The Odd Bird

by Brenda W. Clough

14457278_10202072781937226_8206484700689227936_n Some years ago I went to China on a tourist visit. I am ethnically Chinese, and there is a genealogy to prove it, brush-written in characters I cannot read on handmade paper. It runs back 14 generations.

Nevertheless, when I arrived in Beijing, I did not fit in. Not only do I not speak or read Chinese. I am tall and broad-shouldered, possibly due to American nutrition. I stand head and shoulders taller than nearly everyone in the streets of Beijing. I move and walk like an American, with the loose confident step you learn when your shoes always fit and there is forever a lot of room on the sidewalk. In China people scurry out of my way as if I were Xena Warrior Princess. And you should have seen my daughter, the rower — tall as I am but muscular. She looked like someone from another planet, probably Krypton. You know how men hit on women? They do not hit on us, not in China. We do not look hit-on-able. (Also my daughter could snap them in half.)

I am used to this. All my life, I have been the only one of my kind. The only writer, the only arty person, the only F&SF writer, the only female, the only Asian, the only person interested in mid-Victorian literature, the only American, the only person with a thirty-year run of Batman comics — certainly the only confluence of all these things. This is perfectly fine; I know no other way to be. But there are two useful things I can say about this.

One is, of course, writing. I can’t write only about people like me. There is only one of me; there would only be one book and it would not be very interesting. So I write what I write. At the moment I write a great deal about white people, especially the whitest of white men. Agonized Englishmen freezing to death on the ice, my specialty! I do most earnestly pity them, those white people someplace who are going to protest the Chinese girl culturally exploiting them. Tough. I write what I write.

The other thought is that in fact I am not alone. None of us are. Peruse the biographies of women writers, and you learn that all of them, without exception, felt like they were the odd ducks. At school, in their neighborhoods, in their communities. Nobody fit in! Well gee — if none of us did, then we are the majority. And this is where groups come in. I am thinking here specifically of SFWA, the Science-fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, but there are lots of other groups and associations like this. A group of writers can do things that a single writer cannot, of course. In unity there is strength; it was SFWA (and more importantly the late great Ann Crispin) who got me into crime fighting, for instance.

But more importantly, they are like you. You can find people who are doing the same thing as you. And then you are not alone. It is never a perfect fit, of course. But you can be at the center of the Venn diagram, surrounded by circles that overlap at you.




About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.


The Odd Bird — 6 Comments

  1. I think that’s one reason why conventions can invigorate, even though they’re work. Good to be with one’s own for a chunk of time.

  2. Yep—spent my whole life trying to find my herd. I’ve come to the realisation that my long-suffering spouse and kids are just about all the herd I’ll ever be able to count on. Which is certainly not a bad thing, all told.

    But I do like it here. I can flit in and out from time to time just to satisfy myself that there are other odd birds out there somewhat like me, even if distance and finances will likely prevent any face-to-face meeting.

    This is the good side of the internet.

    • So true. I read the biography of Rose Wilder Lane, daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder. As you possibly recall, Laura and Almanzo Wilder settled on a farm in the Ozarks, in Missouri. It is rural now — back then at the beginning of the 20th century it was the ends of the earth. Rose Wilder never fit in — the only bookish girl in the county, the only girl possibly in her half of Missouri who didn’t want to be a farm wife. She had to leave home and move to California before she met anyone who was even dimly like her. She found her uniqueness depressing and lonely. If she were a girl today, she could find an online community in fifteen minutes.