Thursday, 3 March 2016

Odd One Out

“You remind me of Alice.”

It was a thoughtful remark coming at the conclusion of a long chat with a wonderful tutor about all sorts of things: spinal surgery, publishing, clothes choices, Virginia Woolf. I still love how Alice is the kind of name that requires little context, no extra words needed to identify who’s being referenced. There’s only the one, wandering (and wondering) her way through a strange land.

I also love how, during this particular conversation, Alice became a sort of shorthand for oddness and inquisitiveness, as well as some pretty rapid shifts in size... I mean, as I take great, great pleasure in telling people I’ve just met, I did once grow 2.5 inches in five-ish hours. Thanks spinal surgery! (Spoiler alert: Alice does actually figure in my book. I’ve long thought about what an apt analogy she is for physical metamorphosis).

Rapid growth and shrinkage aside, I want to pick up on this idea of Alice symbolizing a kind of oddness. Alongside that delicious vision of blue-skirted curiosity (though as any Alice aficionado would point out, such imagery is largely Disney-influenced), she also represents a distinct sense of what, for lack of something more succinct, I’m going to call out-of-place-ness. I’ve been lingering on the idea of place a lot recently: about how we fit in, stand out, take up space, stand apart, feel comfortable in our surroundings, or visibly, uncomfortably stick out.

When I was at secondary school I spent plenty of time feeling like the odd one out. I worried that I was too tall, too interested in learning, too exasperated by the flashing, shrieking carousel of social games and shifts in hierarchy. Curious phrase isn't it? To be ‘odd’ is to automatically be ‘out’ – to stand on the edges of things, looking in. It reminds me of Woolf writing in her diary about those who “secrete an envelope which connects them and protects them from others, like myself, who am outside the envelope, foreign bodies.” Ironically she was talking about clothes – somewhere I’ve (nearly-ish) always felt at home. As I wrote earlier today for World Book Day’s Teenfest though, “in my teens I located the way I liked to dress pretty easily. Building up the attitude to match took longer.” That was where I struggled, torn between my own joy in vintage dresses, versus the ‘oddness’ I might be labeled with for openly wearing what I wanted.

Basically, Alice was the odd one out because she was a girl exploring a land of mad hatters and talking flowers (and, in the follow-up, strangely porous mirrors). I fell oddly outside of the expected rites of passage for teenagers, keen to go my own way – and certainly doing so online, and elsewhere – but still feeling the weight of ‘fitting in’ too. It took several years to let that dissolve, giving me room to acquire proper confidence in my own independence.

Maybe I’m projecting all sorts of things onto Alice that, actually, have little to do with her. Alice is kind of perfect for projection though. I saw the beautiful exhibition in the British Library recently, idling around the gorgeous illustrations and editions before dipping into the manuscripts room to pay homage to Jane Austen and Angela Carter. Alice appears in so many guises and formats and appearances, continually in flux, reinterpreted afresh for each new age.

Alice has featured on this blog before too (see here and here, indeed my blog header is still a cropped image taken from that very 2010 shoot, complete with crochet apron), and I’ve grappled with what she represents several times. At the heart of it all, I remain compelled by the image of a young woman exploring a world so utterly surreal. I find this world of ours surreal (increasingly so, in some ways), but, for now, I’ve found my place within it. These days I think the most important bit of Alice isn’t the oddness, necessarily. Instead it’s the sense of wonder.

Given that it’s World Book Day, I’m making like my primary school self and presenting a rough approximation of me dressed up as a favourite character. No prizes for guessing who! This Alice is self-determined and sprightly, complete with trusty wellies to scale windy hills (and by windy, I really mean ear-biting, hair-whipping, finger-numbing blasts that we worried might make us airborne). The photos were taken over the Christmas holidays by my dad, and the dress was bought for a few pounds from a charity shop years ago. The belt was my grandma’s.  


Ivana Split said...

Our world is indeed a surreal one. So, Alice might be someone we all (perhaps even without realizing it) relate to on some level and that may be one of the reasons why she is so popular.

I love what you said about the feeling of oddness...and what it meant to you ( and I do think we all feel odd at times). You're finishing lines are brilliant! I do think you're right in that the feeling of wonder is what makes Alice essentially what she is.

Her courage reflected not only in her chase for the white rabbit that resulted in her advantures but her continuous will to be amazed, but not humbled, to give everything a chance...her openess of sprit and her sense of wonder may just be what is so fascinating (and awe-inspiring) about her.

I do love these dreamy images (I'm sure the wind must have been unpleasent but they do look great)...and you look utterly beautiful in this Alice inspired outfit.

mariafelicia magno said...

nice dress

Sofie Marie said...

What a landscape! I recently visited Dove Cottage, one of Wordsworth's homes in the Lake District (not that I'm big on Wordworth or historicist readings of texts), and was just overwhelmed by the hills (or should that be mountains?).

Your pictures are reminding me of it, and how much I miss being in such places, even when those places have never been my home (as a city kid). I suppose this runs with your thread on home and out-of-placedness in some ways.

I can definitely share in similar teen out-of-placedness and a similar slow process of "finding a place" (or maybe a better word is "forming")

Sofie :)

Freya said...

I like this post a lot and I agree Alice is an easy character to project on to. I'm autistic and relate to her a lot, feeling out of place in a world that makes no sense and all of the confusing and hostile things she's put through both in her environment and those she meets. So much so I even have a tattoo of one of the illustrations. I find it interesting too that people are always quick to point out Alice's "oddness" when surely any oddness is Wonderland itself, she's actually the normal one from a normal world.

Beautiful pictures as always, particularly the last one on the rock.

Closet Fashionista said...

I can totally see Alice in you! You're always wanting to discover and learn more and you have such a fun quirkiness! I like to think I've got a little bit of her in me too.

Melanie said...

I've enjoyed reading this. It makes me reflect on whether there is difference in that sense of oddness experienced according to life stages. I think that as we age, a lot of life choices fix us more solidly into slots, often out of necessity. I often, not always, feel a huge divide between myself and women who have children for example or who spend their free time upgrading their material goods (not fabric) - I'm thinking more of homes and cottages. It may feel harder to find Alices, but when they do come along they are pure gold.

Alyssa G said...

Such a beautiful dress and photos!
xx Alyssa

Vix said...

As a child I never used to think I was odd despite other people frequently telling me that I was but they still liked me so I wasn't too bothered.
Like Melanie says, as you get older you are often perceived to be weird, especially when one chooses not to have kids or get married or want for i-phones or designer hand bags but that's a good thing, it means your circle of true friends gets more intimate you're united by common interests rather than the need to look popular. xxx


Stunning images. I was always a bit odd to most, especially since I was born with auburn hair growing up, most people thought that I was adopted when they saw my parents. But, I never minded it much since I had such a positive, and strong upbringing. I realised that I wasn't made to blend in per se.

Lola Byatt said...

lots of reading material to fill my saturday morning, thank you for the links :)

it's funny but it seems that standing out when we're younger is always quite traumatising, at least it was for me. I was tallest in the class and always in second hand clothes/hand me downs which didn't quite fit well with school friends. For most of my primary school years I didn't have friends but my love for learning always triumphed and so this never really bothered me as much.

as i got older, I've learnt to embrace it much better! The odd literary character I've been connected to is Luna from Harry Potter xx

Tyne Richardson said...

Rosalind I loved this piece and have been a reader of your work for a while now (it's fab and so inspiring!), if anyone has got a minute I've recently started a blog and I would love if you could check out my recent piece on how I believe literature can emancipate women:

Thank you so much.