July 09, 2013

I'm strange. And I like it.


Uncle Beefy
PHOTO BY BRIAN LANE

I have been called a lot of things in my life. Some good, some not so good. But if there has been one adjective that has dutifully followed me around it's "weird". "Strange" comes in at a very close second and makes for a slightly catchier title based upon the song by Cameo (which, as it turns out, isn't really all that great despite my fond recollection). Hey, I get it. I mean, I totally get it. I am weird. And, at this point, you've probably gotten that, as well. Yes? Thought so. (God love your heart for still being here.)

Sometimes my weirdness has been my nemesis. Kids at school teased and shunned me because their poor wee brains just couldn't wrap their heads around all o' that business. And I drive myself bananas - buh-NANAS! - with the weirdness of my late bloomer ways. On the other hand, that same bizarre synapse explosion that had kids laughing at me when I was little has turned out to be the same silly freak show that has had people laughing with me and connected me with so many as an adult. Here's the one consistent thing, that little inside place that has continually gotten pegged as weird, be it good weird or bad weird, is the same place that always radiates with joy for me. I don't mean joy. I mean JOY. That utter abandonment of all cares or concerns, the I-could-give-a-rip relishing that only comes in moments where we feel completely, deeply, authentically ourselves. Why then are so many of us quick to squelch that expressiveness and abandon that feeling of freedom? Abandon ourselves?

A casual armchair psychology session would talk about our innate biological and social desires to belong and, thus, conform to a standard set by a societal majority, blah, blah, blah. So why do we also applaud and admire those who defy those set standards? Raise them up as idols of individuality? Why? Because we so desperately want to do the exact same thing. They represent outwardly the caged wonder that resides inside all of us. But as much as we may long for the radiance of those who have the courage to be themselves, most of us become inextricably torn between the contradiction of wanting to be accepted by the group as they want us to be and risking being ourselves as we were meant to be.

To make matters worse, those who have followed the tragic trajectory of falling in line with outside expectations typically reinforce a mentality of "that's just what you do" to younger generations in order that the sacrifice of their own precious life doesn't feel like it was all in vain. So, many of us spend our lives walking through fires that were set long before us, becoming comfortable breathing through the smoke, seeing through the blurred vision of stinging eyes because we've been conditioned to never really know what it is to breathe deeply or see clearly for ourselves.

Then, there is the navigation of the calm seas promised by those who love us and want the very best for us. Those whom, with the best of intentions, will lovingly encourage us off course. This is usually framed through looking back upon one's own regrets and wanting to help others avoid those same missteps. Seems reasonable, more or less, right? Well, sure! If we all lived the exact same lives with the exact same desires and goals, anyway. But we don't. And still we see the father who desperately wanted to be an actor, who settled for becoming a lawyer because it was a 'good and steady' job, who will then persuade his daughter to go to law school when she really longs to be an artist. That or any myriad combination one might conceive of are simply more painful examples of becoming less of ourselves. Wash, rinse, repeat, etc. Because of those "loving" influences we set adrift with false confidence into open oceans that might well drown out the life we're in hopeful pursuit of discovering.

Yes, this whole debacle is one sticky wicket. And we're all guilty of both perpetuating and consuming this maddening conundrum. We fear the judgement we may face in being ourselves freely and yet, despite understanding that fear intimately, we'll turn around and judge another for expressing their unique selves. I've done it. You've done it. And when we make those judgements against others we only serve to reinforce our own fears of being judged all over again and just keep digging our hole deeper, and deeper, and deeper. As a result, we also distance ourselves further from really knowing who we are in the first place which makes us decidedly more susceptible to following someone else's rules and navigations. [I know. Insert head spinning here.] 

Assorted images of Uncle Beefy
MY WEIRDNESS THROUGH THE AGES.

