My dance teacher Kara Masters is definitely an Other, but it’s hard to pin down why. Some people just are Otherly, in that they don’t have a box to think outside of. And Kara is one of them.
For weeks, she and I have talked about sitting down to do an interview for this blog, and last week we finally did it. Except that we didn’t. We just talked. I’ve interviewed many people over the years, and the conversations have tended to be question-answer-question-answer-occasional tangent-question-answer. On Friday, we talked for three hours, and it took us almost that long to figure out how to describe her Otherliness.
We talked about how she didn’t quite fit in with her family. How she (an Italian-Dutch-French-Native American-American girl in upstate New York, not the “hour out of the Big Apple” kind, but the “almost in Canada” kind) had an African-American boyfriend in high school, but was oblivious as to why people stared at them.
We talked about how she wasn’t part of one clique at school but moved between many. How she could walk down a street in Peru and be asked directions. It was interesting to hear how she felt Otherly because she was wide open to possibility. But she wondered whether that was interesting enough.
We finally hit on a way to approach it. Branding.
At the start of this post, I described Kara as my dance teacher. Because that’s what we do in our culture. When we meet people, we ask them what they do, where they come from. We brand them. Once we have them pigeonholed, we continue more comfortably. Same with dogs and babies – boy or girl, how old, what breed?
Kara describes herself as a dancer, singer, editor, chocolate maker. Because she loves gardening, she tends gardens for people. She was a public school teacher. She practices movement therapy. She’s an excellent DJ. She’s the most intuitive person I’ve ever met. To be honest, dance teacher doesn’t describe her well at all.
Kara says she can feel like a chameleon. When life presents opportunity, she moves with it. Someone sees a void that she can fill, and she says yes. She loves many things, and follows her heart.
The conclusion we reached is that she hasn’t followed a direct career path and feels, on some level, like she might be missing a “brand”. She doesn’t have a website or a business card. She doesn’t have the six-figure salary she might have had if she had stuck to one career. In our culture, those are things we are taught to covet.
But she doesn’t covet those things. As she explained, “My brain is saying, ‘What’s wrong with me that I don’t have a brand? Why don’t I have a singular job title?'” Her heart, however, doesn’t really care. “What my brain is thinking it wants and what my heart desires don’t always line up,” she laughs. “And I always want my heart to win.”
She asked me whether this fit in with my theme for this blog (in a nutshell, triumph over the perceived adversity of difference). My answer was simple. Is she Otherly? Is she happy? Is she sustaining her life without a brand? Hell, yes she is.
Sometimes being true to your heart defies branding. How many women, for example, have had careers outside of the home, then found everything change when they have a baby? The maternal urge takes over, and everything falls into place. It’s confusing to want that more than the career – or to want both. It’s not linear.
I know this has been true for me. In my life, I have mostly been a writer, but I’ve also been a mother, worked as an editor, had a clothing line for babies, dabbled in photography, and worked at my daughter’s school. Today, I do so many things it’s hard to define myself. Have I beaten myself up for not being a magazine editor by now? Yes, often.
Kara leads with her heart, flows and ebbs with change, and is genuinely happy. “My brain can make as much noise as it does,” she says. “What has made it possible for me is that under everything else, my heart is still trusting.”
I think that’s a triumph. And if we all cut ourselves some slack, I think we’d be happier not being branded.
In the course of our talk, Kara wondered whether she’ll hit a certain age and finally figure out what her brand is. I laughed and suggested that, as she breathes her last breath, she’ll exclaim, “I’m purple!”
But I doubt it. She already knows who she is.