As a child, I was one of those who believed I must have been switched at birth. I never felt as though I belonged with my birth family. In elementary school and in the two neighborhoods we lived in, I always felt out of the loop, struggled to try to fit in and failed miserably. I settled for a friend or two here and there out of sheer loneliness, but I never fully connected with any of them. In Junior High School, I finally found a few real friends. One of them, I’m still connected to, having lunch together once a month. But my parents, not liking these new friends and probably sensing that I was heading in a direction they didn’t like, took me out of public school and enrolled me in an uppity private Catholic school, where I spent the next four years in complete isolation.
College was a disaster, and I lasted for only one semester before getting kicked out. I went home, tail between my legs, and tried even harder to fit in, to no avail. I finally met Paul, another lost soul like myself, and I no longer wondered what was wrong with me. After a year together, we hitchhiked around the country and landed in San Francisco at “Project One,” an artist commune in the warehouse district of the city. For the first time in my life, I felt at home. Here, I was accepted as I was with no predetermined expectations. The only requirements to live there were: You had to be in the arts, which was very loosely defined, and you had to be unanimously voted in at a weekly meeting. I was very nervous and sure I’d be shunned as I had always been in the past. Remember, I had always been the weirdo. Imagine my surprise when we were both accepted.
Project One was an old canning factory/warehouse that had been taken over by hippies, gutted and rented out by the square foot. Once you rented your space, you were free to put up any walls or barriers that you chose. We lived in a smaller commune within the large commune. With a little over 60 residents, the place was filled with visual artists, performance artists, musicians, writers and more. I became involved in radical politics, learned about alternative education, discovered natural and organic foods, had my first experience with nudism and, in general, had my eyes opened very wide. This place was completely foreign to everything I’d ever known, and for the first time in my life, I finally felt like I belonged. There was a beautiful woman who decided to work as a highly paid call girl for one year to raise enough money to go to the art school of her dreams, which she successfully and safely did. There was the crazy collector/dumpster diver who knew I was pregnant before I did and offered to buy my baby. There was the genius engineer who was building an airplane in the basement of the building out of scrounged parts the collector helped him find, and there were the radical politicos involved in helping hide Patty Hearst in plain view of the police station while trying to set up a consolidation convention with the other diverse radical groups that included the Black Panthers and SDS. We were all oddballs, and I may have been the least odd of them all. In those early days, I was a little disturbed that my friends consisted of freaks and outcasts. As time went by though, I started looking at the status quo as the real freaks.
As bizarre as this may sound, I also have to credit LSD with some of my sense of belonging. The first time I dropped acid, I felt an invisible but very strong thread of connection, not only with the other people there, but with the entire cosmic universe. It was so strong and all-encompassing, I cried. This is exactly what I had been missing and had longed for my whole life. I was relieved when, after sleeping off the after effects. I maintained that feeling of deep connection. A lot of people find that same sense of connection through meditation, which is certainly safer.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that I’m most strongly attracted to other outcasts. They are not always artists, but they are all people who, as young people, felt alienated from normal society as I did. They are the ones who knew instinctively that something was very wrong and wondered why no one else seemed to notice. Now I celebrate the fact that my community, my chosen family, is a tribe of misfits. We are interesting, quirky and fun, and thankfully, we have each other.