I suppose everybody feels like an outsider sometimes.
I was the tallest girl in grade school and junior high, self-conscious and shy but stubbornly rebellious. Killer combo. I’ve never outgrown being uncomfortable in my own skin.
Lily Asher, the artistic reclusive heroine of my novel The Shark Curtain, will probably never feel comfortable in her skin either. While the 13-16-year-old is an outsider squared, living as much in her imagination as in her loving but dysfunctional family, something is still Not. Quite. Right. In another time, this one perhaps, smart, funny, frustrating Lily might be diagnosed as obsessive-compulsive, autistic, bipolar, possibly even schizophrenic. But growing up in the middle-class suburbs of northeast Portland, Oregon, in the 1960s, Lily is simply, poignantly . . . a weirdo.
It’s a label she alternately hates and hides behind, and as The Shark Curtain matures in tone and theme, so does Lily’s awareness of the cost of her anonymity. The big stuff can’t be avoided, however, and Lily must face the addictions, infidelity, and death of loved ones, as well as the surreal challenges of puberty, the ghost of her dead dog, and the unsolicited company of a restless and often annoying Jesus.
Safety, inclusiveness, and a “normal” future come with a price tag, even when you’re a weirdo. What must Lily give up to join the others at “the watering hole”? Will she ever be welcome there? And who, or what, is she without the stories she writes, the art she makes, the patterns, numbers, and fantasies that give her cluttered mind peace?
Who are any of us without a creative life?
The Shark Curtain was a big part of mine for years, and now, as I write about it here, I feel the pull of Lily’s world again. Certainly working with autistic, schizophrenic, sexually abused and emotionally disturbed kids has left its mark on my writing as well as my psyche, but so have other influences. I’ve written since I was a kid, and now, retired from teaching and silk-screening and a dozen other minor careers, I also create at my art table, play the piano and cello, and travel with my husband. I’m happiest where I’ve always been happiest: alone in my room—the door to my imagination wide open, making stuff and writing stories.
Just like Lily.