I know you’ll want to write this down, so if you want to run and get a pencil, I’ll wait. Got it? Okay, here it is: People…are…strange. You might want to also needlepoint it on a sampler.
Being a little strange is part of being an individual human being. Though everyone is strange in that they are different from everyone else, it's probably axiomatic that we seem more able to recognize strangeness in others than in ourselves. And while most people go out of their way not to appear strange to others, some go to considerable lengths to cultivate their individual differences and/or to call attention to themselves.
There are as many types of strangeness among individuals as there are wildflowers on a Nebraska prairie in May. Most fit into the broad category of garden-variety strange, ranging from those who iron their underwear and arrange their sock drawer by color to those who see conspiracies behind every news event. They largely go unheralded because they are as a rule content to keep their strangeness largely to themselves.
The “ordinary strange” seldom can be spotted in a crowd; their strangeness is simply the result of their life experiences which set them a bit apart from everyone else. Those who are strange by nature and design reflect the need many feel for setting themselves apart from the herd. Fads and fashions are a common form of cultivating their strangeness. “In” fashions, hairstyles, piercings, tattoos, wearing baseball caps at the cutest angles…all are ways they choose to stand out. People flock to these trends, with the result that they all end up looking exactly alike and must go off in search of the next trend or fad.
There are many who calculate and cultivate strangeness to achieve fame/notoriety. A good number of “famous” people throughout history fit this category. Artists —writers, painters, musicians—are generally naturally strange simply by way of their talent, though many seem to work particularly hard at it. Salvador Dali, Picasso, Liberace, Ernest Hemingway, Andy Warhol, are only a few.
It’s when strangeness includes the “control factor” that it passes from charming to weird, and far too often to dangerous. These people often use their strangeness to deliberately exploit stupidity and hatred to gain attention and power: Anita Bryant (remember her? No? Good!), Jerry Falwell and his ilk, etc. And when strangeness segues into weird that it becomes a cause for concern. And when this is mixed with megalomania and arrogance we get the truly frightening likes of Idi Amin, Atilla the Hun, and Adolph Hitler.
There is also an outer-fringe type of individual strangeness for which there seems to be neither cause nor reason, yet which abounds in our culture today—those “celebrities” upon whose every vacuous statement and action is met with wild acclaim despite their having absolutely no evidence of any talent whatsoever. They are famous only for being famous. It is not so much those individuals who are strange as it the fact that society reacts to them so strangely.
I enjoy the unobtrusively strange; people with harmless little quirks which set them gently apart from others. As long as one’s strangeness does not impose negatively on anyone else, it lends both spice and charm to our lives. I still remember, from the first time I lived in Chicago, the little old lady who walked past my apartment building frequently. She had to have been in her 80s at the time, and was thin to the point of being gaunt. She always dressed as though she were going to a 1930s social event: long, white—or black, depending on the season—dress, elbow-length gloves, very-high-heel shoes, large-brimmed white—or black—hat with a red or black cabbage rose, pancake makeup with bright red lips and a toy-soldier circle of rouge on each cheek. Though I never had the chance to speak with her, I remember her fondly after all these years.
I've always wished I had the courage to be strange, but I'm not. Not in the least. (Would you like to see my collection of tinfoil hats?)
As the old Quaker proverb says, “All are strange but thee and me…and I have my doubts about thee.” Hey, if the shoe fits…
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1).