Survival Guide for Weirdos

 

Weird

Blessed are the weirdos, for they shall something, something… I don’t know, but I bet it’s pretty great.

There are two main things people who know me well will tell you.

I’m weird and I like it.

I’m comfortable with who I am, but I wasn’t always. It was a hard road and I endured quite a bit of bullying and deflated self-worth before I got here.

Lately, several people have asked me how I learned to own, and even embrace, my weirdness. Maybe it won’t all work for you, but this is what worked for me.

Different isn’t bad. It’s just different.

I didn’t know I was weird until I went to elementary school and the other kids told me. Dad used to teach me random words out of the dictionary, so I walked into Kindergarten spouting all those words and the other kids didn’t know what in the world I was talking about. And that didn’t change until I hit middle school.

I wasn’t any good at sports. I didn’t care about New Kids on the Block. I was more interested in dinosaurs than neon slap bracelets, and I couldn’t have cared less about the school’s popularity hierarchy.

I’m also severely lopsided. I’m the sort of person who’s really good at what I’m good at and not at all good at anything else. It was hard being around all those well-balanced kids who might not have excelled in any one area, but they didn’t tank in any areas either.

I was lucky enough to have weird parents. My dad’s overtly weird, while my mom keeps her weird a little more under the radar. But they’re both big dreamers and “creative types”.

My family doesn't build snowmen. We build snow alligator/unicorn/stegosaurus hybrids.

My family doesn’t build snowmen. We build snow alligator/unicorn/stegosaurus hybrids that eat children.

One night, I was really frustrated over cartwheels. I tried harder than anyone in my gymnastics class, but I just couldn’t do them.

Instead of telling me I was actually super awesome at gymnastics (which would have been a lie), my dad sat me down and drew two pie charts. (I told you he’s weird.) One pie was mine and the other pie represented all the other kids. The other kids had a pie that was evenly divided. They had a decent slice for sports. About the same sized slice for math, language skills, art… My pie only had a tiny sliver for sports. Because let’s be honest. I don’t have any talent and there’s no point pretending I do. But I had huge slices in other areas. In the end, both pies were whole pies. They were just divided up differently. And that’s OK. The world needs people who are extra good in specific areas. And you can’t be extra good in all areas. You’d run out of pie and running out of pie is the worst tragedy I can imagine.

It’s OK to be different. It’s even good to be different.

My parents and I had a lot of conversations about that. While they did try to curb some of my quirks (the stuff that was just obnoxious and served absolutely no purpose), they never tried to force me to be “normal” and they never encouraged me to just go with the crowd so I’d fit in. Instead, they encouraged me to find my own way. That wasn’t easy (see the comment about bullies, above), but it was right.

Image (25)

 

Some people don’t like me, and that’s OK.

When I say stuff like that, people will usually rush in to say, “Oh, don’t say that!” or “Those people are just missing out.”

Nah. Some people honestly just don’t like me. Sometimes they don’t “get” me or misunderstand me. Sometimes they do understand me, and they still don’t like me. And it’s really OK. It doesn’t make them bad people or anything. I don’t click with every single person I meet either.

The thing about saying, “Not everyone is going to like me, and that’s OK,” is that it frees you up. It gives you permission to stop worrying, “What will the people think?!”

If they aren’t going to like you, no matter what you do, who cares what they think?

Whether people like me or not is more a reflection on them than on me. Maybe their personality just doesn’t mesh well with mine. Maybe their sense of humor is different than mine. It doesn’t automatically mean I’m doing something wrong when someone doesn’t like me.

(Though, let’s be real. If most people don’t like me, maybe I’m a jerk. That doesn’t seem to be the case, though.)

Also, people don’t care about what you’re doing nearly as much as you think they do. They’re all too busy being anxious or embarrassed about their own stuff to put much effort into thinking about whatever you’re anxious or embarrassed about. If you act embarrassed about something, that’s a signal to the people around you that this is something to be embarrassed about. If you don’t act embarrassed, people will usually go along with that signal, and assume it’s not something to be embarrassed about. Really. I’ve done some of the stupidest things, and as long as I shrugged it off and laughed, everyone else went right along with me, whether they were my friends or not. (One time, I spilled an entire mug of coffee on myself during an interview for a job I wasn’t even qualified for. I laughed it off and got the job.)

