They’re platypus people! They’re platypus people! It’s a kookbook!
Platypus people do not have a duck’s bill or an otter’s body, but in many ways they are as foreign to us as their Australian counterparts were to the scientific community in England, in the late 18th century. We’ve all met weird, strange, and just plain different people, but the platypus people seem to be operating from a different premise. “Who thinks like this?” we ask ourselves. “Doesn’t he have cable?” a friend asked back when more people did. We might not even know that we all share a premise, until we hear one of these platypus people say something that suggests they’re operating from an altogether different premise. When it happens, it can be shocking.
It’s almost as shocking to us as the introduction of platypus was to Britain’s scientific community. They were so rocked by the semi-aquatic, egg-laying mammal that they thought it was an elaborate and well-conceived hoax. They thought they had a comprehensive catalog of the animal kingdom prior to the introduction of the platypus, and we empathize, for when we met our first platypus person, we thought we had a decent grasp of human nature.
When we first heard them, we thought someone glued a proverbial bill of a duck on an otter’s body to try to pass him off as a new species when we heard what he thought of the world. We did not physically dissect him to find the truth, in the manner the skeptical Brits did when they first encountered the platypus, to search for the taxidermist’s stitching. We did probe, however, and we came away thinking he was genuine, unlike those Brits who remained skeptical even after seeing a live platypus, but we had no idea how to process his thoughts.
As with the Brits and the platypus, the more we learned more about the platypus person, the more that shock turned to intrigue as we began to think that his fun-house mirror perspective might tweak how we thought of ourselves.
How does one arrive at such unusual thoughts? Most of us travel through a wide variety of thoughts on the road to formulating a philosophy. We crave cutting edge, unusual thoughts that result in weird, strange, or just plain different impressions to form a passionate belief system. We weed out most of those thoughts as we age, but some of them stick. Some of them stick, because we crave ideas from free-thinking, independent spirits. There are some provocative, well thought out points, but most of them are contrived attempts to be weird, some disagree just to disagree, and others follow the edicts of cool overlords to become one. When viewing this through that looking glass we see that if we’re all free-thinking, independent spirits, then none of us are, and the channel their unique perspective opens affects us in a manner that motivates us to learn everything we can about their philosophy before we reach some level of a final formulation. We want to taste every piece of pie available to us before we reach the end of the buffet.
When we hear someone who appeared to go through some of the same intellectual progressions as we did, arrive at an entirely different conclusion, we want to know how that happened. We want to know everything about their philosophy on matters and how it applies to their epistemology, and we want to know the anthropological origins of their thought process. We might not agree with anything they say, and by the time they’re finished, we might realize that the specific subjects they discuss don’t matter either. We’re so fascinated with their process that we listen to them with some excitement, as we think their story, or the sedimentary layers of their story, could affect our own.
All of these reactions to the platitudes of platypus people are subjective, but within these subjective reactions are autobiographical attempts to understand ourselves better, and whether we are going to eventually agree with it or attempt to nuke their theories, we want to know how to process what they are saying.
I thought everyone went through the same cyclical reactions to the platypus person’s provocative statements, until one of my friends said, “Doesn’t he have cable?” This joker said this to dismiss the platypus person. The joker and I disagreed on just about everything two people can disagree on, but we both came to variations of the same conclusion about this man.
Nothing allows us to dismiss another person better than a well-timed joke. We can listen to an hours-long discussions, and the whole discussion might be rendered moot with one quick line. Some of us are processors who need time to process information, and we enjoy hearing numerous opinions before forming a conclusion. We might obsess over otherwise inconsequential matters far too often, but we can’t understand how someone can come up with a quick, reflexive line like that and consider the matter settled. Do they develop this ability, because they are more comfortable in their own skin that that confidence allows them to swat nuanced, complicated ideas away? Or, are they so insecure that they seek to thwart all unusual thoughts before they question some fundamentals of their being? Is it a defense mechanism they use to help them avoid dwelling or obsessing on such topics, or do they consider most of the mysteries that plague the rest of us settled?
