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  • So I know TED is about a lot of things that are big,

  • but I want to talk to you about something very small.

  • So small, it's a single word.

  • The word is "misfit."

  • It's one of my favorite words, because it's so literal.

  • I mean, it's a person who sort of missed fitting in.

  • Or a person who fits in badly.

  • Or this: "a person who is poorly adapted

  • to new situations and environments."

  • I'm a card-carrying misfit.

  • And I'm here for the other misfits in the room,

  • because I'm never the only one.

  • I'm going to tell you a misfit story.

  • Somewhere in my early 30s,

  • the dream of becoming a writer came right to my doorstep.

  • Actually, it came to my mailbox

  • in the form of a letter that said I'd won a giant literary prize

  • for a short story I had written.

  • The short story was about my life as a competitive swimmer

  • and about my crappy home life,

  • and a little bit about how grief and loss can make you insane.

  • The prize was a trip to New York City to meet big-time editors and agents

  • and other authors.

  • So kind of it was the wannabe writer's dream, right?

  • You know what I did the day the letter came to my house?

  • Because I'm me,

  • I put the letter on my kitchen table,

  • I poured myself a giant glass of vodka

  • with ice and lime,

  • and I sat there in my underwear for an entire day,

  • just staring at the letter.

  • I was thinking about all the ways I'd already screwed my life up.

  • Who the hell was I to go to New York City

  • and pretend to be a writer?

  • Who was I?

  • I'll tell you.

  • I was a misfit.

  • Like legions of other children,

  • I came from an abusive household

  • that I narrowly escaped with my life.

  • I already had two epically failed marriages underneath my belt.

  • I'd flunked out of college not once but twice

  • and maybe even a third time that I'm not going to tell you about.

  • (Laughter)

  • And I'd done an episode of rehab for drug use.

  • And I'd had two lovely staycations in jail.

  • So I'm on the right stage.

  • (Laughter)

  • But the real reason, I think, I was a misfit,

  • is that my daughter died the day she was born,

  • and I hadn't figured out how to live with that story yet.

  • After my daughter died I also spent a long time homeless,

  • living under an overpass

  • in a kind of profound state of zombie grief and loss

  • that some of us encounter along the way.

  • Maybe all of us, if you live long enough.

  • You know, homeless people are some of our most heroic misfits,

  • because they start out as us.

  • So you see, I'd missed fitting in to just about every category out there:

  • daughter, wife, mother, scholar.

  • And the dream of being a writer

  • was really kind of like a small, sad stone in my throat.

  • It was pretty much in spite of myself that I got on that plane

  • and flew to New York City,

  • where the writers are.

  • Fellow misfits, I can almost see your heads glowing.

  • I can pick you out of a room.

  • At first, you would've loved it.

  • You got to choose the three famous writers you wanted to meet,

  • and these guys went and found them for you.

  • You got set up at the Gramercy Park Hotel,

  • where you got to drink Scotch late in the night

  • with cool, smart, swank people.

  • And you got to pretend you were cool and smart and swank, too.

  • And you got to meet a bunch of editors and authors and agents

  • at very, very fancy lunches and dinners.

  • Ask me how fancy.

  • Audience: How fancy?

  • Lidia Yuknavitch: I'm making a confession: I stole three linen napkins --

  • (Laughter)

  • from three different restaurants.

  • And I shoved a menu down my pants.

  • (Laughter)

  • I just wanted some keepsakes so that when I got home,

  • I could believe it had really happened to me.

  • You know?

  • The three writers I wanted to meet

  • were Carole Maso, Lynne Tillman and Peggy Phelan.

  • These were not famous, best-selling authors,

  • but to me, they were women-writer titans.

  • Carole Maso wrote the book that later became my art bible.

  • Lynne Tillman gave me permission to believe

  • that there was a chance my stories could be part of the world.

  • And Peggy Phelan reminded me

  • that maybe my brains could be more important than my boobs.

  • They weren't mainstream women writers,

  • but they were cutting a path through the mainstream

  • with their body stories,

  • I like to think, kind of the way water cut the Grand Canyon.

  • It nearly killed me with joy

  • to hang out with these three over-50-year-old women writers.

  • And the reason it nearly killed me with joy

  • is that I'd never known a joy like that.

  • I'd never been in a room like that.

  • My mother never went to college.

  • And my creative career to that point

  • was a sort of small, sad, stillborn thing.

  • So kind of in those first nights in New York I wanted to die there.

  • I was just like, "Kill me now. I'm good. This is beautiful."

  • Some of you in the room will understand what happened next.

  • First, they took me to the offices of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

  • Farrar, Straus and Giroux was like my mega-dream press.

  • I mean, T.S. Eliot and Flannery O'Connor were published there.

  • The main editor guy sat me down and talked to me for a long time,

  • trying to convince me I had a book in me

  • about my life as a swimmer.