I was embarrassed to drive the family wagon around in high school. A friend called it a "beast" because it growled going up hill, so I wrote THE BEAST on the back window in shoe polish and started bragging about my car at school. Three kids asked if they could drive THE BEAST around the parking lot. If I'd acted sheepish about it, it could have been a different story.

I was embarrassed to drive the family wagon around in high school. It was pretty beat up. A friend called it a “beast” because it growled going up hill, so I wrote THE BEAST on the back window in shoe polish and started bragging about my car at school. It caught on and kids would stop me in the hall to ask how THE BEAST was doing. Three of them asked if they could drive THE BEAST around the parking lot. If I’d acted sheepish about it, it could have been a different story. When you act like something’s awesome, it becomes awesome.

Here’s a tip: The less you care about what people think of you, the more people tend to be attracted to you. Almost everyone wants to be all indifferent toward other people’s opinions, but most people aren’t. Those people like to hang out around people who don’t care what other people think of them.

It’s OK to Fail

People who are different are so used to being judged that it can make taking a risk extra scary. Not only do you risk failing, but you risk hearing about what a weirdo failure you are from other people.

Years ago, I decided that being labeled a weirdo was a strange sort of gift other people had given me. I’m already a weirdo, so if I fail, how can I be any more of a weirdo than I already am?

fb

I recently launched a new blog. It’s backdated to the late 90s and written by my teenage self. If that’s not weird, I don’t know what is. And don’t think I didn’t consider what people might think. What a narcissistic thing to do. Who cares about your life, Kristy? Why would she do this instead of saving all this material for a second memoir?

People aren’t always going to understand why I do what I do. I’m not going to let that stop me.

And if I try something and it doesn’t work out, I’ll just try something else. Win or lose, I’m a weirdo anyway.

I know several people who I’d say have “vision”. People who don’t have vision aren’t going to understand people who do. And they often try to box those visionaries in and bring them down. If you have a vision, don’t let them.

Being weird is a gift.

Do you know what’s super rare? The ability to make people feel comfortable around you.

Do you know what makes people feel comfortable? When you’re weirder than they are.

Because, honestly, everyone’s a little weird and everyone feels self-conscious about their own weirdness. When I’m out there, being all weird out in the open, it helps people feel like they can share their own stuff with me. And they can. Because how can the woman who impulsively jumped into a fountain just to make someone laugh, not realizing it was full of really smelly algae that would stain her favorite jeans, judge someone else?

I used to hate my crooked teeth, my ridiculously long arms and legs, and my very Italian nose.

But you know what? Nobody feels comfortable around a perfect person. It’s my imperfections that draw people in. I’d much rather have a warm and friendly smile than a perfect smile. My long limbs are good for a laugh and my big nose is a great bullshit detector.

Use a little common sense when trying to make people feel comfortable.This might be taking things a step too far.

Use a little common sense when trying to make people feel comfortable. This might be taking things a step too far.

I’m Horace Slughorn, except less Slytherin-y.

I’ll be friendly with pretty much anyone who’s willing to tolerate me. I don’t ever want anyone to feel like they aren’t valued or accepted, so unless you’re actually a homicidal stalker, I’ll almost definitely hang out with you.

But I do take a special interest in some people and I try to keep a circle of people around me that I consider exceptional in some way (and a lot of them have no idea how special they are). Some of them are people I can look up to and get advice from (because, hey, I don’t have all this totally figured out either). Some of them are people I want to help in any way I can because I see so much potential in them. I think it’s a real gift to be able to watch someone grow into their strengths.

There are so many amazing weirdos coming up behind me. I can’t wait to see where you all take us.

An Online Conversation With My 17-Year-Old Self

img075 (1)

In 1998—the era of screeching modems and dial-up speeds we thought were lightning fast—I was one of a few people I knew who had a home internet connection and their own website. When Geocities closed down, I thought my teenage website was gone forever, but thanks to Internet Archive’s Way Back Machine, it’s still out there, kicking it late-90s style.

I was an opinionated little thing back in the day. (I’m an opinionated big thing these days.) Since I’ve been working on a memoir for the past couple of years, I’ve been super focused on my teenage years. There have been many times I’ve wanted to get my past-self’s attention and set her straight on a few things.

So, let’s do that.

Kristy, we need to talk.

1


OK. First of all, nice Jack Handey reference.

But, honey, you need to go learn about the First Amendment because that’s not what “freedom of speech” means. It doesn’t mean you can say anything you want and nobody can argue with you about it.


