It seems odd to me now that I got so far off track as an adolescent, though I know that depression and stress often have precisely such an effect. Still I wish I would have kept sight of what drew me as a child; I might have focused on those things, driven deep into them and perhaps shielded myself a bit better than I ultimately managed, and my life today might have been much different for it.
Not that it changes a damned thing now; hindsight may be brutally accurate, but it's also miserably ineffective.
In any case, as a child, I was a miniature folklorist/anthropologist from a very early age, though I never thought in those terms; as I say, it's a shame, because I might have focused on those things and delved into formal study of them. My parents bought me a set of illustrated encyclopedias when I was barely big enough to hold the volumes, and I spent hours pouring over them. My particular fascination was with the rites and customs of other cultures. Life in small-town Indiana in the 1970s was not exactly rife with exoticism, and my daily life in any case largely revolved around trying to avoid both literal and metaphorical ass-beatings from my alleged peer group. Of course I sought escape in books, and my encyclopedias provided windows into worlds that looked significantly more appealing than the one I inhabited. The simple Sunday services of the nondenominational Protestantism my family embraced in those days held little appeal in comparison to the glossy photos of weird stuff going on in far-flung places: bonfires and incense and idols and feasts and dancing and drums and costumes and masks! I devoured information about--well, about anything other than what I was or could conceivably hope to experience. I felt no ties of ethnicity or sect; I was a whitebread little kid in the polyester world of the 70s suburbs, feeling alien and unwelcome, longing for adventure and identity. Longing for home.
To this day, no matter where I roam and what I throw in with, I always still feel more observer than participant. I almost always feel like an outsider, like a scholar who'd tried to "go native" but not quite pulled it off. I can understand things intellectually without ever getting a good grasp on the emotional underpinnings; I know the hows and the whys and the whats, but I don't seem to feel them, at least not in the ways that others appear to. The end result is what I do feel is frustration and alienation. (Does not play well with others. Not a joiner. Whatever.) At this age, I'm inclined to believe that it's simply how I'm wired, and that I ignore that knowledge at my own peril. I'm by nature a participant-observer, skewed more toward the observation end of the spectrum. I like to limit my involvements, my entanglements. I observe, and I file away bits of information which might be useful later. What I want most in life is knowledge. (Maybe that's why I kept drifting back into the whole G mess for so damned long--the fretful concern that there might still be knowledge out there that was being kept from me. Or maybe I'm just a very slow loser.)
I've been separating myself lately from entanglements that were exacerbating that frustration and alienation, and I feel much better for it. I know who and what I am, what I like, what I'm about. I'm content to be on the periphery of whatever "community" I encounter. I'm myself, and I'm part of a strong working partnership, and beyond that it's whatever may come--I'll take it or leave it as I see fit. These days I'm content to wear labels like "syncretist" and "eclectic" and the other types of words people want to throw at you when they can't quite figure out what else to call you; I draw inspiration from all over the place, and I'm only concerned with finding what works and optimizing it. From that unhappy, broken little girl with no sense of identity or connectedness I've forged a woman with a universalist sense of wonder and wisdom. Had I had a choice in the matter, I'm sure I would have chosen an easier path, but this was the one that was available. I'm still walking it. Have I found what I was seeking? Yes, and then some.