  • You know, like a memoir.

  • The whole time he was talking to me,

  • I sat there smiling and nodding like a numb idiot,

  • with my arms crossed over my chest,

  • while nothing, nothing, nothing came out of my throat.

  • So in the end, he patted me on the shoulder

  • like a swim coach might.

  • And he wished me luck

  • and he gave me some free books

  • and he showed me out the door.

  • Next, they took me to the offices of W.W. Norton,

  • where I was pretty sure I'd be escorted from the building

  • just for wearing Doc Martens.

  • But that didn't happen.

  • Being at the Norton offices

  • felt like reaching up into the night sky and touching the moon

  • while the stars stitched your name across the cosmos.

  • I mean, that's how big a deal it was to me.

  • You get it?

  • Their lead editor, Carol Houck Smith,

  • leaned over right in my face with these beady, bright, fierce eyes

  • and said, "Well, send me something then, immediately!"

  • See, now most people, especially TED people,

  • would have run to the mailbox, right?

  • It took me over a decade to even imagine

  • putting something in an envelope and licking a stamp.

  • On the last night,

  • I gave a big reading at the National Poetry Club.

  • And at the end of the reading,

  • Katharine Kidde of Kidde, Hoyt & Picard Literary Agency,

  • walked straight up to me and shook my hand

  • and offered me representation, like, on the spot.

  • I stood there and I kind of went deaf.

  • Has this ever happened to you?

  • And I almost started crying

  • because all the people in the room were dressed so beautifully,

  • and all that came out of my mouth was:

  • "I don't know. I have to think about it."

  • And she said, "OK, then," and walked away.

  • All those open hands out to me, that small, sad stone in my throat ...

  • You see, I'm trying to tell you something about people like me.

  • Misfit people -- we don't always know how to hope or say yes

  • or choose the big thing,

  • even when it's right in front of us.

  • It's a shame we carry.

  • It's the shame of wanting something good.

  • It's the shame of feeling something good.

  • It's the shame of not really believing we deserve to be in the room

  • with the people we admire.

  • If I could, I'd go back and I'd coach myself.

  • I'd be exactly like those over-50-year-old women who helped me.

  • I'd teach myself how to want things,

  • how to stand up, how to ask for them.

  • I'd say, "You! Yeah, you! You belong in the room, too."

  • The radiance falls on all of us,

  • and we are nothing without each other.

  • Instead, I flew back to Oregon,

  • and as I watched the evergreens and rain come back into view,

  • I just drank many tiny bottles of airplane "feel sorry for yourself."

  • I thought about how, if I was a writer, I was some kind of misfit writer.

  • What I'm saying is,

  • I flew back to Oregon without a book deal,

  • without an agent,

  • and with only a headful and heart-ful of memories

  • of having sat so near

  • the beautiful writers.

  • Memory was the only prize I allowed myself.

  • And yet, at home in the dark,

  • back in my underwear,

  • I could still hear their voices.

  • They said, "Don't listen to anyone who tries to get you to shut up

  • or change your story."

  • They said, "Give voice to the story only you know how to tell."

  • They said, "Sometimes telling the story

  • is the thing that saves your life."

  • Now I am, as you can see, the woman over 50.

  • And I'm a writer.

  • And I'm a mother.

  • And I became a teacher.

  • Guess who my favorite students are.

  • Although it didn't happen the day

  • that dream letter came through my mailbox,

  • I did write a memoir,

  • called "The Chronology of Water."

  • In it are the stories of how many times I've had to reinvent a self

  • from the ruins of my choices,

  • the stories of how my seeming failures were really just weird-ass portals

  • to something beautiful.

  • All I had to do was give voice to the story.

  • There's a myth in most cultures about following your dreams.

  • It's called the hero's journey.

  • But I prefer a different myth,

  • that's slightly to the side of that

  • or underneath it.

  • It's called the misfit's myth.

  • And it goes like this:

  • even at the moment of your failure,

  • right then, you are beautiful.

  • You don't know it yet,

  • but you have the ability to reinvent yourself

  • endlessly.

  • That's your beauty.

  • You can be a drunk,

  • you can be a survivor of abuse,

  • you can be an ex-con,

  • you can be a homeless person,

  • you can lose all your money or your job or your husband

  • or your wife, or the worst thing of all,

  • a child.

  • You can even lose your marbles.

  • You can be standing dead center in the middle of your failure

  • and still, I'm only here to tell you,

  • you are so beautiful.

  • Your story deserves to be heard,

  • because you, you rare and phenomenal misfit,

  • you new species,

  • are the only one in the room

  • who can tell the story

  • the way only you would.

  • And I'd be listening.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

So I know TED is about a lot of things that are big,

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【TED】Lidia Yuknavitch: The beauty of being a misfit (The beauty of being a misfit | Lidia Yuknavitch)

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    yucyan posted on 2017/04/06
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