Years ago, I was a barista working at a coffee stand in a neighborhood of Seattle. During the weekday mornings, kids would stop by to get a little something on their way to school. (Let the record show that fulfilling coffee orders for 10 year olds always felt weird and borderline illegal to me.) There was one girl, I'd say around 7 or 8 years old, who came by almost every morning to get a small hot chocolate with whipped cream and colored sprinkles. Unlike other kids who came in barreling bunches, she was always alone. Seeming slightly small for her age, she had this spherical crown of black, kinky, curly hair, bright blue eyes, and a perfect smattering of freckles. In conjunction with her striking features came a bevy of very creative outfits, oftentimes with mismatched shoes, and, my favorite accessory, a tiny plastic hot dog that she dragged behind her on a string. Her raging individuality makes me want to cry for her courage even now because I can't imagine she always had an easy go of it with other kids. Or, I don't know, maybe she did since there was nothing retreating or second-guessing about this girl.

One morning a woman appeared at the window to order a coffee. Her hair was pulled back and in a professionally conservative bun. The suit she was wearing was pristine and well-pressed and her shoes and briefcase would indicate a woman both serious and successful. She also ordered a small hot chocolate. "With whip and sprinkles," she said, "please." Suddenly, those icy blue eyes and that wild halo of hair popped up right next her distinct opposite, next to, as it turns out, her mother. Her mother!? To say there was a glaring contrast would be an understatement if ever there was one.

My shock and awe clearly caused my mouth to take the lead from my better sense as I burst out with the declaration that I never would have thought that she would be this child's mother. Oops! Fortunately, she looked at me with a been-here-a-million-times-before expression and, with a smile in her voice, said, "I know, but I figure if I let her learn who she is now she won't have to deal with others telling her who she's supposed to be later." (You want me to give you a second to let that sink in? Powerful stuff, huh?) 

The reality is someone is always going to think about or, worse, tell you who you ought to be. Those people may also be the same people who quietly cry themselves to sleep from staying in a relationship they don't love, in a house they don't like, paid for by a job they despise. And, let's face it, there are people who are going to tell you who you should be simply because they don't like you. They may not like you because, well, they just don't or it may simply be a reflection of not liking themselves. In either case, their opinion of you is none of your business.

Sure, it's great to be considered the coolest/hippest/hottest/bestest whatever. But at what point do we strive for all of that external validation and acceptance to the detriment of our truest selves? And who's to say that our truest self isn't all of those aforementioned adjectives in the first place? When we are at our truest we probably don't care anyway. As one of my favorite quotes from Byron Katie reminds us, “It’s not your job to like me – it’s mine.”





54 comments:

  1. Fabulous post! I love what the mother said. So perfect. :)

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  2. Oh gosh...I wish I'd been as brave as that little girl when I was little. Heck, sometimes, I'd like to be even half that brave now.

    Whenever I think about all this, it always seems like the English language, and/or our use of it, lets us down when it comes to the word "care". We tell ourselves not to care when people share their opinions about who we are or aren't. At the same time we tell ourselves to care more about us than about them. Somehow, this is supposed to create a linguistic balance that plays out in real life. Even if use a word like "ignore" to replace "not care" we still end up giving too much energy to the wrong thing.

    For me, it's easier to think of it as a matter of positive, forward moving energy. If I put all the positive energy I can muster into moving myself closer to who I am and what my purpose is, I won't have any energy left to worry about what the naysayers and well-intentioned folks have to say. And maybe that's what bravery really is...not having any energy left over to care.

    Weird, strange...whatever. Keep on being you! Your uniqueness is appreciated.

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    1. Right, Melissa?!! That girl is in her late 20's now and I'd LOVE to see who she's become. If I had had a crumb of her courage. But at least she continues to inspire! Cheers to your point about "positive, forward moving energy"! I DO think that if we focused more on discovering and elevating our personal and true joys we'd have no concern about harnessing or diminishing others'. Absolutely! Thank you, as always, for the continued support and the beautiful, thoughtful words! xo

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  3. I. LOVE. YOU.

    ....that is all.