Being Weird is a Choice
After meeting a few more platypus people in the years that followed, I realized I could dismiss the matter no longer, not until it was settled for me. I defined the unusual people I met in three categories. We’ve all met weird people, but we’ve also met some who are strange, and then there are those unusual thinkers who don’t fit either of those arbitrary categories. What’s the difference? One of the best ways I found to define a relative term like weird is to define what it is not. It is not, for the purpose of this discussion, strange. The term strange, by our arbitrary definition, concerns those affected by natural maladies. They had a variance inflicted upon them that they could not control, and they cannot escape. A person who chooses to be weird, on the other hand, can easily find their way back to the premise, they simply choose, for various reasons, to step away from it for a moment. The third category consists of otherwise healthy individuals who for reasons that are less philosophical and more anthropological cannot find their way their way back, due to an epistemological makeup that has been passed down their genealogical tree.
We don’t define these separations to be nice, though we do deem it mean-spirited to mock, insult, or denigrate people who arrive at their differences in a more natural manner. We don’t create this rhetorical device for our readers to consider us wonderful, more understanding, or compassionate, but we deem those who go out of their way to poke fun at the strange to be lacking in basic human decency. We also don’t want to leave the reader with the impression that we might be more normal, or more intelligent, than any of the subjects we discuss. We design this arbitrary separation for the sole purpose of providing some classifications for those who had no choice in the matter, against a backdrop of those who choose to be weird through the odd decisions they make in life.
We might think that anyone who chooses to be weird must suffer from a strange psychology. In my experience, it’s quite the opposite for our need to be different started out as a form of rebellion in our youth. We wanted to be weird to rebel against the philosophical and spiritual hold our parents had on us. Those of us who chose this path wanted to be perceived as being just as weird, strange, and just plain different as those we were conditioned to dismiss and avoid by our friends and family.
My dad sensed my need for separation early on, and he did everything he could to guide me toward a more normal path. Through the decades that followed, he attempted to correct my weird ideas with more sensible, normal lines of thought. “That isn’t the way,” was a phrase he used so often that my refusal to acquiesce to his more structured ways of the world was one of my primary forms of rebellion. There were so many intense arguments, and debates in our household that no observer could escape it without thinking that it was, at least, combustible. Before we explore the ways in which the old man was strange, I would like to take a moment to thank my dad for the effort he put into trying to make me normal. He did his best to provide his children the most normal upbringing he could.
I rebelled to the relatively strong foundation he built without recognizing the luxury I was afforded. The primary reason for my gratitude is that some of the truly weird and strange platypus people I’ve met since I left my dad’s home lead chaotic lives that can be a little scary. They came from very different homes, with a less than adequate foundation, and they ended up expending as much effort trying to prove they were normal as I did to be considered weird.
When we are very young, our parents set the premise from which we will operate. This premise is often generational, as our parents passed on the fundamental knowledge they learned from their parents. As we age, we begin to see the cracks in that foundation. At some point, we assume our parents are so normal that they’re boring. They might have some quirks but who doesn’t? They might even have more quirks than others, but doesn’t that just make them quirky? When we begin to add these quirks up, and we compare them to others’ parents, an uncomfortable, irrefutable truth emerges in this dichotomy: Our parents are strange people. They aren’t a little weird, or goofy, and we can no longer find comfort in the idea that our parents just have some different ideas about some subjects. They have some bona fide, almost clinical, deficiencies.
If we ever gain enough distance from them to view their idiosyncrasies with some objectivity, this revelation can be earth-shattering. We witnessed, firsthand, some confusing elements of their thought process, and we began adding them up, but it wasn’t until we put all the pieces together that that uncomfortable truth emerged.
After that relatively daunting epiphany clears, a sense of satisfaction takes its place. Our rebellion to their quirky ideas was the right course to follow, and we now see how justified we were. At some point in our various stages of processing this newfound information, we realize that for much of our life, our parents were a beacon of sanity in an otherwise confusing world they were charged with helping us understand. When we couple that information with everything else we’ve realized, it’s no longer as funny as we thought it was. We reach a point where we want/need them to be normal, and we ask them not to express themselves in front of our friends, because if our friends learn how strange our parents truly are, how long will it be before they connect those dots back to us?
My dad was abnormal, at the very least. Some might say he was a kook, and others might suggest he was an odd duck. In the frame we’re creating here though, he was a platypus person who was difficult to classify. Either he was born with certain deficiencies, or they were a result of self-inflicted wounds. One could say that those self-inflicted wounds were choices he made along the way, and if that is true I believe he made them as a result of some of his natural deficiencies.
