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Well, here’s a picture I should be too embarrassed to post:

This is me having a big old time at patrol camp. This is back in the days my dad still cut my hair on the kitchen stool, and obviously I didn’t bother to dry my hair for the photo. Maybe you can tell by the Billy Idol sneer how I take to dressing up in paper headbands and feathers.

I went to patrol camp the summer before sixth grade to become “an officer.” This selection means I was misunderstood to be a child who would not light her patrol post on fire or try to send kids across the street when they were most likely to get run over.

In the mornings, the girls stood near the flag pole outside of our cabins to do exercises. All the excercises had accompanying chants, and the one I did with great seriousness was the “we must increase our bust” exercise, when we all stood with our arms like chicken wings and tried to touch our elbows behind our backs. “The bigger, the better, the tighter the sweater, the boys depend on us.”

When you look at least four years younger than your classmates and people regularly mistake you for being a boy, camp is just one more place to feel different and alone.

By the end of my week there, it seemed camp had improved some. I’d kissed and slow-danced with one of the camp counselors and was glad to finally be noticed and included. Okay, sure, this sounds like pedophilia now, but I didn’t know better at the time and spent the rest of the summer searching for his phone number so I could hear his voice and then hang up.

 

All these years later, as I do readings and meet with agents and editors and marketing teams, I still feel like I’m the kid with the feather on her head, just wearing a nicer t-shirt. Maybe that’s why I like hanging out with other writers so much. I prefer to spend my time with fellow misfits.

Here’s what I like best about our community: You can take off your mask and let down your guard. And when you discover you’re still accepted, and that some of your peers dare to think more of you than you think of yourself, you start to dream bigger dreams, take risks, create bolder art, and care about others’ work and success as much as your own. I can’t help but imagine what a better summer I would have had if we’d all been at camp together, but at least we’ve made our own camp right here in the present.

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SUSAN HENDERSON is the author of UP FROM THE BLUE (HarperCollins, 2010) and founder of the blog, LitPark, a literary playground for writers.

31 responses to “A Community of Misfits”

  1. Jim says:

    Susan, I always feel so much better (about whatever it is I’m trying to do) after reading your posts. Always have, always will. Thanks very much.

  2. Billy Bones says:

    The man who types up my stories used to be a patrol boy in sixth grade. Pretty sure this was the height of his accomplishments in school. Also, most days I feel like a kid, too.

  3. Tish Cohen says:

    This just made me smile so wide.

  4. This is funny. I can’t believe such a thing as patrol camp existed! In sixth grade I wanted so badly to be picked to be a safety patrol kid, but I guess I didn’t behave well enough in class–I talked too much!

  5. Judy Prince says:

    Loved and breathed happy sighs with every word of this, Susan.

    This, *great*: “All these years later, as I do readings and meet with agents and editors and marketing teams, I still feel like I’m the kid with the feather on her head, just wearing a nicer t-shirt.”

  6. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    “When… your peers dare to think more of you than you think of yourself, you start to dream bigger dreams, take risks, create bolder art, and care about others’ work and success as much as your own.” That was absolutely beautiful and gave me an enormous smile reading it.

    I do, however, disagree with your overall assumption of our being misfits. We are perfectly designed pegs, it’s the holes that were poorly engineered. Eventually, they’ll be properly reshaped to accommodate us – we just need to be patient with the less-talented of our brethren assigned to the task. 😉

    • Judy Prince says:

      Susan reads her sensitivity into all things, and gently, generously notes them for us.

      I agree with you, Anon, about the beauty in her saying: “When… your peers dare to think more of you than you think of yourself, you start to dream bigger dreams, take risks, create bolder art, and care about others’ work and success as much as your own.”

      It so succinctly states the truth—–and it is exampled everywhere on TNB. I think it should be TNB’s motto—-p’raps flashed as a sub-masthead.

      Thank you, Susan!

    • LitPark says:

      Yeah, that’s right, it’s just all the holes are poorly designed!

      • Judy Prince says:

        Susan, you and Anon are sooooo on target. 😉

        A wonderful Scottish anecdote: A mother and father at the military parade grounds, watching their son marching in a parade. She says proudly to her husband: “Look! They’re all out of step except our Jack!”

        Scottishly, it sounds wonderful, something like this: “They’re aw oota step except oor Jock!”

  7. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    In the months just prior to and then for years after my novel came out, I walked around with a “Who ME?” feeling all the time. Everything was surreal–from seeing the book in stores to the weird celebrity-esque way some people treated me (when I clearly and factually was NOT one).

    It’s difficult for many of us to own our gold–the shining parts of ourselves and our accomplishments. We focus so much on lack, awkwardness, missed opportunties–so the geeky kid lives on in an adult body. Thank goodness for the friends, family, and colleagues who encourage us to see the light.

  8. Zara Potts says:

    I love your feather headband. And your grimace/sneer is priceless!

    • Judy Prince says:

      Agreed, Zara! I will not forget Susan’s red feather and feisty grimace—–it’s a symbol of our shining selves, no matter what age or circumstance.

      RED FEATHER! GRIMACE!

    • LitPark says:

      Maybe I’ll wear it to my next reading!

      • Judy Prince says:

        Susan, please have a picture taken of you with your red feather at a reading—–and don’t forget that wonderful grimace!

        BTW, I forgot to say that I, too, was chosen as a crossing guard in the 6th grade, felt it a wonderful honour for which I knew not the reason. Yet it did make me feel different from the rest of the kids bcuz we had to get to school early and leave earlier at lunch and school day’s end in order to shepherd the flock across streets. But the best reward was the moments between rushes of traffic when we’d whoop and holler and run around, enjoying our freedom from the classroom and our being together playing and laughing.

  9. Don Mitchell says:

    Very cool. I’d forgotten about what, at my school, was the “Junior Police Officer (JPO)” group, i.e. crossing guards. I couldn’t get in (I can’t remember why) but got my revenge by spreading around that JPO really stood for Jet Propelled Orangutans. That had a half-life of about a week, but while it bounced around the school I got coolness points, otherwise in short supply for me.

    However.

    This description: “when we all stood with our arms like chicken wings and tried to touch our elbows behind our backs” brought to mind what I, and the other male members of my department (our dep’t was about 50:50 M/F) called “titting.” As in, “I got titted five times today and I’m tired of it.” This would be young women performing your exercise while taking off coats/jackets. Facing forward. Looking at the instructor. Titting him. Then sitting down. I could always write that off to ordinary behavior (hey, you do have to get that coat off) maybe a third of the time. The rest seemed pretty clearly designed to heat things up. It was amusing.

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