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    1. And I LOVE you right back, Megalicious! XOXO

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  4. YES!!!!!!!!!!!! I love this post so much it hurts. I'm bookmarking it so I can keep reading and processing it over and over. (Seriously.) xoxo-k

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    1. So glad you liked it AND took the time to read through it! I get a little wordy after a long blog break. ;) XOXO

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  5. Delightful, insightful, and well, weird. Thank you!

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  6. I sooo wish my little 6th grade students could read this, process this, and then have happy middle school years. It's too sad that society has programmed kids to "belong". Belong to what??? Thanks for putting into into the PERFECT perspective.

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    1. It's a pretty persistent cycle we have going on with "belonging", huh? For whatever reason, though, it seems that many of us have a hard time dealing with all the unknowns floating about in life and categorizing and boxing things in can alleviate that anxiety when we think we have things under control. Of course, we don't. Here's to the weird, Nantucket Daffodil! And to new generations of weird! xo

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  7. this is beautiful and amazing and i am crying my eyes out right now... guess this really hit close to home, huh?!! you are awesome and inspiring and thank you SO MUCH for being you!!!! LOVE! xoxo

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    1. Emilia, I'm so glad that the post touched you so much. And, yes, sounds like it struck quite the chord. Maybe it's time to treat your 'weird' to a little extra love and attention? Thank you for reading and for the beautiful comment! Means a lot. Take GOOD care! xo

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  8. The world needs more posts like these. I love you so much for all your weird.

    1. "I know, but I figure if I let her learn who she is now she won't have to deal with others telling her who she's supposed to be later." This is my mom. And this is the mom I want to be.

    2. The outfit on the bottom left – the running shorts, chambray button up, and the athletic knee-hi socks. Yeah. I'm recreating this look TODAY. Just before I order a small hot chocolate, with whip and sprinkles.

    XO,
    Kathleen

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    1. Thank you so, so much, Kathleen! 1. Sounds like you have a wise mom and she has blazed a great trail for you with your own kids. 2. How'd that outfit choice work out for ya'? Well, at least you had the hot chocolate as a pick me up. ;) Thanks for reading and leaving the sweet words! Be well! xo

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  9. I often tell my son - don't worry too much about what other people think about you. For the most part, what they think doesn't matter - what's important is how you feel about yourself. I hope he "gets" it.

    And I love, love, love that Mom - such wisdom!
    Great post.

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    1. While easier said than done, Tina, if you can *show* him you 'get it' in your own life he'll likely get it in his own. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment! Really appreciate it!

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  10. She sounds like a pretty cool mama. Loved this post!

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    1. Thanks for coming 'round 'The Bedlam' and reading, Miss Sarah! xo

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  11. I love everything about this post. after hiding from the blogging world for a long time and tiptoeing back and this was the best thing I could have read. maybe I should read it every day. "So, many of us spend our lives walking through fires that were set long before us." thank you for this post. thanks for being weird. xo

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    1. I understand hiding out for a bit, Vanessa, but glad that this post came so timely for you. (Welcome back, btw!) Take good care! xo

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  12. Great post! I've heard the word 'weird' several times in my life and I'm not even the 'obvious' kind of weird, but I embrace it because it means I'm unlike anyone else. :)

    LOVE the story about the mom and little girl. LOVE the quote at the end of the post, too.

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    1. Here, here, Leah! Weird can be used as a slight but I like your viewpoint and, needless to say, agree wholeheartedly! Thanks for reading and leaving a comment!

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  13. This resonated with me on so many levels, I'm going to bookmark it so I can read it again when I need it. And I will.

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    1. Thank you for reading and taking the time to leave a lovely comment, Inge! Nice to have you here at 'The Bedlam' and be connected elsewhere on the interwebs. So happy that the post resonated with you!

