Not long ago I sent an email to a well-known Portland band to see if we might play a gig with them, and this was the reply:
“We actually really liked you dudes. Keep goin, broboat.”
A few days later we played an opening set and while I was setting up, a guy looked at my electric guitar and Drew’s drums, and puzzlingly asked if I was going to sing a cappella. I wondered, like what, some sort of Karaoke Idol? I replied, “no, I’m gonna play the electric guitar, and Drew is gonna play drums…” Throughout the night, people seemed confused when they first saw us, but when they heard us play they were both surprised and happy.
When they ask “you are going to play the guitar?” it’s not the words, but rather the tone of voice that gives away what they are really thinking.
In one year and five months on the Portland rock music scene, I’ve finally figured out that I don’t belong. It’s been a tough lesson to learn, but then I wonder “why did I ever think I’d belong?” My entire life I’ve only had glimpses of what belonging feels like.
I was born in the former USSR to a Lithuanian mother and Indian father, lived in four countries before moving to the USA at the age of 3 years old, and grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood in Ohio. The kids in school accused me of being a communist. From the start I didn’t fit in.
As a female student in electrical engineering, I was again an exception, but I never felt unwelcome. In my job of 17 years as an engineer at a high tech company, I feel a greater sense of belonging than anywhere else in my life. I work along with scientists and engineers from all over the world who put their differences aside to focus on creative endeavors. I love my work, partly because I feel like I belong there more than anywhere else.
Among my friends, I’m one of the only people who doesn’t have kids. I don’t know anything about diapers, car seats, or soccer. Even within my own circle of friends I’m a misfit.
A sense of belonging and feeling accepted is important to everyone. It’s why cliques form in high school, it’s what drives college students to join fraternities and sororities. It is why cults form. And dare I say it, it is one of the reasons that people join churches. We are all driven to find a community where we belong.
And so it goes…. after so many years of being me, I should have figured it out by now. I don’t fit in, never have, and probably never will.
As for music, my favorite musicians, the iconic ones, were also rogues. Similarly in science, brilliant people are the odd balls. Maybe all of us who feel that we don’t belong shouldn’t feel so bad after all.