Lidia Yuknavitch's Love Letter to Fellow Misfits

Read an excerpt from The Misfit's Manifesto.

Posted Nov 16, 2017

When I finished reading The Misfit’s Manifesto, the first thing I did was read it again. This book is written with compassion and courage, and we have come to expect nothing less from the extraordinary Lidia Yuknavitch. This is a “love letter” to her tribe of those who don’t fit in and have not always felt they were welcome in society, their school, or even sometimes their home. The following is an excerpt that will, I believe, show you why I love this book — and why I will no doubt read it again and again.  

Excerpt from THE MISFIT’S MANIFESTO by Lidia Yuknavitch

L. Yuknavitch
Source: L. Yuknavitch

I’d say I’m a misfit partly because of things that happened to me, and partly from things that come from the inside out. Hardwiring, if you will.

You see, some of us do life weird or wrong, or we do weird or wrong things in life. Some of us flunk out or go to jail or rehab or lose husbands or wives or children or houses or all the money. But the thing is, we don’t all surrender or disappear, though some of us do. Lost secular angels. Some of us manage to invent bodies, voices, and lives worth living even though we don’t fit in to the normative socius.

In our present tense, the older I get, the more I think that the social scripts we inherit along the way telling us who to be and how to fit in are bunk. The best we seem able to do is barely navigate those scripts, usually badly, like a bunch of mammals using their oars backward.

In fact, when I talk about “misfittery,” what I hear most often is “oh, everyone is a misfit.” And I know what people mean. In some ways, we all want to kind of “claim” the space of misfit, because let’s face it, life is hard and weird and unfair and everyone, no exceptions, gets dosed once in a while. While I understand what people mean when they say that, I also think there is something important that only some of us have experienced that might help the rest of us get by, if our stories could be amplified.

I also understand the “anti-label” contingent. But I want to talk about the ways in which stepping into my misfittery, standing up inside it, and understanding it as a way of being and seeing in the world, saved my goddamn life.

Some of us have a point of view forged from both our experiences as well as our continued inability to enter culture, relationships, language, and social organization—the way we group ourselves in relationships, families, and communities—like other people. And there are a lot of us. Legions of us. For once I’d like to tell the story from our point of view, rather than from the projections and categories and DSM designations and false fictions society has made of us. The fallen, the broken, the abused, the recovering, the ex-cons, the vets, the survivors, the introverted, the not quite right: We are not your enemy. We are not something to be embarrassed about. We are not lesser or failed.

If you are a misfit, my hope is that you will see yourself reflected in these pages—from my story and the story of our fellow misfits. I’ve spoken with people who have figured out how to stand up inside their different ways of doing things, at the edges of culture. I hope to remind you that the edges of culture are exactly where new and beautiful meanings are generated. The edges help hold the center together. The edges are frontiers. The stories from other misfits in this book are here alongside mine to remind us all that we are not alone. We are always a part of one another—just like a conglomerate rock carrying sediments of earth from all over the world.

If you do not identify as a misfit, my hope is to illuminate the vital lessons we misfits have to share. We live in your periphery, right next to you every day of your life. We have ideas and innovations and heart to lend, but you’d have to learn to see us differently, on our own terms, and we’ll all have to ask ourselves “how do our stories forge useful tributaries that might contribute to the human community?”

Here is a list we can at least begin with. Misfits know how to see mistakes and weirdness differently. We are differently sighted. We can see portals where other people see roadblocks. Misfits are remarkably good at invention, reinvention. Innovation in the face of what other people might see as failure. We are resilient; we don’t just survive, we invent how to thrive. Misfits know how to help others because we are not driven by some fiction of American excellence forged through ego and competition—our egos are shot to shit, which helps us recognize that it’s our hands we need to extend, not our egos. We are not frightened by otherness. Misfits transform fear and anger and grief into expression rather than destruction—we give something of value to the rest of culture rather than succumbing to our own misery, particularly when those around us recognize our value. Misfits know how to resist the homogenizing narratives of culture since we live at the edges. We help culture find new shapes. We hold the center from the edges, we guard the perimeter.

There is nothing wrong with us. We are the rest of you. We are useful to our culture and more; we have specific skills born of resistance, reinvention, and resilience that are vital to human existence. Put slightly differently, if we could all learn to see what misfits see, that is, that so-called mistakes, failures, oddball traits, and vulnerabilities are actually beautiful new roads to creativity and social organization, we just might be able to begin to redefine who we are and how we treat one another in a way that does not celebritize some people while disappearing others.

We have voices.

We have bodies.

We have stories.

Copyright © 2017 by Lidia Yuknavitch. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc., NY.

Lidia Yuknavitch is the national bestselling author of the novels The Book of JoanThe Small Backs of Children, Dora: A Headcase, and the memoir The Chronology of Water. Her acclaimed TED Talk “The Beauty of Being a Misfit” has over 2 million views. She writes, teaches, and lives in Portland, Oregon.