The point of writing about my dad’s deficiencies is not to denigrate the man, but to point out that which separated him from what one would call a normal man. Those deficiencies plagued him, and he put forth a great deal of effort to convince the world around him that he was as normal as they were. The trials and tribulations he experienced in this regard marked his life, and he didn’t want his children to have to go through what he did, so he tried to establish a normal home without too much chaos. In his subjective approach to life, he thought fitting in with others and being normal were the keys to happiness, and he tried to pass that along to us. I rebelled to those teachings, because I couldn’t see his efforts for what they were at the time.
Even after years of reflecting on this, and recognizing what my dad’s efforts for what they were, I still like to dance in the flames of the weird, but once the lights come up I’m as normal now, and as boring, as everyone else. As hard as my dad tried to force normalcy on me, however, he couldn’t control the impulses I had to indulge in the artistic creations that glorified life outside the norm. I knew weird ideas were out there, and I pursued them with near wanton lust.
When I left the relatively normal home my dad tried to create for us, I ventured out into a world outside the realm of his influence. I lived the life I always wanted to live, and I found weird, oddball philosophies so intoxicating that I had trouble keeping them in the bottle.
My dad’s overwhelming influence on my life was such that I preferred the company of normal people long-term, but I remained eager to invite weird people in for a brief stay to challenge my status quo. Their brief stay would present me with different and weird ideas of thinking, weird platitudes, and oddball mentalities that shook the contents in my bottle a little bit more. I needed to know what made them tock (as opposed to the ticks I knew all too well). I became obsessed with the abnormal to find out what made them different, or if they were, and I had to deal with friends and family telling me that I should be avoiding these people, because they were so strange. I couldn’t, I said, not until I consumed all that they had to offer.
Advice for the Rebel and Freak Wannabes
Violate the framework, I now say to aspiring rebels and freaks. Violate every spoken and unspoken rule our culture holds dear, and become that rebel that makes every square in the room uncomfortable. Disappoint your parents, and anyone who has expectations of you, so you, too, can become the freak or the oddball in the room. There may be no greater opportunity to define yourself in this relatively small window of time. Before going down these roads, however, an aspiring rebel needs to consider learning everything they can about the conventional rules that they plan to spend the rest of their life violating. Knowing the rules provides a foundation for substantial rebellions. All rebels think they know the conventional ways of the conventional, and they might think there’s no point in studying them, but if there’s one thing that I learned as an aspiring rebel, and in the many conversations I had with other rebels since, it’s that a rebel needs to know the rules better than the squares do. A violation of rules comes with its own set of rules, and subsets, for those seeking to violate in a constructive and substantive manner. Failure to learn them, and the proper violation of them, allows those who set the rules to dismiss a rebel as one who doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and a rebel without a cause.
Most rebels find inspiration for their rebellion from screen stars who violate standards and upset the status quo in their presentations. These stars provide color by number routes to rebellion that are provocative and easy to follow. These rebellions also look great on a screen, but those seeking inspiration often fail to account for the fact that in a movie screenwriters and directors of these productions manipulate all of the extraneous conditions and side characters around the main character to enhance their qualities. We all know this is true, in some respects, but few of us factor it into our presentation. In real life, there are situations and forces that even a rebel with strong convictions cannot control. There are people who will present the rebel with scenarios for which they’re unprepared, and a failure to study the conventional rules from every angle possible, will lead the audience of the rebel’s argument to forget it soon after they make it.
James Dean was A Rebel Without a Cause, though, and James Dean was cooler than cool. For ninety minutes he was, and with all of extraneous conditions and side characters portraying the perfect contradictory behavior that would define the James Dean character’s rebellion, James Dean was cool. Cooler than cool. Again, the real life rebel cannot manipulate his extraneous conditions and side characters to enhance their presentations in the manner all the behind the scene’s players did in that movie. In real life, the extraneous players who topple the uninformed rebel with corrections consider a rebel without a cause, and a rebel without substance. They may regard him as uninteresting, after the initial flash of intrigue with their rebelliousness subsides.
My advice to all aspiring rebels is to listen to those squares who are so normal they make them throw up in their mouth a little, for they may teach a rebel more about what they’re rebelling against than those who feed into their confirmation bias.