2


Just so you know, nineteen years from now, you’re going to feel pretty damn smug about the Y2K scare.

And you remember that research paper you wrote on the Y2K bug for your senior English class? You know all those survivalist websites you read while doing research, and how you thought, “Hey, maybe this information will come in handy someday”? I’m sorry to tell you I’ve never had to help deliver a breach baby, so all those diagrams we saw are just taking up head space. Sorry.


3


You feel like people are kicking you around? Oh, my sweet summer child. You have no idea what’s coming for you next year.

I do like that barking comment. I’d make the same sort of nonsensical comparison between myself and a barking dog, though I have spellcheck so I can spell chihuahua. It only took me three tries to get close enough for the spellchecker to figure out what I was trying to say. Advancements in technology will definitely make your life easier.


4


You know what? I think people are basically good too. (But don’t tell anyone. It’ll hurt my street cred.)


5


Aw, did you really have to take a swipe at organized religion? You do realize you’re a member of a church right now, don’t you? You can be religious and have a personal connection to God, Kristy. I promise.

And I know you’ve heard a lot of noise about those Mary-worshiping Catholics, but they aren’t so bad. Most of them will be pretty nice to you, even when you’re being kind of an asshat.


6


You probably spent it all at the concession stand at the drive-in. Those burgers are the bomb! Well, they were the bomb. Sadly, nothing is the bomb in 2017. It’s a bleak world you live in now.

Also, “Where’d all the money go?” is a question you’ll be asking for the next two decades. Get used to it.


7


Right now, I kind of want to pinch you. I get it. You were told, “Get a degree, and you’ll get a great job!” We were all told that. It’s not your fault you believed it.

You know, ten years from now, you’re going to have a good paying job without a college degree. You’ll still go back to school, which is great, but it wasn’t the degree that got you anywhere. It’ll be your work ethic, willingness to help others, and miming skills that’ll get you ahead. (OK. Maybe not the miming skills. Those haven’t really come in handy yet, but I hold out hope for the future.)


My best advice to you for the future is to settle down a little. Let people disagree with you, and when they do, listen. You don’t have to change your mind, but at least listen.

Learn to be patient. Learn to be humble.

Stick with that frantic writing style you’re starting to develop. It’s the bomb.

You’re a little annoying, but I think you’re going to be OK.

For the Ones Who Can’t See the Light

Dear You,

I know.

I know what it’s like to trudge through knee-high snow, in the woods, at midnight, without a coat, during a blizzard, and squint through those icy bites, looking for that warm candle light that will lead you home, but there is no effing flicker of light out there.

OK. Maybe I don’t actually wander the woods during a blizzard, but I think you understand what I mean. I think you understand what it’s like to be lost. You know what it’s like when you can’t find the light, and no matter which way you turn, you just find more trees blocking your view, and you’re so, so tired of wading through snow banks.

And you get how scary it is to be alone in the woods at night. Monsters live in the woods. Werewolves and demons and child-eating witches. This is no place to be alone.

But you already know that. Because me and you? We know what it’s like to lose. For every forward movement to be a struggle, and you don’t know what’s ahead of you, or even if you’re going the right way.

Every snowflake’s supposed to be unique, right? Maybe your snow looks like your children not having enough food. Or maybe each flake is an image of someone you’ve lost. Or all the mistakes you’ve made. Or all the false faces you’ve worn. Or the memories of a thousand backhands.

Here’s the part where I’m supposed to say something inspirational. But I’m not going to tell you something stupid, like if you just look up you’ll find a star you can follow all the way home. Because I know you can’t see the stars when you’re in the middle of the woods, during a fucking blizzard.

And I can’t tell you things will get easier. That the wind will die down and the snow will let up. I don’t know what’ll happen.

What I can tell you is you aren’t out in the woods on your own. I’m out here with you. A lot of people are. And maybe we aren’t all heading in the same direction, but that doesn’t mean we can’t wade through the snow together for a while. When your fingers go numb, borrow my gloves. When I fall face first into a snow bank (because God knows I fall into a lot of snow banks), maybe you can give me your hand and help me up.

I can’t promise we’ll make our way home, but maybe we can provide a little warmth for one another. And maybe we’ll be a little safer because those monsters would rather pick off lonely travelers.

So, if it’s OK with you, I’d like to walk with you for a while.

Love,

Me