Outside Looking In

| December 6, 2012 | 3 Comments

“Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.” - Albert Camus

I saw myself recently, and I hated it. I don’t mean that literally; the mirror isn’t that critical of me—is it?  No, I saw a glimpse of myself in someone else.  Someone who reminded me way too much of who I was at age 15. He always seems to be on the outside of social situations, looking in. If you saw him, you wouldn’t know what goes through his head; you might not even realize that something was wrong. Unless you’ve been there, on the outside. But I see him and instantly understand that…

The play is underway, and everyone knows their role except him. Surely he missed some vital meeting or instructions along the way. The rest were clearly in attendance; just look at the way they play their part. Each and every one of them, as if they were born to do this.

He rifles through the info in his head. All he knows, all he’s been taught. 99 squared is 9,801. I could have told you that when I was 8, but it’s as little help to him now as it was to me back then. I’m sure he’d give all that knowledge up, if he could. Anything to be just normal. As it stands, there is no possible way for him to come in at the right cue. Anything he does will be judged, will fall flat. So, trying to avoid failure, he does nothing.

What is wrong with you? 

He can’t ask for help. It’s too late, and who would he ask? What question could he ask that wouldn’t be laughed off or derided? You know what to do, but it’s so simple that you’d never succeed in explaining it to someone who has such difficulty. Everyone else gets it, why don’t you? 

Once a day, every day.

He is the failed actor on stage. He is the squeakiest chair in the movie theater. He is the cough in the exam. He is me from the not too distant past.

But he doesn’t want to be. You don’t choose to be this way.

No, there’s nothing he wants more than to interject, to add something of his own to the conversation, to remind the others he’s there.  He keeps trying, but every time he disappoints himself by falling short. There is no possible way for him to come in at the right cue. He’s here—again—because this was supposed to be the time he got it right. He stalks life in much the same way that one would stalk a high school crush: in the hopes of one day being able to insert himself into it. He truly believes that if life would just lend him a hand, the rest of the pieces to the puzzle will fall into place. If only it were that easy. Even for me, someone for whom the puzzle of life has grown easier, it is resolved to be completed only through tremendous energy expended on a daily basis.

Above all, I wish I could help him. I wish I knew how. For both of our sakes.


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Category: Campus Culture, featured

Ryan Brister

About the Author ()

Ryan is studying journalism in the college of communication. He hails from Rochester, New York, and is slowly growing tired of explaining that it's really quite far from NYC. He watches far too much sports and likes to think of his life as a really long (and occasionally boring) book. His guilty pleasures include most of the music from the 1980s and every movie Sylvester Stallone ever starred in.

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  1. Mike Bruffee says:

    The analogy between stalking life and stalking one’s highschool crush, was, I felt, particularly colorful.

    On a serious note, however, I know exactly how that feels on the inside, on the outside looking in. I also have seen it from the other side–this was, as Rhi said, very eloquent and honest. A brilliant meditation on the pressures to “fit in.” Isn’t it interesting how in order to fit in you can’t look like you’re trying too hard? Almost as if everyone who “fits in” has to do so effortlessly, flawlessly, without too much calculation. Like, if you have to ask what to do, where to go, what to wear, or what to say, somehow you shouldn’t be there, do it, or say it.

    All I can say from experience is, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. But it’s kind of like frying up a small fish: you ruin it with too much poking. Be there, watch, observe, absorb–digest. It’s okay not to be in the “in” crowd. Maybe your “in” crowd just isn’t that one. Maybe it’s some other crowd of people that will love you and accept you for who you are.

    That’s certainly what happened to me.

  2. Rhiannon Pabich Rhiannon Pabich says:

    Thank you for the honesty and eloquence of this post, Ryan. I, for one, always enjoy glimpses into that mind of yours.

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