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Farm to Tablet: On Outsiders

This month on the homestead: randy ram problems. We need to separate the eligible Lord Meatball from the ewes so that we can give their bodies time to recover from pregnancy and also limit our lambing to a few weeks next spring. Lord Meatball, however, spirit animal of frat boys everywhere, loves only two things—food and females.

Last weekend we stretched a fence of electrified netting across the pasture and lured Lordy over to the other side with a scoop of his beloved corn. He appeared only mildly perplexed by the sudden separation of his lady friends, but, so far as I could tell, he also appeared resigned. When we returned from a family outing a few hours later, we found a portion of the fence rolled flat and Lord Meatball, happy as a honeybee, standing in the midst of his ewes and lambs, mowing down grass.

The next day I tried again. I pulled the netting tighter, secured it with tie-wraps so as not to dilute the electric shock, and dumped two bales of hay in the corner of his new paddock to comfort him in his loneliness. Then, an hour later, I looked out to find his hooves hooked in the netting, his substantial girth rolling the fencing forward and down as he rocked back and forth, ridiculously but also with pitiful desperation, welcoming the shocks, the tangle, the potentially lame leg. With one final heave, he rolled himself past the fence, extricated his hooves, and trotted off to rejoin his flock.

The regal lord himself

All my life, I've felt a little like Lord Meatball, stuck on the solitary side of the fence, wondering why. I recently heard a statistic on the NPR show Hidden Brain that something like 4 out of 5 people routinely feel like outsiders. I can almost see the huge, lonely mob of us, lined up forlornly along the fence, unaware of anyone else standing on our side. Perhaps this shouldn't comfort me so much, but it does. If an overwhelming majority of us feel left out, well, aren't we all kind of together in that?

Like many—probably most—kids, I grew up certain that something was fundamentally wrong with me. No one told me this outright, at least not that I can remember. Rather, it was something I deduced from an infinitude of cues that could easily have been interpreted differently. One example: I knew zero sports rules, which I considered a uniquely personal failure and a commentary on my inherent lack of athleticism, rather than as the natural result of never having been taught any sports rules. (I mean, hello.) Another example: I possessed a crippling shyness, which I chalked up as evidence that I was essentially hopeless with people, rather than the much more likely possibility that I just needed more practice. Even my fascination with music and words felt, in the world of my rural high school, like proof that I didn't (and wouldn't ever) belong.

Flowers without water

For a time, for comfort, I coddled myself. If I could elevate my self image from awkward weirdo to original artist, then maybe I could bear the burden of never being allowed inside—maybe I could even transform that burden from undesirable to enviable. But elevating one's personal difference requires, besides a twisting of the truth around oneself, a twisting of the truth around others as well. It's far too simplistic a notion for much, if any, accuracy. You all belonged, but I didn't. You were all basically the same, but I was different. You were content with what you were given, while I was brave enough, audacious enough (in truth, lonely enough) to strike out for something else.

When I write fiction, nearly all of my characters approach the world from an outsider's point of view. During my early (admittedly naive) attempts, I thought this a fairly unusual viewpoint that I could uniquely speak to. I still write often from the outsider's point of view, but now I understand that it works not because my characters are so very different, but because seeing ourselves first and foremost through our differences is so very universal.

Unless you're a sheep

The odds are that most people are longing, just as I am, to be seen and welcomed for who they are. What a relief, then, to lift my focus from my own frail ego and discover that I don't have to roll myself over the fence, torching myself with sparks. I am already firmly rooted within the ranks of countless others like myself—so very different and yet so much the same.

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Writer · 14641 Waterloo Munith Rd · Grass Lake, MI 49240-9495 · USA

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