The lone black sheep in the flock
Oft wanders off on its own –
But – if more were present in the flock –
I’d bet you anything –
That none –
Would wander off alone
Copyright by Minh Tan on listed dated of completion
and published in Perspectives, ISBN 0-9686250-0-2.
Notes to this poem…
This “misery loves company” one stanza poem was about the outsider we often perceive negatively, but that if there were more like them in the group, they might still be on the outside, but not alone. That is, they isolate themselves from us by choice of not wanting to be around us, but would not isolate themselves of others like them, even if all they had in common were their outcast status – hence the “black sheep” metaphor. The black sheep metaphor was also good for analogy to “the flock”, but the black and white had nothing to do with race.
As for me, this one was autobiographical. I wasn’t ever casted out in anything in life, although not being embraced at times was another matter. It was in these moments that I sometimes took myself out by choice and wandered off on my own. It wasn’t fun, of course, but it was no fun staying, either, and I always had things to get done in life otherwise so might as well be productive. I dare say a good chunk of this entire poetic output volume was a case and point, and between trying to fit in a group that was no longer part of my life within a year compared to having a good chunk of a poetry collection that built the foundation for its future growth, I think I can say now in hindsight it was a brilliant choice. In the times of this poem and many others during my Chemistry B.Sc. years between 1991-1995, it was my classmates who were the most regular people in my life at the time outside my Parents, with my Parents themselves in their stifling overprotective ways. I had also withdrawn from my old friends quite a bit, but not for the same reason. I felt like I was just going to complain about life if I ever said anything while with them since I was rather bitter over a lot of things then, and that was no way to treat your friends, even if they should be there for you because that should only last for a while. I had practically a whole school year ahead of me already knowing I would not continue with my studies in Chemistry, but not knowing what to do next.
I was also feeling down from a high in life of being sent to Washington DC as one of four representatives of Dalhousie University’s Campus Challenge General Knowledge Team. I had starred in round 3 of 4 in our first match against Duke, who I hated because I was a University of North Carolina sports fan that were their nemesis, blowing away their two graduate chemists, who somehow ended up on the team, by answering every single question of the science round correctly. Unfortunately, the competition was skewed with an American history round we could not recovery from in the second round, but the trip was still fantastic. Certainly, being on that team gave me yet more evidence I differed from the rest, although not in an elitist “I’m better than you” sort of way. For what is a general enough selection, to see who knew about a lot of very different things about the world, I definitely did, never caring about what that was worth because it wasn’t like I was doing anything revolutionary or amazing in life with it.
One final story from this trip. The tournament host, whose name I had forgotten but who had recently stepped down from being the head (President?) at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, had encouraged me to apply for the Rhodes Scholar. Dalhousie University had not asked me but he told me to go talk to them about it because he knew the top people at Dalhousie so they would trust his opinion. I did, got the nomination and followed through but really, I was up against other people who were able to earn – earn, not get freely – things like money for their schools like being player of the game in sports against which I had nothing to compare, among their other fine skills. I can tell you I didn’t help my case, either, though. I did well in Chemistry, but I applied to go learn undergraduate Social Anthropology at Oxford, not graduate chemistry or other related field. At the time, my work in multiculturalism and with youths was far more interesting, and I had long made up my mind further Chemistry was not for me. It was like starting over rather than building on something I had achieved academically. I’m sure my professors of reference were hardly thrilled, but they supported me anyway, and supported me many years later when I returned to graduate school for a Masters in Public Administration, where academic references were desired in the application form. Those same professors got me among the two biggest scholarships the program had to offer.
I did not get the Rhodes Scholar nomination, of course, with so many things stacked against me. The competition is fierce, not only regionally but when you look at how many prominent Rhodes Scholars there have been, like the Clintons and practically everybody around them, among many others not so visibly known but have changed society for the better, you’d easily understand why I didn’t get the nomination. However, I still feel I’ve got to live up to that nomination somehow. I’m not living to justify it, but I still have big goals I’ve always had which so many along the way have passed off, ignored, deemed too ambitious, been blinded to the potential and such, etc. that I don’t have to specifically hold against anyone or anything. It’ll all be clear who was right and who was wrong if I’m allowed the time to do what I want to do in life. I don’t carry my burdens in life with me, but I’ll make sure I go back and pick them up to put them in their rightful place when I have a more efficient way of doing so. Until then, I keep working and searching for that way.
The O-series of poems are one stanza poems composed before I got onto writing haiku and tanka, and short poetry while in action or traveling by select means like plane or ferry. These poems are 3-9 lines long with at least one rhyming couplet, and not of the short forms just mentioned. For the sake of elegance, I just called the collection One.