My aunt was an absolute bore. She taught me the elements of life that bored the fill in the blank out of me with her preachy presentations on “Good and honest living.” She didn’t know where it was at, as far as I was concerned. I sought entrée into the “Do what you feel” rock and roll persona that left carnage in its wake. I debated her point for point. I knew the elements of the rock and roll lifestyle well. My aunt was not much of a debater. She knew her “Good and honest living” principles, but she could not debate me point for point. When compared to the rock and roll figures of our culture, she had poor presentation skills. She was also overweight and unattractive. The entertainers were attractive and thin, they all had strong jaw lines, and they confirmed all of the beliefs I had about life.
Life should be easy, judgment free, and fun, I decided. It shouldn’t involve the moral trappings of what is right and what is wrong. As long as no one gets hurt, a person should be able to do what they feel like doing. Viewing all of this in retrospect, however, I now realize that the boring, pedantic, obese, and unattractive people taught me ten times as much about life as any of the entertainers. The entertainers were just better at packaging their presentations.
The crux of my rebellion was that I wanted to expel whatever my body couldn’t use into the face of the mainstream. I wanted to be so weird that they could taste it. The responsible grownups who played a quality role in my development had a boring sameness about them, and the idea that I might be able to be something different led to some growth in my undercarriage. My dad vied for this sameness, and he wanted the same for me, but no matter how hard he tried to make me normal, I continued to explore the abbie normal side of humanity.
In my efforts to have someone, somewhere consider me weird, I spotted the now endangered platypus person. The reason we place the platypus person on the endangered list is that with the advent of devices and the internet, the idea of total nonconformity is even rarer than it was when I was younger. It’s no longer as simple as a person not having cable. They must avoid all that is available to them in the information age, including the internet. It’s easier than it’s ever been for them to consciously and subconsciously replicate and mimic our thoughts, rhythms, and patterns, in other words. It also leads to greater assimilation, and it makes them tougher to spot. If, for whatever reason, they are not able to camouflage their duck’s bill on an otter’s body, we should note that it’s rarely by choice. As I suggested earlier, they sincerely want to be normal, but their upbringing was such that it requires some effort on their part to do what it takes for others to perceive someone as normal. They don’t mimic to deceive anyone, unless one considers convincing oneself of a lie so thoroughly that they believe it themselves an act of deception.
In the course of my efforts to find the rare bird, I realized that it can take weeks to months before we see their duck bill, because they only show it to people they trust, and that trust takes time to build. It also takes a level of familiarity for them to be comfortable. To get them to open up, we might have to give them our weaknesses, but we don’t do this for the purpose of getting them open up. We don’t know they’re platypus people when we speak to them. We aren’t reporters digging for their story, a story, or this story. We just do it in the course of establishing a friendship with them, as we would with any other person. As with the egg-laying, semi-aquatic mammal, platypus people require a certain environment, and very specific conditions before they reveal themselves. When they do reveal themselves, there is some insecurity involved in their reveal, but there is also relief. It’s obvious that they have experienced levels of ridicule and abuse for their thoughts and ideas, and they are relieved to find someone who is so curious about the way they think.
The only times I have been able to build this level of trust, through prolonged involvement, have occurred within the confines of shared employment. On one of these jobs, I developed what we could call a cerebral crush on one of my fellow employees. We had numerous, fascinating conversations on a variety of unrelated topics. In one of our last non-work-related conversations, she replied to one of my stories with a, “Wait a second, did you say you want to be weird? You actually want to be weird? People don’t want to be weird. They either are, or they aren’t.”
This response wobbled me a little, because I thought she and I were both playing with peoples’ heads in the same manner. I thought she wanted to be considered weird too. I had no idea the things she did and said were more organically weird, strange, or just plain different. Her response told me that I had no business playing with her toys, in this sense. It also wobbled me a little, because I never heard anyone defend weirdness before. The conversation went on for a couple minutes, but no matter what I said, she kept cycling it back to this two sentence theme: People don’t want to be weird. They either are, or they aren’t
I would try, numerous times, after that conversation to steer her back to what I considered a fascinating topic, but she would have none of it. I wanted to know what it meant to be weird, from her perspective. I wanted her to elucidate on the difference between being weird and trying to be weird, but unbeknownst to me, she considered that conversation over, and she found all of my subsequent questions on the topic insulting.
