A friend of mine recently observed that this has been the year for me of finding my tribe.
It’s true, and it’s a very important thing to do, for everyone, but I’m thinking specifically for artists and writers and other creative types.
At the SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Summer Conference in Los Angeles last weekend, YA author Laurie Halse Anderson referred to us as the Island of Misfit Toys. Remember that place from the old animated Rudolph flick they showed on TV every year? I laughed because I’ve often thought of myself as one of those misfit toys. Since junior high school, when all that insecurity begins.
Creatives tend to be the oddballs. The weirdies. The ones who think differently, feel awkward in social situations . . . can anyone out there relate to this? I was a square peg in high school. I didn’t belong to any particular clique. I was smart, too, and got good grades, which can also be a hindrance in high school (in the U.S. at least). I mean, I got teased for being smart by many of my classmates. I got bullied on a few occasions (physically threatened twice). I wrote poetry. I bought clothes from thrift stores and cut pieces out of them (my favourite shirt was a Mobile gas station shirt that had the name BRUCE on it – not very PC, but I loved that shirt). My friend Dawn and I would freak our make-up and clothes and lurk around Pier 39 scaring the tourists.
Even as an adult, I’ve walked into a crowded room and felt like that 14 year old misfit. Not hip. Not cool. Not happening.
But at the SCBWI conference, I immediately felt like I belonged. It was one giant celebration of childhood misfitness. Of all the gritty things that have bombarded us and made us the writers we are today. The ones who can articulate that awkwardness. Whose characters speak to the minds of children going through the same dang things we went through, whether we place them in a dystopian future or a fictional past.
When you find that place that feels like home (and I’ve found it other places as well, like at FaerieWorlds this summer!) I believe it not only means you are connecting with your purpose and passion, but you have found a safe and supportive place to be authentically you.
Seek out those like-minded people. Seek out those who celebrate who you are and your successes, and who empathize with your misadventures and misteps. Boo to people who shut you down. Boo to people who zap your energy.
One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is to bring that kind of light into your life, and to shine it back.
Find your tribe!