Lutalica… and our Identity

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(courtesy of Pixabay)

Lutalica (n). the part of your identity that doesn’t fit into categories (The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows)

Categories abound. When we are born, we are born with a name, gender, nationality, religion, and race. And that’s alright. There are categories, and we are placed into them. There are always outliers; but given the fact that the number of outliers is constantly increasing, there is a sparsely populated identity that they fit into, as well. If we look at the world as a series of canisters that we
are nestled in, it may seem like we’re not as unique as we once thought we were… because there are millions of others surrounding us. We are knowingly or unknowingly labeled, and we accept that.

But what about those gaps between the canisters, which are said to contain air and dust particles? What about the water that overflows, or the sand that never gained entrance in the first place? What about the facets of our personality that refuse to conform to a set rhythm, and hence compose their own tune?

I’m sure millions of teenagers write poetry; we are hence categorized as “poets”—a name most of us hold with pride. But I know a girl who writes poems that either attempt to create a new image of a “princess”, or glamorize the beauty of math problems. She writes in sestinas or in iambic pentameter, and has a firm policy of only composing in the margins of her math notebook. Sometimes, she solves math problems by incorporating them in her poems; she says that it helps her integrate the two halves of her intellectual life. She is a poet, but not in the strictest sense. Hers is an interest and talent that can’t be carelessly designated. And if more poets like her were to be labelled and tucked into a box, that box would probably explode—merely because those youngsters aren’t comfortable there. They deserve to drift about space, and to find their niche at their own rate. And given the speed at which the globe’s diversity is flourishing, chances are they won’t take long.

Not everything needs to be labelled. But this phenomenon has grown so dramatically that we feel like a pariah if we don’t experience that sense of belonging. It’s easier to feel sheltered, protected against the wind, than out in the open—before the critical eyes of the millions of people safely enmeshed in their own world. But do those labels do justice to the myriad of dreams and aspirations we’ve developed over the years? Is it right to be merged with the crowd, when we could present the world with something miles more divergent and colorful?

Admittedly, categories keep the world organized. They prevent us from falling into chaos, like a million dots ambling about, desperately trying to find their niche—whether in terms of nationality, ethnicity, religion, occupation… But regardless of the number of labels that are attached to our name, there will always be that one aspect of our personality that will never find its calling. I am a teenager who loves exploring the nexus between journalism and etymology, and who simultaneously houses a love for engineering. My family is a clan of voracious coders; I, on the other hand, am a poet with a highly mathematical side. Although I’m introverted, I’m still good at communicating with people and working in a team. Despite being a perfectionist when it comes to my grades and work, my desk is fantastically untidy and I never procrastinate when a challenge lies before me.

These traits ensure that every facet of my personality isn’t carelessly slapped into a box. But that said, I still may be deemed a normal teenager: I go to school, talk to my friends, stress out before finals, and have a few hobbies that I dedicatedly pursue. Yes, I am a relatively normal teenager—but there have always been characteristics of mine that fight to escape that category. Every high school student I know has something incredibly distinctive about them, whether that distinction is positive or negative. And that’s what makes us unique—that’s what makes each person memorable: the strand of our persona that fights to be recognized, and that aspires to leave a mark on the world. The world may seem to categorize us for the sake of simplicity. And it works—it does make the world easier to comprehend, it does add coherence to phenomena too vast to completely understand. It lets us know that there are millions of similar people out there; for after all, humans are social creatures.

But it’s still comforting to know that there is a rebellious side that desires to be acclaimed for its uniqueness… whether it’s an ingredient of our personality, or just something we were born with. In a world that is teeming with diversity, it’s becoming more and more difficult to be recognized among our friends, or even by our family. But it’s always possible to be recognized by ourselves, and to embrace that side of our nature that refuses to settle down and be lost in the crowd. Or to appreciate the fact that no matter how intimidating it may seem, wandering around space may actually lead us to some beautiful destinations. And you never know—it can be heartening to break out of our mold, and to welcome that side of ourselves that never managed to find a home.

-Richa Gupta