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  14. Great post!! I was also the "weird" one- in a group of "weird " kids. Supposedly we were the ones who were never going to amount to much. Meanwhile we turned into artist's, designers, filmakers, writers etc and the supposed "normal" kids ended up working at the local grocery store, boring office job etc. HERE"S TO WEIRDNESS and that great mom!

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    1. Thanks, Raina! Wish I could get a glimpse of where that mom and daughter are today, I tell ya'! Cheers to the weird, indeed! xoxo

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  15. This is my first time coming across your blog, and I love that post. So well expressed! We all need to embrace our "Freak Factors" more!

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    1. Glad you found my blog and that you liked the post so much! Thank you for taking the time to read and leave a lovely comment. Much appreciated!

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  16. How lucky am I! Been off blogs so long and this piece of perfect wisdom was my first step back. I love this so much. Thanks for being brilliant you!

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    1. HI, Laurel! You step back at the exact time that I venture forth once again, too. Cosmic timing, I tell ya'! Glad you liked the post and hope that things are going well for you!

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  17. thank you for this. a HUGE thank you. I love your words and your stories. I'm still a work in progress and the balance between raising myself AND my kids is very squidgy and sometimes hard. I need to remember not to "... lovingly encourage us off course"

    really. thank you.

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    1. Thank you for reading, Elizabeth! I think we're all works in progress... always. And, "squidgy"?! A perfect description! Love that word!

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  18. Ooo - so many good points! Where would we be without weirdness? All innovation comes from people who think a little differently - not to mention the arts. What kind of society would we be without those things? Boring McDullsville. Thanks for the reminder to embrace the weird!

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to read, MichelleP! Where would we be, indeed! We NEED the weirdness!

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  19. This post is so timely for me. Currently experiencing a time of serious reflection, uncertainty, and self-doubt.

    I just moved to Chicago, not yet employed, only have one local person I consider a friend, and I catch myself worrying about what the other gay men in my small apartment building think of me.

    I'm 43!

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    1. Oh, Mr. Glitter, I'm so glad you liked the post and that it comes so timely. Believe me, you're not alone... and I'm 44! Hope things shape up for you in your new digs in Chicago!

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    1. My pleasure, Chedva! Thank YOU for reading!

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  21. I love this post and I love you the more for writing it. Here here.

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  22. Oh my goodness I love this post so so so much!! As one "weird" one to another (& weird in a good way!!), thank you so much for this.

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    1. Thanks so much for reading, Elle! Glad you liked it!

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  23. Wow, a thinker for sure...and I needed to read this for myself AND my children. Thank you for the inspiration as always, B!

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    1. Wait... are you telling me that, as the mother of twins, you had the time to read ALL of this?!! Wow. You're good. You are GOOD! ;) Thanks, Susan! xoxo

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    2. HAHA...saw the post in my feedly feed again, and just had to revisit. So glad I did to see this reply!! I always make time for you. xoxo

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  24. You are the best. Love you! This was inspiring.

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    1. Thanks, Denise. So glad you liked the post. Love right back to you! Hope all is well with you! Been too long! xo

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  25. I do believe I need to save this! or can I share? I'm unsure if that's a can-do in blogging society...
    Clearly this is a story that should be cherished and mentioned to children finding their way, and to adults who may feel lost. Love it!

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    1. Happy that you liked the post so much, Shari! And I'm happy if you'd like to share it! I would just ask that you refer people to the post with a crediting link as opposed to copying and pasting the post elsewhere. Thanks again, Shari!

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  26. Wonderful story and a great read, Beefy. Happy to have discovered your blog via Holly Becker on twitter. I'll be back often.

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    1. Thanks so much, Gary! Happy that Holly introduced us and glad to have you here at 'The Bedlam'. If you made it through this post, it'll be a piece of cake from here on out! ;)

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I always appreciate your thoughts. Your comment will appear as soon as I can publish it.

p.s. - Contrary opinions or constructive criticism are also fine but "The Bedlam" doesnt' serve as a platform for random (or anonymous) acts of offensiveness. Rude? Deleted.