When I was a teenager, I had some great friends. We were a motley crew, really. Among us, a semi-atheist, a hard-core Christian who loved to be challenged, a musician, an anxious Birkenstock clad hippie we picked up somewhere along the way (in the time of flannel), and me. We had potluck lunches every Wednesday (as I remember, we tried to bring multicultural cuisine) and we’d sit on stone benches, sharing, talking, making fun of each other. We’d get strange looks, and who were we kidding, we enjoyed these strange looks. I guess we were on the fringe in a way, somewhat by choice and somewhat not by choice. These friends of mine, they were pretty great. They unknowingly taught me how to be comfortable on the fringe. They showed me how being on the fringe has its benefits; from here you have a completely different, sometimes extraordinary view.
The fringe is this place that scares some people and others embrace. There have been instances where I’ve felt both ways, but more and more, I find the fringe to be an extraordinary place. When I hear of someone being the least bit eclectic, I want to know everything about them. I wonder how their mind works, what they think. I’ve become obsessed with the lives of artists like Dali, Van Gogh, Kahlo; of poets like Plath, Dickinson, Poe; characters like Camus’ The Stranger and Salinger’s Holden Caulfield. They all stroll on the fringe. And these characters (whether real or fictional) are the ones I love. These are the characters who don’t quite fit in, who struggle and feel disconnected, who are sometimes lonely, sometimes desperate, and almost always trying to make sense of what they see, feel, experience.
I think I spend most of my life on the fringe in some way. Not because I’m extraordinary in any way. I’m not. I live a quiet life. I don’t like crowds. I have few friends. I prefer to be away from anything busy because I’m prone to panic and anxiety attacks. And if I’m really honest with you, I have to push myself quite a bit to be social or I could easily develop agoraphobia. My suburban existence is eerily similar to the opening scene of Edward Scissorhands. The fringe is just where I find myself, which I actually don’t mind, because I like the people I find here, the people I learn about by being here, whether they be from the past, from the present, from books, or real life.
But the fringe is as strange a place as its inhabitants. In a way, being there can teach you to love and accept yourself in a way nothing else can. But it can also make you isolate yourself. Like most things, it doesn’t present benefits without some danger. But most likely, most definitely, you will find others there. They come scattered, they stagger, sometimes they look worn and tired, but they always have something interesting to say, a new way to look at the old. The fringe is a well worn path. And those who tread it are certainly characters, the kind of characters we love to meet, read about, and write about, the kind of characters who never cease to be captivating. I happen to like the fringe, quite a bit.