Outside looking in


It’s a journal cliché, but I’m an outsider.

Not in the woe is me sense, just a lingering feeling in most aspects of my life.

I can be a snob about mundane things, like food or music or humor or hobbies. I’m still a single guy wanting to settle down with the right someone. I usually stand up to obnoxious behavior in the workplace, especially from above. I speak out on issues that affect minorities. My political and social views continue to evolve, but never quite jive with those around me.

I’m quiet with strangers, chatty with friends. I value my privacy, but shed it to work harder on my writing skills.

And I keep people at arm’s length.

What’s not to love?

The outsider label is hardly self-imposed. When you grow up in the South as the only Asian kid, you are reminded constantly that you don’t belong.

That doesn’t mean cross burnings on the front lawn. Yeah, kids can be cruel, but so can adults. Even so, I knew I was Different — not from overt cruelties but the little innocuous social interactions.

It nags at me to this day.

I wonder how my life would’ve changed as a white man. As a black woman. Would things have been easier or harder? Would I be richer or poorer? Would I still have the same sympathies and prejudices?

The outsider role is usually a comfortable one. It allows me time to think before speaking, if I speak at all. I’ve been complimented on my insightful questions (yay, me!). I don’t care to mix it up; I’d rather let others squabble until they’re red faced and panting.

And it allows me to be fearless. If you’re already on the outside, who cares if you’re in the minority? Who cares if you’re wrong, or right? So I can confidently speak my piece without compromising my beliefs or ethics.

Sometimes, that’s been a career killer. But I’m OK with that.

Being an outsider can reinforce bad habits. I tend to be shy in unfamiliar settings, but as I’ve aged, I’ve worked to overcome it: First, a glass of courage, then a trip around the room.

It doesn’t always work. Outgoing people stick with outgoing people; quiet outsiders can make them nervous, self-conscious.

Outsiders can get lost in their heads. Who cares if you’ve found the path to peace in the Middle East if you can’t express it? It doesn’t usually happen to me, but sometimes a stranger’s comment will catch me off guard, and I have no quip, no deflective comment to save the moment. And I feel more awkward.

I cling tightly to the things that matter to me: a few friends, a lot of familiar settings, my favorite clothes or driving routes or routines. That is enough richness to last me a long time, maybe a lifetime.

Part of me wants to belong. It’s only natural. And the gulf between outsider and insider is loneliness.

The outsider in me is often at ease in solitude. But when it’s not enough, I reach out and hope someone is there.


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