I can’t remember making the conscious decision to be different. My mother traveled to the beat of a different drum, as the Mike Nesmith song goes, and so I suppose I was challenged to “fit in” from birth. Moving across the country from California to PA in 1979 only proved to emphasize my difference in experience from my classmates.

Puberty was unkind to me and my peers were even crueler. It was during this time, I suppose, that I came to accept my place on the outside looking in. I never intentionally tried to be different from other people, but I never tried to falsify myself either– to like things I didn’t like, and act against my grain in order to be more like them, and therefore more likable.

I’ve grown comfortable with my “eccentricities,” but existing in a world in which others demand we conform to a shape that for me feels threateningly claustrophobic and unnecessairily prohibitive, has not gotten any easier.

Like everyone else in this world — at least I assume this is a common desire of all humans from the child’s first inkling of individual being — I want my uniqueness to be appreciated. I want to be valued and liked for who I am, not who others would rather I be.

I’m honestly quite jealous of people who naturally and happily fit in and don’t have to choose beween being true to themselves or being the sort of person rewarded with security and success.

Feeling especially cursed today and hoping to find some inspiration to stop feeling sorry for myself, I did a quick internet search on the origins of the phrase “square peg in a round hole.”

Zen Master Dogen used the phrase in “Shobogenzo” in the first half of the 11th century, but it doesn’t appear to be commonly used to describe a person who feels like a misfit and/or does not fit in to the dominant paradigm until the 1800s.

I like this bit cited at the Wikipedia entry for “square peg in a round hole.”

Kenelm Chillingly asks: “Does it not prove that no man, however wise, is a good judge of his own case? Now, your son’s case is really your case —- you see it through the medium of your likings and dislikings, and insist upon forcing a square peg into a round hole, because in a round hole you, being a round peg, feel tight and comfortable. Now I call that irrational.”

The farmer responded: “I don’t see why my son has any right to fancy himself a square peg … when his father, and his grandfather, and his great-grandfather, have been round pegs; and it is agin’ nature for any creature not to take after its own kind.”

— Edward Bulwer Lynton in Kenelm Chillingly, His Adventures and Opinions (1873)

Sydey Smith reportedly presented the following in Elementary Sketches of Moral Philosophy (1849):

It is a prodigious point gained if any man can find out where his powers lie, and what are his deficiencies, — if he can contrive to ascertain what Nature intended him for: and such are the changes and chances of the world, and so difficult is it to ascertain our own understandings, or those of others, that most things are done by persons who could have done something else better. If you choose to represent the various parts in life by holes upon a table, of different shapes, — some circular, some triangular, some square, some oblong, — and the persons acting these parts by bits of wood of similar shapes, we shall generally find that the triangular person has got into the square hole, the oblong into the triangular, and a square person has squeezed himself into the round hole.

It is a commonly understood that the mismatch might not only be uncomfortable or impractical but perhaps, impossible. A 1957 book by Irving Wallace might be what I had set out to find. I’ve only skimmed the first few pages of The Square Pegs: Some Americans Who Dared to Be Different, but I am curious to read more. It’s available for free download in several formats online, if you’re interested.

-ag

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