Stranger in a Strange Land

Today I was at work, and my boss came around. He started talking to me and a coworker about a movie that was coming out, something about an adaptation of a kid’s book about scary stories.

As he and my coworker were talking, I started to feel, strongly, that I fit into that conversation about as well as I would have fit into a conversation between two Japanese people talking about Shinto. In Japanese. It was a conversation with which I had absolutely no cultural reference. Finally I just wandered off while they kept talking. They never even noticed I left.

Thinking back on it, I have this kind of experience frequently. In fact, I have it constantly. I have not learned to fit in, but I’ve learned to pretend that it doesn’t bother me that I don’t. But every now and then I’m reminded – frequently, in fact – that I’m completely out of my depth in almost every conceivable way. It’s not that people don’t understand. Understanding is only the surface of the problem. It’s that people don’t even understand that they don’t understand. And sometimes I have the same problem.

I have spent most of my adult life trying to relate to other people on their terms, and it has never worked. I don’t even have the slightest idea what their terms are, much less how to relate to them. I look back at my previous workplaces, and that is probably the root of a large fraction of the anxiety I experience on a day to day basis. I’m walking a tightrope. No one knows how much I am pretending, and if they did, I’m not sure they would want anything to do with me. And I’m not sure they’re wrong.

This pretense has little to do with any deep, dark secrets – I have a couple, as I’m sure most do. But it’s mostly mundane things. What I think. How I think. My experiences. How I interact with people. The gulf is wide and has never narrowed.

I have had a few romantic relationships in my life. I enjoyed the physical companionship of a few of them. I loved a few of them. But I didn’t understand them, and they didn’t understand me. The relationships were doomed before they even started, because the gulf was too wide. They would do or say something that should elicit a particular response (in their experience), and instead, the response was completely different. And vice versa. They didn’t know what to do with me, and I returned the favor.

Here’s the problem, though – I don’t think I can entirely blame the WCG for this, as I didn’t fit there either. I remember some disastrous YOU dances that I still regret ever going to. I remember some disastrous YOU Bible Studies – where I was ready to study the Bible and all they wanted to do was go over the next social outings. Honest truth was, I had no time for or interest in social gatherings. I considered them a waste of time. Frankly, I still do. I’ve gotten better at pretending, and even can tolerate them to some degree, but at the end of the day, I just want my quiet time.

People are exhausting. Everything about people is exhausting. Talking to them, listening to them, navigating their expectations… it’s just exhausting. I’ve tried many different approaches in my life. I’ve tried to treat it as a cultural exchange. That didn’t work because everyone else doesn’t understand that I’m not of their culture. I’ve tried to blend in. That never worked either, because one can only hold up such a pretense for so long (in my experience, about two or three years at top). I’ve tried to subsume my oddities in order to be more accepted, and that never worked, as even if if I succeeded, I knew better. And lately, I’ve tried the “I quit” approach. But that doesn’t work either, because unless one wants to become a hermit, camped out in a cave somewhere, one must support themselves. And that involves people.

I am a stranger in your world. I don’t understand your ways. If I want to survive, I must pretend, but that’s all I can do. And the cost of pretending is high. The cost of pretending is the destruction of my own identity.

But pretending is all I have.

And this – this, I have no one to blame but my parents and Herbert Armstrong’s tangled web. I am to blame for much. But not this.

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Japanese

I have been studying Japanese for a little over a year. Or, should I say, 私は一年から日本語を勉強しました。Over that year, I’ve learned a lot about the Japanese language and culture, and the more I learn about it, the more I’m suffused with a sense of profound sadness.

The Japanese are about as different from the US culture as one can get and still be developed humans. Their language is backwards from English, their religion is entirely different (in fact, they have two, bolted on to each other), their way of looking at the world is completely foreign to us, and, well, it’s not an easy language or culture to crack. I often wonder whether it’s worth the battle, but I forge ahead anyway, somehow.

But the honest truth is, American culture and Japanese culture are, to me, very similar in how foreign they are. The only real difference is, I’m fluent in English. I’ve learned a lot by immersion, I suppose, but at the end of the day, I don’t understand Americans either.

In some ways, though, Japanese is more appealing. In Japan, I am a 外人, or gaijin, which means “outsider”. I will always be an outsider. They may be outwardly accepting, they may welcome my money, they may appreciate the fact that I am making an effort to understand their culture, but at the end of the day, I am and always will be an outsider. As has been pointed out, this has some serious drawbacks in Japanese culture – but it has some rather cool perks, too. That’s neither here nor there.

In American culture, I am, as well, an outsider. I always have been. But the difference is, I have white skin, I speak the language, I was born here. So people expect me to understand and integrate with the culture, in the same way that the Japanese would hold a native Japanese to a different standard than a “gaijin” like me.

But I don’t. I’m an outsider.

I wonder often if I would be better off trying to move to Japan. At least there people don’t expect more out of me than I am capable of giving.

The thing the WCG took away from me that I can’t get back, and there are only a few things that fit into that category, is the ability to integrate with the culture amongst which I was born. I can’t. I never will be able to.

And then the WCG destroyed its culture, leaving me homeless.

Sure, I can go through the motions, I can pretend, I can try to act like I’ve integrated. But it’s exhausting, and that’s all it is. Pretending.

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I Have Returned

I grew up in the Worldwide Church of God. This was a cult that had a strong impact on me and many others.

Years ago I was a blogger writing about this church/cult. My blogging at the time was angry and I had a lot of bridges to burn. I don’t regret doing that, as it was what it was at the time. I don’t feel that way now. I’m not particularly angry anymore. I don’t care to discuss or debate the theology of said cult – either whether it was right or wrong. I don’t really want to out people, like ministers or other members. I’m not particularly concerned about being a part of the “exit and support” community either. All those ships sailed years ago. Some people are still stuck in that world. I decline to follow suit.

But some aspects of the cult still affect my life, and probably always will. I’ve come to realize lately that I am, in almost all respects, a “third culture kid” – having been raised in the US but not having been a part of the dominant culture of the US at the time. The culture I was a part of was different – it was the culture of the WCG.

Some parts of it were good. Some were even very good, and I have some fond memories of many aspects of the cult. Some were bad, and some were very bad. Some were just there. But all are a part of me, and most are things that no one outside of that culture would ever understand.

So no one knows what makes me tick. No one understands why I might react the way I do to some things that others would not react to in that same way. I have been single for all my life, and I remain convinced that this is partly because I am so divorced from the dominant culture of the country that I am incapable of identifying with another person enough to maintain a relationship, and also the other way around.

I don’t fit in this culture. I go through every day and every night knowing that I am in a culture in which I don’t belong, even as it is partly the culture I was raised in. My home culture is gone. Everything I knew is gone – destroyed by the ravages of time. I am floundering in a world that is becoming more and more incomprehensible to me, and I don’t see how that will ever resolve.

In this blog, there are times when I may be complimentary to the cult. There are times when I may be scathing. There are times when I will call people out, and there are times when I will be discreet. I simply want to talk about my experiences – for good and for bad. That’s all. Because I think there needs to be a record. One devoid of anger, of recrimination, of bitterness. It is history. It was history. I want to share it. I want to see if I can help the world understand. I want to see if I can help the world understand who I am and why.

That’s all.

We’ll start now.

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