“Artists need to be outsiders in order to really view what’s going on. That little bit of detachment has been great for me… As artists, we have to be brave. If we aren’t brave, we aren’t artists.”
Writer, Producer, Director Paul Haggis [imdb.com]
Haggis is speaking from the perspective of a creatively accomplished adult: His films include In the Valley of Elah; Letters from Iwo Jima; Casino Royale; Million Dollar Baby; Crash.
But the experience of being a misfit, mutant or any number of other names for outsider, can be distressing or downright painful, especially as a teen – but also at any age if you have not yet found a path to express your talents and gain a healthy level of self esteem, or don’t connect with others as much as you want.
Jane Austen wrote in Mansfield Park (1814) about one of her characters:
“Everybody around her was gay and busy, prosperous and important; each had their object of interest, their part, their dress, their favourite scene, their friends and confederates: all were finding employment in consultations and comparisons, or diversion in the playful conceits they suggested.
“She alone was sad and insignificant; she had no share in anything; she might go or stay; she might be in the midst of their noise, or retreat from it to the solitude of the East Room, without being seen or missed.”
[Photo from the 1999 movie by Patricia Rozema.]
Dominican-American author and MIT professor Junot Diaz [The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao] commented in an interview about being an outsider as a child: “I can’t imagine anybody who ends up being an artist who didnâ€™t pass through a time of geekiness. I was, as a kid, really obsessed with reading. In the neighborhood I grew up in, that was about as geeky as you could possibly get. … I think that the intellectual life is amazingly lonely in a country like ours.”
He notes his main character Oscar has interests that “guaranteed him an enormous amount of isolation, being interested in science-fiction, being interested in fantasy… But I think that probably what is more problematic was that he was a kid who couldn’t find it in him to pretend to be something he wasn’t. And that was something I always kind of admired about Oscar as protagonist.
“I knew that I couldn’t myself personally risk the censure and the ostracization to be so honest to myself… anyone who has ever been a kid knows how deep loneliness can go. Part of where I get the writing from is being honest about what childhood was like.” [From Bostonist Interview bostonist.com]
Writer Anne Rice admits she was “a bad student, I daydreamed in class, wrote stories in my notebooks. I learned the basics, but most of my active intellectual life was outside of school. It was acutely painful because [my sister and I] felt different, like misfits. Our individuality was almost irrepressible, but I wanted to fit in.”
Mary-Elaine Jacobsen, PhD [author of The Gifted Adult] notes in her article Encountering the Gifted Self Again, For the First Time that “Contrary to stereotyped beliefs, large numbers of gifted adults are charismatic, popular, socially adept people who are known as extraordinary leaders and valued friends.
“However, many also share a history of chronic feelings of loneliness… Yet many gifted adults are not popular, have few friends, and struggle to gain a sense of belonging.”
Screenwriter Anne Meredith (Bastard Out of Carolina; Cavedweller etc) commented in our interview about the value for her: “My sense of being an outsider got worse and worse through my adolescence. Or better and better. It helps me work in Hollywood, because I’m not intimidated by anybody, and it helps because I have a kind of innocent way of looking at things.”