21 February, 2007

How to Embrace Your Weirdness When You're in a Culture That Discourages It

Above: The author contemplates being an oddball at HHQ.

Over the past few days, I have heard at least three people say the following (or something very similar to it) to me:

"You have this odd quality about you..."

That's it. Even the trailing off has not varied depending upon who I am talking to. Now, the people who have said this do not know me very well, and all are people I have come into contact with thanks to school. The people that I do know well, obviously, recognize that I have this "oddness," and don't mind it. In fact, I would say that under many circumstances, my odd, perpetually switched-on brain is encouraged among my friends, if nothing else.

I am trying to figure out whether this statement is meant as a compliment, or if it's just a way of trying to make sense of traits or habits that I may have that may not fit the status quo. I am not trying to sound hipsterish (ie: "I am soooo cool, check me out! I'm a unique person, just like everyone else!" sort of thing)--the fact that I am odd is just that: a fact. However, I do not know why others think I am odd: Is it because I am odd-looking? Is it because my dress habits are a little less conventional than the average person? More questions than there are answers, really.

After a lifetime spent of trying to "fit" in with the general populace, I realized, sometime in my late teens, that I would never be able to fit in with other "average" janes or joes. I cannot explain in an objective manner why I am an oddball; I just am an oddball. I can see reasons why people categorize me as such, but I believe that there is no one reason as to why I have turned out the way I have--many reasons, habits, different scores of knowledge, beliefs, and cues (cultural, social, familial, et cetera) are all working together--not exactly in tandem or at the same speed, but the point is that they work together and make me the oddball that I am.

This is why I am so shocked when I see people trying to hide their inner oddball or their weirdness. My best friend in middle school, for example, spent much of her life being a freckled, creative and fabulous freak-girl who also happened to one of three or four Jewish kids in our grade in elementary school (the total enrollment was just under 400 students, and this was a public school in a very affluent neighborhood). Once we reached seventh grade, however, she decided to dedicate her entire existence to becoming one of Them--one of the "popular" kids. She made the transformation from future artiste to future Hot-Botoxed-Mom-in-a-Tennis-Outfit (sorry, that was horrible) in about a week--she began to wear a shit-ton of makeup (enough to cover her freckles, natch) every single day, dressed in clothes that sent a message that she would have recoiled at a mere few months before, and dropped drawing fabulous cartoons in favor of going shopping. [Context: We used to spend entire weekends together, drawing our cartoons that, we were convinced, would change the world of comics once we got mass exposure. After these went out of style for my friend, she dragged me along on many a shopping trip, during which she would spend hours trying on outfits to impress the guy she liked; the ironic kicker, of course, was that he would never notice.]

Coincidentally, this was around the same time that she told me that our friendship was becoming a liability for her--in her words, I was too "weird," too "bitchy and depressed,"** and didn't focus enough on trying to get people, especially the neanderthal boys who populated our school, to like me. In other words, I was not acceptable--not to anyone, according to her. We then had an extreme falling-out that lasted for a year and a half--eventually, we went our seperate ways, which was probably for the better, given what happened. So, this was my big lesson of my junior high school years: I was an oddball. And, unfortunately, it was not until many years later that I learned to stop hating this odd part of me--which, when you crunch the numbers, turns out to be about 95% of my personality--and accept it, whether other people like(d) it or not. Hilariously, embracing the very thing(s) that drove my former best friend away has allowed me to make better friends and to successfully evaluate the people who really do care and who will stick around (which are not people like her, ha ha).

So, what are we oddballs to do? Who can we turn to in dark times, when we need a bit of strength and conviction to get us through the day? Every time I hear someone say something such as "You are so strange," or "You're weird" in a derogatory manner (which is not often any more, but still), I automatically think of this brilliant woman

Remember her? Come on, how could you not? Here's another reminder. I believe that Bjork is one of the patron saints of oddballs (a few of the others being Willem Dafoe, Grace Jones, Amy Sedaris, Frank Zappa, and possibly Gary Busey, although he's more psychotic than odd). Bjork is just completely weird, and, fortunately for her and for us, this has translated into worldwide success with her bizarre, genius brand of crazy music. I had the pleasure of seeing her peform live a few years ago, and even when she did something utterly mundane and almost normal, you could feel her strangeness infecting everything she did. When she politely thanked the audience after every other song, it seemed odd, because it was odd. Bjork cannot do anything that we take for granted without it being affected by her total, all-encompassing weirdness. Neither can those of us who are oddballs--everything we do will, whether we know it or not, be affected by the fact that we are strange. Bjork has embraced her oddballness and has made an extraordinarily successful career out of it, but the important thing to remember is that she seems very comfortable with that part of herself and is willing to inhabit it, no matter what anyone else thinks.

I personally think we could learn quite a bit from such an example of uncompromising oddness.

**Still am, to a degree. The joke's on her.


b said...

Above: The author contemplates uploading this to myspace.

annaham said...

Above: The author contemplates uploading this to myspace.

Yeah, I know, it IS pretty emo-esque. But my camera's a piece of crap and I can't set it to a timer mode of any sort. Bah.

Also: I don't even have a MySpace!

E said...

Came here through Feministe...like your blog. My 2 best friends also recognized my inherent oddballness in the 7th grade and stopped hanging out with me.

Anonymous said...

The best way to prevent yourself from being extraordinary is to pander to the ordinary.