The Weird and the Strange

Some people are strange, some are weird, and some just have different sensibilities than the rest of us. What’s the difference? One of the best ways 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. Through no fault of their own, they have had a variance inflicted upon them that they cannot control or escape. We don’t define this separation to be nice, though we do deem it mean-spirited to mock, insult, or denigrate those people who arrived at their differences in a natural manner. We didn’t create this separation so that our readers might consider us more understanding, wonderful, or compassionate, but we deem those who would go out of their way to poke fun at the strange to be lacking in basic human compassion. 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 clarification that might exist between those who had no choice in the matter, and those who choose to be weird through the odd decisions they make in life.

Being weird is a choice. 

Some say that psychology is a comprehensive study of the choices we make. In that vein, it’s been our experience that most weird people choose to be weird, follow weird paths, or believe in weird things, and we give ourselves license to mock those decisions. It is our belief, however, that no one chooses to be strange.

We will not afford the weird the same lubricated gloves that we will the strange. Weird people make their choices, and those choices subject them to a degree of illustrative examination that a nicer, more wonderful writer –say, from the squishy and indecisive school of thought– would never approach as a subject. Some of us are as weird as those we mock, some of us are different, some of us are normal, and some of us are weird, and strange.

My dad did everything he could to guide me toward a more normal path. He corrected my weird ideas with sensible, normal lines of thought. “That isn’t the way,” was an open-ended cautionary warning he offered so many times, and in so many ways, that one could view my refusal to abide by it as a form 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, a combustible atmosphere. 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. I’ve since met the weird and those who ascribe to the unusual thoughts as their truth. Some of them lead chaotic lives, and some of them are a little scary.

When we are young, we assume our parents are the most normal people in the world. They may have some quirks but who doesn’t? They might even have more quirks than others, but doesn’t that just make them quirky? These quirks begin to add up as we age, and we compare their way of thinking to others, until an irrefutable truth emerges: Our parents are strange people. They aren’t just a little goofy, and we can no longer find comfort in the idea that mom and dad just have different ideas on a few subjects. They have some bona fide, almost clinical, deficiencies.

This revelation is earth-shattering to some of us. We witnessed firsthand some confusing elements of their thought process, and we added them up, but it wasn’t until we put all the pieces together that an uncomfortable truth became clear to us. After that level of awe 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 a confusing world they helped us understand. When we couple that information with everything else we’ve realized, it’s no longer funny to us. 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 are, how long will it be before they connect those dots back to us?

My dad was, at the very least, abnormal. Some might say he was kooky, and others might suggest he was one odd duck. In the frame we’re creating here though, he was strange. 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 that is true, but I believe those choices derived from some of his natural deficiencies. Whatever the case was, he was different from those around him, but he wanted everyone around him to perceive him as a normal man, and he put forth a great deal of effort in that regard. As such, he didn’t want his children to have to go through that such effort, so he tried to teach us how to fit in. I rebelled to those teachings, because I couldn’t see his efforts for what they were at the time.

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 my dad’s otherwise normal home, 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 telling me that I should be dismissing these people, because they were strange. I couldn’t, I said, not until I processed all that they had to offer.

A Piece of Advice to the Young Ones

If there are any young people reading this, engaged in a similar, passionate pursuit of all that falls under the abnormal umbrella, I want to provide one word of caution. Pursue the life of a freak, become that rebel that makes every square in the room uncomfortable, violate every spoken and unspoken rule of our culture, and become that person everyone in the room regards as an oddball. Before going down any of those 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 gives a rebel a proper foundation, from which to violate. Conventional ways of thinking are boring, and the rebel might think they know them so well that there is little 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, will allow 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 in the manner in which television and movie stars 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 look great on a screen, but those seeking inspiration often fail to account for the fact that screenwriters manipulate the extraneous conditions and players around the main character to enhance their qualities. In real life, there are situations and forces that a rebel with conviction 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 scenes players did in that movie. In real life, the extraneous players who topple the uninformed rebel with corrections consider a rebel without a cause, 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 that are so normal they make them throw up in their mouth a little, for they may teach them more about what they’re rebelling against than those that feed into our confirmation bias.

My aunt was an absolute bore. She taught me things about 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 my 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 excellent 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 could be 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.

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“You actually want to be weird?” a decidedly unusual friend asked me. “People don’t want to be weird. They either are, or they aren’t.”

Weirdness should be a birthright, was the import of her condemnation. 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 that hold the organic nature of their oddities as 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 required to wear them.

I knew I was not weird in a natural and organic sense even before my discussion with this woman, and it frustrated me. 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.”

The woman who leveled this condemnation on me and anyone that dared to play around in what she claimed her birthright, was weird in a natural and fundamental sense, but there was also an element of sadness and misery about her that was obvious to anyone who met her. That fundamental sadness manifested into a level of anger for the manner in which life had trampled upon her. Those who met her, would also would walk away from a conversation with her, knowing that chaos dominated much of her life. These two characteristics 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 their dark caves and caverns of their mind.

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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 needed to classify her in some way to help me feel normal by comparison?

When compared to all of my other experiences, 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 our conversation on this topic– to use the idea of being weird as a cudgel to carve out some level of superiority, but for that particular conversation, it was for her, and she didn’t appear to feel unusual for doing so. It appeared, in fact, to be vital to her 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 conversations, before she was able to spot one aspect of her personality in which she had some form 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 before. She thought she had me on this one weird, strange, or just plain different topic.

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