Sunday, September 11, 2005

What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been, Part One


When I started this blog, I promised that I would detail how I managed to get involved with, and eventually become, a member of the Albanian community. I decided to title this entry "What a long, strange trip....", not because *I* feel in and of myself that there was anything strange about it, nor that my Albanian friends (more like brothers and sisters now) feel there was, but rather that I recognise that to most (non-Albanian) folks, it may seem strange, considering how in "Anglo-Saxon" (i.e. Standard American, esp. Standard Middle American) culture, things like family, ethnicity, where and to what you should belong and why, etc., are often defined by people rather differently than I define them.

In other words, most folks I run into, though they respect my relationship with the Albanian community, and seem to be glad for me that I've found a place where I feel comfortable and "at home", nonetheless are a little perplexed that a guy like me, white, of western European extration (French, German, English, Scottish, Irish), Christian (though that's another area where people find out I don't exactly fit in with the mainstream, though that's a post for another time), in otherwords more or less like them and everybody else around them, felt the need to associate myself with a people and a culture from eastern Europe. Well, like a lot of things in my life, it is both very simple, and not that simple at all to explain, and it's been many years since the last time someone felt compelled to ask me about it, but I'm gonna try to (once again) explain how all this in my life came about.

I guess I should start by saying that I'm a bit of what used to be called by sociologists a "marginal man", a person who has enough in common with various divergent social groups that he can flit between them socially, yet not have enough in common with any given one of them to truly "fit in", to truly be accepted by the members of that given group as "one of them"; in other words, to truly find a home amongst one (or more) of them.

For example, I have always been a Science Fiction fan. However, my prefered "manner of ingestion" of that genre is, and always has been, in "media" format, i.e. movies, TV shows, old radio shows, games, etc. I'm not, and never have been, that big a reader of *literary* fiction, regardless of genre. And while most SF fan communities are pretty tolerant of those who are mostly media SF fans, the SF community in the place where I settled (Madison, WI) is predominantly literary in nature-they're way more into books than they are movie and TV SF. Also, they tend to be pretty political, esp. on issues of church-state separation, feminism, and so forth, which I'm not (not that they aren't important, just that neither is something I feel the need to get overtly political about).

Another example: I also like RPG (role-playing games), esp. D&D, but I am also a staunch monotheist-even in my fantasy worlds. I've always insisted in creating "parallel earths" (think the show "Sliders", if you're not familiar with the concept), ones where Judaism, Christianity, and Islam exist, just like in our world, for those playing in my campaigns to run their characters in. Only thing is that for a lot of D&D (and other Fantasy RPG) players, polytheism, i.e. "da gods", is an important part and parcel of the game. They like their "gods", like having their characters interacting with them, etc. While I, on the other hand, feel uncomfortable in the main either playing in or running such a world, even though it's only "make-believe". Hence, it has always been hard for me to find and attract people to play in my campaigns (though there are other factors as well, ones that affect every campaign, like free time available, scheduling, etc.). Oh, there've been people interested, just that from the total possible pool of players, those who think playing in a monotheistic world is "cool" are pretty minimal. And so, I often found that I was a less-than-perfect fit within the gaming community, even though I love D&D and other RPGs.

So there have been many groups that I've been associated with, but never felt like I truly belonged in, mainly because the members of said group caused me to feel that way-like I was just a little too "outre" for them; just far enough outside the "minimum requirements" to fit in. Among other groups where I've experienced this, I'd include SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism-nice people, but largely Neo-Pagan, which I'm not), and organised Christianity (I'm a Unitarian Christian, and it's harder than heck to find Unitarian churches that are explicitly Christian....outside of the proverbial "neighborhood of Boston", that is).

Another thing is that I've always been fascinated by things that others might consider "strange", or "unusual", or "odd". A "xenophile", in other words. I've always wondered why they are, how they got to be that way, why people in the main consider them "strange" or "weird" or whatever, etc. I often think part of this comes from being around my Dad. He was a sociology prof for over 30 years, so I guess the nut doesn't fall far from the tree. :) I've always been curious about things that were "different", and what made them tick, even if I felt no particular affinity-or even downright revulsion-for the thing or social phenomena in question.

Coming in Part 2-The "Trip" Begins!


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