you to be yourself, then it's OK for other people to be themselves too, even if they're not as original about it as you are. If you're dismissive of others, then you're not extending to them the same courtesy that you want them to extend to you. So I suggest that the way out of this trap is to consciously become interested in other people, to the extent that you can. Try to look beyond their choices in music and hair styles to the actions they take to make their lives work for them. You will find originality if you look for it. But you have to observe closely how they solve problems. Their problems are different from yours.

Their problems are often not aesthetic problems, but genuine problems of living: How to care for an aging grandparent. How to make the bank balance come out right. How to get the grass to grow. Seek to understand rather than to be understood is what I'm saying. Try to turn your gaze from yourself to others, in a real way. Try to really see them and their problems, and they may slowly become more interesting to you. See what they are trying to cope with. Forget yourself. That helps.

As to your questions about why people are this way and so forth, well, statistically speaking, unusual people are rare. So give people a break for not getting where you're coming from. They're not used to where you're coming from. They've never been to where you're coming from. It's some France of your brain they don't speak the language of.

People like being with people like themselves. It's easier that way. So, duh, you're not going to be fitting in very much. It's something I am personally well acquainted with.

I suggest you get used to it. Adapt the best you can. I'm not saying it works all that well. But you can get by. You can get your shoes bought before they call security. And you can always find a few strange, rare birds with whom to perch on the wire.

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