Therefore, I can only guess that the import of her condemnation of my efforts was based on this idea she had that weirdness should be a birthright. It should be natural and organic. It was a ‘how dare you try to be one of us, if you’re not’ reaction to those who regard the organic nature of their oddities a birthright. She presumably regarded this as equivalent to a person who wears glasses to look sexier when they don’t have to wear them, an act that ticks off those who are required to wear them.
I felt caught while in the moment. I thought of all the attempts I made to have another consider me weird, and I thought of how inorganic they were. I felt like a fraud. As I said, my dad raised me in a manner that forced me to accept the norms, and I’m going to take another moment out of this piece to say something I didn’t say to him when he was alive, God bless you Dad for forcing a foundation of normalcy down my throat. God bless you for creating a base of normalcy from which I rebelled, for without that base I now wonder what I may have become.
My guess was that this woman’s upbringing was probably chaotic, and she spent most of her adult life striving for what others might call normal. She was weird in a more natural and fundamental sense, and she condemned anyone who might dare play around in what she proclaimed her birthright, but there was also an element of sadness and misery about her that was obvious to anyone who knew some details of her struggle.
Those of us who had enough involvement with her to know her beyond the superficial knew that chaos dominated much of her life, and we learned that it led her to desperately seek the refuge of any substance she could find to ease that pain.
I realized through this friend, and all of the other weird characters that have graced my life before and after, that there was weird and there was weird. There is a level of weird that is fun, a little obnoxious, and entertaining in a manner that tingles the area of the brain that enjoys stepping outside the norm. The other level of weird, the one that we could arbitrarily define as strange, is a little scary when one takes a moment to spelunk through the caverns of their mind.
Was this woman a little weird? Was she so weird that we could call her strange by the arbitrary definitions we’ve laid out, or were her sensibilities so different from mine that I sought to classify her in some way to help me feel normal by comparison?
When compared to all of my other experiences with platypus people, she was an anomaly. Was she weirder than I was though? “Who cares?” we might say in unison. She did. It may never have occurred to her –prior to this particular conversation– to use the idea of being weird as a cudgel to carve out some level of superiority. In that particular conversation, it was for her, and she didn’t appear to feel unusual doing so. It appeared, in fact, to be vital to her makeup that I acknowledge that she had me on this topic. She was weird, and I was trying to be weird. Who tries to be weird? Phony people. That’s who. Check, check, check. She wins.
What did she win though? Some odd form of superiority? How long did she search for some point of superiority? How many topics did we cover, in our numerous, unrelated conversations, before she was able to spot one aspect of her personality in which she had some level of superiority? If either of these questions wreaks of ego on my part, let’s flip it around and ask how many battles did she lose trying to appear as normal as her counterpart was? She needed a victory. I had numerous conversations with this woman before we drifted apart, and I never saw this competitive side of her again. She thought she had me on this one weird, strange, or just plain different topic, and I can only assume it gave her some satisfaction to do so.
Are you weird, strange, just plain different, or an unclassifiable platypus person? No one cares, you might say, and quit judging people with labels. Our subjective reactions to define anomalies define us. Some of us try to cut analysis short by accusing anyone who obsesses over differences as lacking in compassion. Others drop a quick, humorous line that allows them to dismiss subjects of curiosity. Those of us who dwell (see: obsess) over these topics don’t understand how others can turn this part of their brain off, because we think our story lies somewhere in the sedimentary levels of the strange and weird platypus people.
We all know some weird people, and we’ve encountered those who are strange and just plain different. We’ve also learned that some are so different that they’re difficult to classify. The one answer we could provide is that we all have a relative hold on the various truths of life, and those answers help us keep the idea of random chaos at bay. Those who have had prolonged involvement with a platypus person, however, know that they have their answers too. Those answers might be different from everything we’ve heard our whole life, but does that make them weird, strange or just plain different? The frustration that those of us who search for answers in life know is that some of the times there are no concrete answers to some questions. Some of the times, questions lead to answers and some of the times, answers lead to other questions, intriguing, illuminating questions. Am I weird, strange, or so different from everyone else has trouble classifying me? Do these questions require the level of exhaustive analysis we devote to it, or does it have more to do with the idea that some of us didn’t have cable growing up?
Next up: Meet the Platypus People